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Title: Marion's Faith.
Author: King, Charles, 1844-1933
Language: English
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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.

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Libraries.)



MARION'S FAITH.


BY THE AUTHOR OF

"THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER."

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

AUTHOR OF "KITTY'S CONQUEST," ETC.


PHILADELPHIA:
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.
1890.


Copyright, 1886, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.

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


TO

The Memory

OF

EMMET CRAWFORD,

CAPTAIN THIRD REGIMENT OF CAVALRY,

ONE OF THE NOBLEST MEN, ONE OF THE KNIGHTLIEST SOLDIERS, AND ONE OF THE
MOST INEXCUSABLE SACRIFICES IN THE HISTORY OF OUR ARMY,

THIS STORY

OF SCENES WHEREIN HE WAS LOVED AND HONORED,

IS DEDICATED.



PREFACE.


The kind reception accorded "The Colonel's Daughter" was a surprise and
delight to the author, nevertheless it was a long time before he could
be induced to write this sequel.

When Mr. Sam Slick, at the first essay, shot the cork out of a floating
bottle some thirty yards away, he had the deep sagacity never to pull
trigger again, well knowing he could not improve on the initial effort,
and so Prudence whispered that with the Finis to the story of Jack
Truscott and sweet Grace Pelham there had best come a full stop.

But many a plea has been received to "Tell us more about the --th," and
at last the motion prevailed. Thackeray has said, "It is an unfair
advantage which the novelist takes of the hero and heroine to say
good-by to the two as soon as ever they are made husband and wife, and I
have often wished that we should hear what occurs to the sober married
man as well as to the ardent bachelor; to the matron as to the blushing
spinster." And so, many of the characters of the old story reappear
upon the scene. That they will be welcomed for the sake of auld lang
syne has been promised, and that they and their associates may find new
interest in the eyes of the indulgent reader is the prayer of

                    THE AUTHOR.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER                                                PAGE

I.--TWO TROOPERS                                          5

II.--GARRISON TALK                                       20

III.--HEROINES                                           43

IV.--IMPENDING SHADOWS                                   59

V.--MARION SANDFORD                                      72

VI.--AT THE FRONT                                        84

VII.--WAR RUMORS                                        100

VIII.--AT RUSSELL                                       112

IX.--RAY TO THE FRONT                                   125

X.--A JUNE SUNDAY                                       147

XI.--THE WOLF AND THE SHEEPFOLD                         162

XII.--A SERANADE                                        177

XIII.--SURROUNDED                                       189

XIV.--RAY'S RIDE FOR LIFE                               207

XV.--RESCUE AT DAWN                                     222

XVI.--HOW WE HEARD THE NEWS                             232

XVII.--A COWARD'S DEED                                  246

XVIII.--DESERTION                                       257

XIX.--IN CLOSE ARREST                                   272

XX.--A CORNERED RAT                                     286

XXI.--RAY'S TROUBLES                                    296

XXII.--A SHOT AT MIDNIGHT                               309

XXIII.--IN CLOSER TOILS                                 322

XXIV.--THE GRASP OF THE LAW                             334

XXV.--WHOSE GAUNTLET?                                   345

XXVI.--REVELATIONS                                      359

XXVII.--VINDICATED                                      373

XXVIII.--THE COLORS ENTWINE                             396

XXIX.--A CAVALRY WEDDING                                419



MARION'S FAITH.

A SEQUEL TO THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER.



CHAPTER I.

TWO TROOPERS.


"Ray, what would you do if some one were to leave you a fortune?"

"Humph! Pay for the clothes I have on, I suppose," is the answer, half
humorous, half wistful, as the interrogated party, the younger of two
officers, glances down at his well-worn regimentals. "That's one reason
I'm praying we may be sent to reinforce Crook up in the Sioux country.
No need of new duds when you're scouting for old 'Gray Fox,' you know."

"I thought you wanted to take a leave this summer and visit the old home
in Kentucky," says the major, with a look of rather kindly interest from
under his shaggy eyebrows.

"Want must be my master, then. I couldn't pay my way home if they'd take
me as freight," replies the lieutenant, in the downright and
devil-may-care style which is one of his several pronounced
characteristics. "Of course," he continues presently, "I would like to
look in on the mother again; she's getting on in years now and isn't
over and above strong, but she has no cares or worries to speak of; she
don't know what a reprobate I am; sister Nell is married and out of the
way; the old home is sold and mother lives in comfort on the proceeds;
she's happy up at Lexington with her sister's people. What's the use of
my going back to Kentuck and being a worry to her? Before I'd been there
a week I'd be spending most of my time down at the track or the stables;
I could no more keep away from the horses than I could from a square
game, and she hates both,--they swamped my father before I knew an ace
from an ant-hill. No, _sir_! The more I think of it the more I know the
only place for me is right here with the old regiment. What's more, the
livelier work we have in the field and the less we get of garrison grind
the better it is for me. I almost wish we were back in Arizona to-day."

"Why, confound it! man, it isn't a year since we left there," breaks in
the major, impatiently, "and we haven't begun to get a taste of
civilization yet. You let the women in the regiment hear you talk of
wanting to go back there, or what's worse, going up to join Crook in
Wyoming, and they'll mob you. Who was it your sister married?" he
suddenly asks.

"A man named Rallston,--a swell contractor or something up in Iowa. I
never saw him; indeed, it's nearly nine years since I saw her; but she
promised to be a beauty then, and they all say she grew up a beauty; but
Nell was headstrong and always in mischief, and I'm glad she's settled
down. She used to write to me when she was first married, four years
ago, and send me occasional 'tips' for Christmas and birthdays, and she
was going to give me a Lexington colt when I came East, but she's quit
all that, because I was an ungrateful cub and never answered, I suppose.
She knows there's nothing I hate worse than writing, and oughtn't to be
hard on me. It's all I can do to send a monthly report to the mother."

"Did you say you never saw her husband?" asks the major after a pause,
in which he had been apparently studying the quick-tripping hoofs of
Ray's nimble sorrel.

"No; never set eyes on him. It was a sudden smite,--one of those
flash-in-the-pan, love-at-first-sight affairs. He was down in Kentucky
buying horses, saw her at a party, and made no end of fuss over her; had
lots of money and style, you know, and the first I heard of it they were
married and off. It was our first year in Arizona, and mails were a
month old when they got to us."

"How long is it since you heard from her?" says the major, after another
pause.

Mr. Ray looks up in some surprise. He hardly knows what to make of this
display of curiosity on the part of his ordinarily indifferent
companion, but he answers quietly enough,--

"Over a year, I reckon. She was in Omaha then and Rallston was away a
good deal,--had big cattle interests somewhere; I know that mother used
to ask if Nell told me much about him, and she seemed anxious. Nell
herself said that mother was much opposed to the match,--didn't seem to
take to Rallston at all,--but she was bound to have him, and she did,
and she's just that high-strung sort of girl that if disappointed or
unhappy would never let on to the mother as long as she lived."

They are riding slowly in from troop-drill, the battalion commander and
a pet of his, Mr. Ray, of the --th Cavalry. It is one of those exquisite
May mornings when the rolling prairies of Western Kansas seem swimming
in a soft, hazy light, and the _mirage_ on the horizon looks like a
glassy sea. The springy turf is tinted with the hues of myriads of wild
flowers, purple, pale blue, and creamy white; the mountain breeze that
is already whirling the dust-clouds on the Denver plains has not yet
begun to ruffle the cottonwoods or the placid surface of the slow-moving
stream, and in many a sheltered pool the waters of the "Smoky Hill"
gleam like silvered mirror, without break or flaw. Far out on the gentle
slopes small herds of troop-horses or quartermaster's "stock," each with
its attendant guard, give life to the somewhat sombre tone of the
landscape, while nearer at hand two or three well-filled cavalry
"troops" with fluttering guidons are marching silently in towards the
little frontier garrison that lies in a shallow dip in the wide,
treeless prairie.

Bits of color are rare enough, save the faint hues of the
flowerets,--almost as indistinguishable in the general effect as their
fairy fragrance on the air. Aloft, the sky is all one blaze of sunshine,
that seems to bleach it into palest, most translucent blue. Far to the
west some fleecy clouds are rolling up from the horizon, wafted from the
peaks of the hidden Rockies. Down in the "swale," the wooden barracks,
stables, quarters, and storehouses are all one tint of economical brown,
brightened only by the hues of the flag that hangs high over the scene.
Beyond the shallow valley and across the stream, looking only long
rifle-shot away, but a good two miles when one comes to walk it, a brick
school-house with glistening cupola stands sentinel in the centre of the
scattering frontier town; there, too, lies the railway station, from
which an ugly brown freight-train is just pulling out Denverwards,
puffing dense clouds of inky smoke to the sky. Space, light, and air
there are in lavish profusion. Shade there is little or none, except
close along the winding stream; but shade is a thing neither sought nor
cared for, as the sun-tanned faces of the troopers show. Every now and
then a trumpet-call floats softly over the prairie, or the ringing,
prolonged word of command marks some lazily-executed manoeuvre on the
homeward way. Drill is over; the sharp eyes and sharper tongue of the
major no longer criticise any faulty or "slouchy" wheel; the drill
proper has been stiff and spirited, and now the necessary changes of
direction are carried out in a purely perfunctory manner, while the
battalion commander and his subaltern, troops and all, amble back and
give their steeds a breathing spell.

Typical cavalrymen are those two, who, chatting quietly together, are
riding somewhat in advance of the returning companies. The major is a
man a trifle over forty, short, stout, with massive shoulders, chest,
and thighs, a neck like a bull, a well-shaped head covered with
straight, close-cropped, brown hair, innocent of kink or curl; a florid
face, bronzed and tanned by years of life in sun and wind and storm;
clean-shaven but for the drooping brown moustache that conceals the
rugged lines of his mouth, and twinkling blue-gray eyes that peer out
with searching gaze from under their shaggy brows. Firmness, strength,
self-reliance, even sternness, can be read in every line; but around the
gathering crowsfeet at the corners of his eyes, and lurking under the
shadow of the grim moustache, are little curves or dimples or something,
that betray to the initiated the presence of a humorous vein that
softens the asperity of the soldier. Some who best know him can detect
there a symptom of tenderness and a possibility of sentiment, whose
existence the major would indignantly deny. The erect carriage of the
head, the square set of the shoulders, the firm yet easy seat in the
saddle, speak of the experienced soldier, while in the first word that
falls from his lips one hears the tone of the man far more at home in
camp than court. There is something utterly blunt and abrupt in his
manner, a scathing contrast to the affected drawl brought into the
regiment by recent importations from the East, and assiduously copied by
a professed Anglo-maniac among the captains. Rude indeed may he
sometimes be in his speech, "and little versed in the set phrase of
peace," but through it all is the ring of sturdy honesty and
independence. He uses the same tone to general and to private soldier
alike; extending the same degree of courtesy to each. No one ever heard
of "old Stannard's" fawning upon a superior or bullying an inferior; to
all soldiers he is one and the same,--short, blunt, quick, and to the
point. Literally he obeys the orders of his chiefs, and literally and
promptly he expects his own to be obeyed. He has his faults, like the
best of men: he will growl at times; he is prone to pick flaws, and to
say sharp and cutting things, for which he is often ashamed and sorry;
he can see little good in the works or words of the men he dislikes; he
absolutely cannot praise, and he is over-quick to blame; but after all
he is true as steel, as unswerving as the needle, and no man, no woman
could need a stancher friend than the new major of the --th, "old
Stannard."

As for Ray, no officer in the regiment is better known or more talked
about. Ten years of his life he has spent under the standard of the
--th, barring a very short but eventful detail at "the Point." Nebraska,
Kansas, and Arizona he knows as well as the savannas of his native
blue-grass country. He has been in more skirmishes with the regiment and
more scrapes of his own than any fellow of his age in service, but he
has the faculty of "lighting on his feet every time," as he himself
would express it, and to-day he rides along as buoyantly and recklessly
as he did ten years ago, and the saddle is Ray's home. Ephemeral
pleasure he finds in the hop-room, for he dances well; perennial
attraction, his detractors say, he finds at the card-table, but Ray is
never quite himself until he throws his leg over the horse he loves. He
is _facile princeps_ the light rider of the regiment, and to this claim
there are none to say him nay. A tip-top soldier too is Ray. Keen on the
scout, tireless on the trail, daring to a fault in action, and either
preternaturally cool or enthusiastically excited when under fire. He is
a man the rank and file swear by and love. "You never hear Loot'nant Ray
saying 'Go in there, fellers.' 'Tis always, 'Come on, boys.' That's why
I like him," is the way Sergeant Moriarty puts it. Among his comrades,
his brother officers that is to say, opinions are divided. Ray has
trusty friends and he has his bitter enemies, though the latter, when
charged with the fact, are prone to say that no one is so much Ray's
enemy as Ray himself,--an assertion which cannot be altogether denied.
But as his own worst enemy Ray is thoroughly open and above-board; he
has not a hidden fault; his sins are many and they are public property
for all he cares; whereas the men who dislike Ray in the regiment are of
the opposite stamp. Among themselves they pick him to pieces with
comparative safety, but outside their limited circle, the damnation of
faint praise, the covert insinuations, or that intangible species of
backbiting which can,

    "Without sneering, others teach to sneer,"

has to be their resort, and for good reason. Ray tolerates no slander,
and let him once get wind of the fact that some man has maligned him,
there is a row in the camp. Minding his own business, however
unsuccessfully, he meddles with the affairs of no one else, and thinking
twice before he alludes once to the shortcomings of a comrade, he claims
that consideration for himself, but doesn't get it. There be men who
outrival the weaker sex in the sinister effect they can throw into the
faintest allusion to another's conduct, and in the dexterity with which
they evade the consequences, and of such specimens the --th has its
share. There was Crane, whom Ray had fearfully snubbed and afterwards
"cut" in Arizona; there was Wilkins, whom Ray had treated with scant
courtesy for over a year, because of some gossip that veteran had been
instrumental in putting into circulation; there was Captain Canker, who
used to like and admire Ray in the rough old days in the cañons and
deserts, but who had forfeited his esteem while they were stationed at
Camp Sandy, and when they met again in Kansas, Ray touched his cap to
his superior officer but withheld his hand. Canker felt very bitterly
towards Ray, claiming that there was no officer in the regiment whom he
had treated with such marked courtesy, and to this, when he heard it,
Ray made response in his characteristic way. He would have no middleman.
He went straight to Canker and said his say in few terse words: "You
consider me unjustified in refusing to treat you as a friend, Captain
Canker; now let us have no misunderstanding whatever. Your conduct
towards _my_ best friend, Captain Truscott, and towards--towards another
good friend of mine at Sandy, was an outrage in my opinion, and I have
yet to learn that you have expressed regret or made amends. That's my
position, sir; and if you care for my friendship, you know how to regain
it." Canker was too much astonished by such directness to make any
reply. Other officers who happened to be standing near maintained an
embarrassed silence, and Ray faced about and walked off. "For all the
world," said Wilkins, "as though he had that d----d chip on his shoulder
again and was begging somebody to knock it off." Canker was hit in a
sore place. Long before this occurrence he realized that several
officers of the regiment had withdrawn every semblance of esteem in
their intercourse with him. He well knew why, but the officer whose
cause Ray so vehemently championed was away on detached service, and
Canker really did not know just what to do, and was too proud and
sensitive to seek advice. He was a gallant soldier in the field, but a
man of singularly unfortunate disposition,--crabbed, cranky, and
suspicious; and thus it resulted that he, too, joined the little band of
Ray haters, despite the fact that he felt ashamed of himself for so
doing.

Then there was Gleason,--"That man Gleason," as he was generally alluded
to, and to those familiar with army life or army ways the mere style is
indicative of this character. For good and sufficient reason Mr. Ray had
slapped Mr. Gleason's face some years back, when the --th was serving in
Arizona, and there was no possible reason for his failure to seek the
immediate reparation due him as an officer, no possible reason except
the absolute certainty of Ray's promptly according him the demanded
luxury. The --th was commanded by a colonel of the old school in those
days, one who had observed "the code" when a junior officer, and would
have been glad to see it carried out to this day; but Gleason was not
made of that stuff, and to the scandal of the regiment and the
incredulous mirth of Mr. Ray, Gleason pocketed the blow as complacently
as he did the money he had won from the Kentuckian by a trick which was
transparent to every looker-on, and would have been harmless with
Ray--had he been himself. Those were the rough days of the regiment's
campaign against the Apaches; officers and men were scattered in small
commands through the mountains; in the general and absorbing interest of
the chase and scout after a common foe there was no time to take up and
settle the affair as something affecting the credit of the entire corps;
many officers never heard of it at all until long afterwards, and then
it was too late; but to this day Gleason stood an unsparing, bitter, but
secret and treacherous enemy of the younger officer. He hated Ray with
the venom of a snake.

So far as the regiment was concerned, the enmity of a man of Gleason's
calibre could hardly be of consequence. Like Canker, he had come into
the --th from the "supernumerary list" at the time of the general
reorganization in '71. Scores of infantry officers left out of their
regiments by consolidation were saddled upon the cavalry and artillery,
and in many instances proved utterly out of their element in the mounted
service. All the cavalry regiments growled more or less at the enforced
addition to their list of "total commissioned," and the --th had not
been especially fortunate. Many a fine soldier and excellent comrade had
come into the cavalry in this way, and of them the --th had found a few;
but a dozen or more, valuable neither as soldiers nor comrades, had
drifted into the mounted service, and of these the regiment had, to say
the least, its full share. "All I've got to remark on the subject," said
old "Black Bill," the senior major at that eventful period,--"all I've
got to remark is simply this: those infantry fellows showed profound
discrimination in getting rid of their chaff, but they had no mercy on
us. When a man ain't good enough for a doughboy officer he ain't fit for
anything."

Now, it by no means resulted from inefficiency on their part that so
many of the transferred officers had left their own regiments. Many had
requested the move; many more were rendered supernumerary as being the
juniors of their grades; but there were others still who ranked well up
in their old regiments, and yet were mysteriously "left out in the
cold." And of such was "that man Gleason." Six years had he served with
the new regiment in the field, and not a friend could he muster among
the officers,--not one who either liked or respected him,--not one who
more than tolerated him except among the two or three who daily and
nightly haunted the card-room at the trader's store; but to hear Gleason
talk one would fancy him to be on terms of intimacy with every "solid"
man of the regiment, and the casual visitor at the garrison would be
more than apt to leave it with the impression that Gleason was the
figure-head of the commissioned element. He had fair manners; his
appearance was prepossessing; he was bland and insinuating among daily
associates, confidential and hospitable with strangers. A visitor could
go nowhere without meeting Gleason, for his social status was just so
balanced between adverse influences that one could neither forbid nor
welcome him to his home. No matter who might be the entertaining
officer, the first to call and pay his respects to the guest would be
that objectionable Gleason, and very sprightly and interesting could he
be. Ten to one the chances were that when he took his departure he had
left a pleasant impression on the mind of the new arrival, who would
find himself at a loss to account for the evident perturbation with
which his host proper regarded his acceptance of Gleason's hospitable
invitations. Gleason's horse, Gleason's dogs or guns or rods were
promptly at the door for him to try, and when others sought to do him
honor, and other invitations came to hunt or ride or dine, Gleason had
the inside track, and somehow or other it seemed to make the better men
of the --th retire into their shells when they heard of it. This had
been the way with visiting officers from other posts and regiments when
in Arizona, and the same thing was being repeated here in Kansas. The
--th did not like it, but could not exactly see how to help it. The only
vulnerable and tangible points upon which he could be "sent to Coventry"
were shady transactions at cards or horse-racing that had occurred in
Arizona, and his failure to resent Ray's blow; but two and three years
had elapsed since these occurrences; the scattered condition of the
regiment had prevented regimental notice of them at the time, and it was
generally held that now it was too late for any such action. With any
other man coldness, distance of manner, or at the least the pronounced
snubs that greeted Gleason, would have long since had effect, but he was
proof against such methods, and no sooner detected them than he found
excuses to force himself upon the attention or conversation of the
officer, and in so insidious a way as to disarm resistance. He would
fairly beam with cordiality and respect upon the commanding officer who
was short and gruff with him; he would invade old Stannard's quarters to
ask his advice about the purchase of a horse or the proper method of
dealing with some one of his men,--and the major had a soft side in
looking after the rights of the rank and file; he would drop in to ask
Mrs. Stannard the name of a new flower he had picked up out near the
targets. He cared no more for flowers than she did for him, but it gave
him temporary admission, generally when other ladies had called for a
morning chat, and though she cordially disliked him, Mrs. Stannard was
too thorough a lady to show the least discourtesy to an officer of her
husband's regiment. Gleason well knew it, and laid his plans
accordingly. For a long time, indeed, there were ladies who could not
understand why Mr. Gleason should be so contemptuously spoken of by the
officers. He was so thoughtful, so delicate, and then he was so lonely.
Gleason was a widower, whose eyes would often overflow when he spoke of
the little woman whom he had buried years ago down in Connecticut; but
when Mrs. Turner once questioned Captain Baxter, who knew them when they
were in the old infantry regiment in Louisiana, and referred to its
being so sad and touching to hear Mr. Gleason talk of his dead wife and
their happy days among the orange-groves near Jackson Barracks, the
captain astonished her by an outburst of derisive laughter. "Happy,
madam?" said he; "by gad! if ever a woman died of neglect, abuse, and
ill-treatment Mrs. Gleason did, and next time he attempts to gull you
with sentiment, just you refer him to me." But then, as Mrs. Turner
said, poor Captain Baxter's finer sensibilities seemed to have been
blunted by a lifetime in the quartermaster's department, and for quite a
while Mr. Gleason was one of her favorites,--quite a devotee in fact,
until the disastrous day when she discovered that so far from having
been ill and unable to ride with her, as he claimed, he had been
spending the afternoon in the fascinations of poker. One by one the
ladies of the --th had learned to trust Mr. Gleason as little as did
their lords, but there was no snubbing him. "Snubs," said the senior
major, "are lost on such a pachydermatous ass as Gleason," and however
tough might be his moral hide, and however deserved might have been the
applied adjective, the major was in error in calling Gleason an ass.
Intriguing, full of low malice and scheming, a "slanderer and
substractor" he certainly was, but no fool. More's the pity, Mr. Gleason
was far too smart for the direct methods and simple minds of his
associates in the --th. He never in all his life failed to take full
note of every slight or coldness, and though it was his rôle to hide the
sting, and "smile and smile and be a villain still," never was it his
purpose to permit the faintest snub to go unpunished. Sooner or later,
unrelentingly but secretly he would return that stab with interest ten
times compounded. And sooner or later to the bitter end he meant to feed
fat his ancient grudge on Ray.

Up to this time he had scant opportunity. For two or three years
preceding their removal to the East Gleason had been stationed in
Southern Arizona, while Ray, after months of lively service in the
mountains, had been sent to regimental headquarters, and marched with
them when they came into Kansas. Now once more six companies were
gathered at the post of the standard,--two were tenting on the prairie
just outside the garrison, the other four were regularly in barracks,
and the concentration there boded a move or "business" of some kind.
"Old Catnip," the colonel, was East, but the lieutenant-colonel was
commanding, and the junior major was there. Drills were incessant, but
scouts were few, and after the years of "go-as-you-please" work in
Arizona the --th was getting rapidly back into soldierly shape. The
little frontier fort was blithe and gay with its merry populace. All
the officers' families had joined; several young ladies were spending
the spring in garrison and taking their first taste of military life;
hops and dances came off almost every night, a "german" every week;
rides, drives, hunts, and picnic-parties were of daily occurrence; the
young officers were in clover, the young ladies in ecstasy, the young
matrons--perhaps not quite so well pleased as when they had the field to
themselves in Arizona, where young ladies had been few and far between,
and all promised delightfully for the coming summer,--all but the
war-cloud rising in the far Northwest.



CHAPTER II.

GARRISON TALK.


It was a picturesque group that assembled every pleasant morning on the
veranda of the colonel's quarters. There had been a time in the not very
distant past of the regiment when the ladies gathered almost anywhere
else in preference, but that was when Colonel Pelham had retained the
command, and when his wife sought to rule the garrison after methods of
her own devising. However successful may be such feminine usurpation for
a time, it is at best but a temporary power, for women are of all things
revolutionary. The instances where some ambitious matron has sought to
assume the control of the little military bailiwick known as "the
garrison" are numerous indeed, but the fingers of one hand are too many
to keep tally of the cases of prolonged and peaceful reign. Mrs.
Pelham's queendom had been limited to a very brief fortnight,--so 'twas
said in the regiment,--despite the fact that the more prominent members
of the social circle of the --th had been quite ready to do her every
homage on her first arrival,--provided the prime ministry were not given
to some rival sister. But Mrs. Pelham's administration had been fraught
with errors and disasters enough to wreck a constitutional monarchy,
and, as a result, affairs were in a highly socialistic, if not
nihilistic condition for some months after the return of the regiment
from its exile in Arizona. Only a few of the officers had taken their
families thither with them, for the journey in those days was full of
vast discomfort and expense, and life there was an isolation; but those
ladies who had shared the heat and burden of the Arizona days with their
lords were not unnaturally given to regarding themselves as entitled to
more consideration as regimental authorities than those of their
sisterhood who had remained in comfort in the East. Then, too, there was
a little band of heroines who had made the march "cross country" with
the --th, and held themselves (and were held by the men) as having a
higher place on the regimental unwritten records than those who were
sent home by way of the Pacific, San Francisco, and the one railway that
then belted the continent. Of these heroines Mrs. Pelham was not, and
when she rejoined at Fort Hays, got her house in order and proceeded,
though with inward misgiving, to summon her subjects about her, she
found that even the faint rally on which she had counted was denied her.
The ladies who knew her at Camp Sandy had thrown off the yoke, and those
who were joining for the first time had been unmistakably cautioned by
the determined Amazons of the homeward march. Courtesy, civility, and a
certain degree of cordiality when in their social gatherings, the ladies
were willing to extend to the colonel's wife, but the declaration of
independence had been signed and sealed,--they would have no more of her
dominion.

To a woman of her character garrison life was no longer tolerable to
Mrs. Pelham; the colonel, too, was getting tired of it, was aging
rapidly and no longer able to take his morning gallops. Then, too, he
was utterly lonely; his one daughter, the light of his old eyes, had
married the man of her choice during the previous year; his sons were
scattered in their own avocations, and the complaints and peevishness of
his wife were poor companions for his fireside. The officers welcomed
him to their club-room, and gladly strove to interest him in billiards
or whist, to the exclusion of the Gleason clique and concomitant poker,
which was never played in the colonel's presence; but even this solace
was denied him by his wife. She was just as lonely at home, poor lady,
and she had to have some one to listen to her long accumulation of
feminine trials and grievances, otherwise the overcharged bosom would
burst. We claim it an attribute of manhood that "to suffer and be
strong" is an every-day affair; but the best of men feel infinite relief
in having some trusted friend who will listen in patience to the
oft-told story of their struggle. To suffer, be strong, and be silent
is a task for the stoutest of our sex, but woman triumphs over nature
itself in accomplishing the triple feat, and undergoes a torture that
outrivals martyrdom. Suffer Mrs. Pelham could and did, if her voluble
lamentations could be credited; strong she deemed herself beyond all
question, in not having succumbed to the privations and asperities of
Western life, but silent? ah, no! Poor old Pelham's life had become a
perennial curtain-lecture, so Lieutenant Blake expressed it, and when
January came, and with it an opportunity to accept a pleasant detail in
the East, the colonel lost no time in taking his departure. He left the
--th with a sorrowful heart, for officers and men were strongly attached
to the old soldier who had for years past shared every exile with them,
but they could not bear his domineering wife, and many a fellow who
hadn't told an appreciable lie for six months gulped unconscionably when
it came to saying good-by to Mrs. Pelham. How could an honest man say he
regretted her going? Stout old Bucketts, the quartermaster, looked her
straight in the eye and wished her a pleasant journey and a long and
happy visit East, whereat several ladies gasped audibly, yet told it
over and over afterwards with infinite delight. The majority of the
officers contented themselves with saying that the garrison would not be
the same place without the colonel and herself, which was gospel truth
despite its ambiguity, but Gleason came in from a hunt purposely to say
farewell, and was most effusive in his regrets at her ladyship's
departure, and as for the ladies of the regiment. Ah, well! Why should
they be any different, any more frank in garrison than out of it? There
was not one of their number who did not inwardly rejoice at Mrs.
Pelham's going, but they clouded their gentle faces in decorous
mourning; they grouped about her on the piazza when the hour for parting
came, looking infinitely pathetic and picturesque, and the soft voices
were touching in their subdued sorrow; there were even eyes that
glistened with unshed tears, and both Mrs. Raymond and Mrs. Turner
begged that she would write to them, and heaven only knows what all. Who
that saw it could doubt the forgiving nature of the gentler sex? Who
dare asperse the sweet sincerity of feminine friendship?

But Lady Pelham had gone, and gone for good they hoped; the
lieutenant-colonel had arrived and assumed command, and Major and Mrs.
Stannard made their first appearance at regimental headquarters. A new
era had dawned on the --th; the staff sent in their resignations, and
were promptly and pleasantly notified by the new commander that he hoped
they would not deprive him of services that had been so valuable to his
predecessor; whereat they resumed duty with lighter hearts. It was all
well enough where Bucketts was concerned; he had been quartermaster for
years and no one expected anything else, but there were those in the
regiment who hoped there might be a change in the adjutancy. The office
was held by one of the senior lieutenants, to be sure, and one who
possessed many qualifications which were conceded, but his appointment
had been something of an accident.

He, too, had come into the --th by transfer in '71 for the avowed
purpose of seeking service on the Western frontier with the cavalry. As
it was the artillery which he abandoned for that purpose, the --th
admitted that here was a fellow who might be worth having, but, to the
scandal of the entire regiment, no sooner was the order issued which
doomed them to a five years' exile in Arizona--then overrun with hostile
Apaches--than the newly transferred gentleman accepted a detail as
aide-de-camp on the staff of a general officer, and the --th went across
to the Pacific and presently were lost to recollection in the then
inaccessible wilds of that marvellous Territory. Here they spent four
long years of hard scouting, hard fighting, and no little suffering,
while the aide in question was presumably enjoying himself in unlimited
ball and opera in a gay Southern capital. Suddenly he turned up in their
midst just in time to take part in the closing campaign which left the
Apaches for several years a disarmed and subjugated race; he happened to
get command of a well-seasoned and thoroughly experienced "troop," and
through no particular personal merit, but rather by the faculty he had
of seeking the advice of the veteran sergeants in the company, he had
won two or three lively little fights with wandering bands of hostiles,
and had finally been quite enviably wounded. It was all a piece of his
confounded luck, said some of the --th not unnaturally. Many a gallant
fellow had been killed and buried, many another wounded and not
especially mentioned, and all of them had done months of hard work where
Billings had put in only so many days, but here he came in at the
eleventh hour, and they, who had borne the heat and burden of the
campaign and received every man his penny, couldn't help a few
good-natured slings at the fact that Billings's penny was just as big
and round as theirs. The department commander had been close at hand
every time that fortunate youth came in from a scout, and even Ray, who
was incessantly seeking the roughest and most dangerous service, could
not repress a wistful expression of his views when he heard of the final
scrimmage far up towards Chevelon's Fork. "Here we fellows have been
bucking against this game for nigh onto four years now, and if ever we
raked in a pile it's all been ante'd up since, and now Billings comes in
fresh--never draws but he gets a full hand--and he scoops the deck. He
has too much luck for a white man." The remark was one that, said by Ray
himself in his whimsical and downright manner, was destitute of any
hidden meaning, and Billings, who had not seen Ray for years, would
never have misunderstood it, but when he first heard it six months
afterwards, and while Ray and himself had yet to meet, it was told
semi-confidentially, told as Ray never said it, told in fact--by
Gleason; and Billings, who was of a nervous, sensitive disposition, as
outspoken in a way as Ray was in his, was hurt more than a little. He
had known Ray a dozen years before when both were wearing the gray as
cadets at the Point, but they were in different classes and by no means
intimate. Each, however, had cordially liked the other, and Billings
would have been slow to believe the statement as told him for a single
instant except for two things,--one was that Gleason was a new
acquaintance of whom up to that time he knew nothing really
discreditable; the other was that just before the regiment came East
from Arizona the adjutancy became vacant, Lieutenant Truscott, who had
long held the position, was detailed for duty at West Point and speedily
promoted to his captaincy; Billings was brought in wounded and sent off
by sea to San Francisco as soon as he could travel, and so heard little
of the particulars of some strange mystery that was going on at
regimental headquarters, and when, some months later, he rejoined the
regiment in Kansas, it was with much mental perturbation that he
received from "Old Catnip" the offer of the still vacant adjutancy.

Of course, he had heard by that time just why Truscott had resigned and
refused to re-accept the position; he also knew that the colonel had
said that he could give it to no officer who had not served with them in
the rough days in Arizona; and, moreover, that he had once declared that
offering the adjutancy to a second lieutenant was equivalent to saying
that no first lieutenant was capable of performing the duties. But he
did not know that soon after Truscott's resignation the colonel had
tendered the adjutancy to Ray, and that impolitic youth had promptly
declined. He knew, as did the whole regiment, that for Truscott Ray had
an enthusiastic admiration and regard, and for that matter, Billings
himself had reason to look upon the ex-adjutant as a friend worth
having; but he did not suspect, as some at old Camp Sandy more than
suspected, that Ray had been offered his place. The colonel, in his
surprise and mortification, would speak of it to no one. Ray, in his
blunt honesty, conceived it to be his duty to regard the offer as
confidential, since he _had_ declined, and so, snubbed any one who
strove to extract information. Most of the senior lieutenants were on
detached service when they came in from Arizona. Everybody thought
Stryker would get the detail as soon as he returned from abroad, whither
he had gone on leave after making, as mountain scout leader, the best
four years' record in the regiment; but Stryker came just as Billings
did, and to Billings, not Stryker, was the adjutancy tendered. What made
the regiment indignant was, that so far from being in the least put out
about it, Stryker placidly remarked that Billings was the very man for
the place. "He isn't entitled to it," said the --th; "in ten years'
service he hasn't spent ten months with us." But Stryker did not see fit
to tell them what he knew and the colonel knew,--that he had been
tendered and had accepted the position of aide-de-camp to his old
Arizona chief, and was daily awaiting orders to join; and Ray was off
scouting with his troop when Billings reached headquarters, and had to
face, as he supposed, an opposition. Stannard was the only man who
really knew very much about him as a cavalry officer, and Stannard's
opinion was what brought it all about. They had served for some months
at the same post, and both the major and his clear-sighted wife had
taken a fancy to the young officer, whose first appearance in "citified
garb and a _pince-nez_" gave little promise of future usefulness in the
field. Pelham and Stannard knew that it _had_ to be Billings or a second
lieutenant, but Billings had at first no such intimation. Possibly his
strong sense of self-esteem might have stood in the way of acceptance
had he supposed that he was merely a last resort. Stannard really hoped
he would be the appointee, but all he would say to the colonel when
asked for his opinion was, "I have had less to find fault with in him
than any officer who ever served in my troop; but then he was only with
me six months or so. _I_ like him," which was tantamount to saying
others probably wouldn't. But Stannard and Billings were firm friends,
as anybody could see, and the colonel was quick to note that when
Stannard had given Billings anything to do, he bothered himself no
further about the matter, instead of going along and supervising as was
his wont with most of the others. "If he's good enough for Stannard,
he'll do for me," was the colonel's comment, and when Billings sought to
decline the appointment offered, hinting, with well-meant but awkward
delicacy, that perhaps it ought to go to some man of more established
reputation and record in the regiment, the colonel cut him short with,
"Here, Mr. Billings, I must have some one at once; old Bucketts has been
doing office-work as both quartermaster and adjutant until he is getting
used up, and young Dana is only good for parade and guard-mounting. I'll
detail you as acting adjutant, and if you like it, at the end of a week
we'll make the appointment permanent. Consult your friends meantime, if
you choose." And so it happened that when Stannard said, "Take it," and
Stryker told him quietly that there were reasons why he himself would
have had to decline, Billings shook his head a few minutes in thinking
over what he had heard of Mrs. Pelham, and wished he might see Ray and
make him understand that he thought the place should go to him, but
Stannard said, emphatically, that Ray was too harum-scarum for
office-work, good as he was in the field. And then came a brief letter
from Truscott, cordial and straight to the point as ever. It wound up
by saying, "The colonel attributes your hesitation to the fact that you
think it ought to go to some man who has served longer with the
regiment. We respect that, and appreciate it; but you are offered this
with the best backing in the regiment,--Stannard's,--and with that you
can afford to laugh at anything the growlers may say."

The next morning the order was issued in due form. That afternoon Mr.
Ray, returning dusty and unshorn from a two weeks' scout up the Saline,
was informed of the fact as he stood at the stables unstrapping from the
back of his sorrel the carcass of a fat antelope, gave a low whistle,
remarked, "Well, I'm damned!" and, as bad luck would have it, postponed
rushing in to congratulate Billings until dinner, when, to his genuine
disappointment, the latter did not appear. He was dining at the
colonel's to meet some officers from Leavenworth, and when the new
adjutant went to his rooms late that night he had not seen Ray at all,
but there was that man Gleason smoking a cigar, sipping a toddy, and
evidently primed for a chat. Already Billings had begun to look upon him
with disfavor, but could find no reason to avoid him entirely; he did
not welcome the unwanted guest; he could not chill him. Gleason had his
chat, and, when Ray stepped forward with sunny smile and glistening
white teeth and cordial, outstretched hand the next morning, Billings
looked him in the eye, took his hand, but there was no warmth in the
welcome, and Ray felt rebuffed. "I heard Ned Billings had developed into
something of a snob," said he afterwards, "but he's changed more, for a
frank-hearted fellow that he was ten years ago, than any man I know."
And so it happened that two men whose lives were closely interwoven from
that time on, who had much in common, who, "had they but known," could
never have drifted apart, began the next stage with an unknown, unseen,
yet undeniable influence thrusting them asunder. And it was of these two
men that the picturesque group on the colonel's piazza happened to be
speaking this very May morning as the major and Mr. Ray, dismounting at
the south gate, strolled lazily up the lane. It was the habit of the
former when not on military duty to thrust his hands deep down into his
trousers pockets, and allow his ample and aldermanic paunch to repose
its weight upon his sabre-belt. As the belt was worn only at the hours
of drill or parade, it followed that there were lapses of time wherein
the paunch knew no such military trammel, and a side elevation of the
battalion commander warranted the simile put in circulation by
Lieutenant Blake: "The major looked as though he had swallowed a drum."
Ray, on the contrary, was slimly, even elegantly built, a trifle taller
than his bulky superior, and though indolent in his general movements,
excitement or action transformed him in an instant. Then in every motion
he was quick as a cat. It was his wont to wear his forage-cap far down
over his forehead and canted very much over the right eye, while,
contrary to the fashion of that day, his dark hair fell below the visor
in a sweeping and decided "bang" almost to his eyebrows, which were
thick, dark brown, and low-arched. A semi-defiant backward toss of the
head was the result as much perhaps of the method of wearing his cap as
of any pronounced mental characteristic. When Stannard was talking
eagerly of any subject his hands went deeper into his pockets, his head
thrust forward, and his eyes fairly popped, as though slight additional
pressure would project them into space like many-tinted grape-shot. If
he were standing still, he tilted on his toes and dropped his head to
one side as he expounded, until the ear wellnigh reposed upon the
shoulder-strap. Ray, on the other hand, threw his head farther back and,
unless he was angry, showed his white teeth to the molars.

As they came along the walk from the main gate and passed one by one the
snug little brown cottages known as the officers' quarters, the ladies
grouped on the colonel's piazza began their very natural comment,--there
were no other men in sight on that side of the garrison.

"Last year you never saw Major Stannard without Mr. Billings; now you
never see him with him, and he is just as chummy with Mr. Ray," remarked
our old friend Mrs. Turner, who was languidly swinging in the hammock,
her eyes commanding a view of the sidewalk, and the sidewalk commanding
a view of her very presentable feet encased in a new pair of French
heeled slippers, and stockings whose delicate mauve tint matched the
ribbons of her airy dress.

"Well, Mr. Billings is adjutant and cooped up in the office all day,"
was the reply of Mrs. Raymond, who could readily find reason for taking
exception to the remarks or theories of her next-door neighbor and
social rival.

There were five ladies in the group, all under thirty, two of them under
twenty, only one unmarried, none of them avowedly interested in either
of the two officers slowly approaching. No one of them, however,
neglected a sweeping glance at her draperies or some slight readjustment
of pose or petticoat. Possibly the formality would have been equally
observed had they all been over fifty.

"I never could understand why Mr. Billings was made adjutant," remarked
the one spinster, her eyes dreamily resting on the lithe form of Mr.
Ray. "I don't mean, of course, that he doesn't do very well, but--there
were so many others who would have--at least who deserved it so much
more."

"Well, you must remember this," responded Mrs. Turner, "there wasn't
anybody else when it was given to him, and there was no real reason why
the colonel should remove him when he took command. Mr. Stryker was
going as aide-de-camp; Mr. Gleason--well, anybody knows he wouldn't do;
Mr. Crane and Mr. Wilkins were neither of them fit for it; Mr. Ray
wouldn't have it, and Mr. Blake and Mr. Freeman hadn't joined. It was
really Billings or nobody, except, of course, the second lieutenants.
Dear me! how I wish one of them could have been appointed!" And Mrs.
Turner sighed pathetically. The younger officers were her especial
henchmen, and each in turn paid his devotion a year or more at the
shrine. If any one of them had been put in power, how much easier
'twould have been to get the band every evening! and then the hops
wouldn't have to close at midnight either! and Mrs. Turner was devoted
to dancing.

"But papa says Mr. Billings is right about not letting the band play
after midnight," broke in the young lady, whose years had been spent in
many a garrison, and whose papa--the post surgeon--had pronounced views
on matters of military and medical discipline. "Papa says the officers
have no right to make the band play until late at night unless they pay
them extra. They have to be up at reveille, and it's a shame to make
them work all day and at night too!"

"The doctor is by no means alone in that idea," began a third speaker in
a quiet voice, and both Mrs. Turner and Mrs. Raymond, who had
impulsively burst into speech at the same instant, checked their nimble
tongues, bridled, sweetly said, "I beg your pardon, Mrs. Stannard," and
inclined attentive ears to a lady who at the moment had stepped from the
open door-way to the piazza. It was evident that she was a late arrival,
in whose presence the others felt bound to observe the deferential
manners which further intimacy would possibly extinguish. "Indeed," she
went on, "only this morning at breakfast Colonel Foster was saying that
the bandsmen were getting their full share of work, and that Mr.
Billings was quite right in the stand he made in the matter."

"Ah, Mrs. Stannard, I don't wonder Mr. Billings is devoted to you!" said
Mrs. Raymond. "You are always ready to defend him."

"He was in our troop, you know, and I feel that he belongs to us to a
certain extent," said Mrs. Stannard, smiling brightly, and nodding
pleasant greetings to the two officers who were passing at the moment,
still intent in their earnest talk. The major merely glanced at the
piazza and pulled off his cap, as though he wished its fair occupants
were beyond saluting distance. Ray bowed with laughing grace, and sung
out cheerily,--

"Don't expect the major home just yet, Mrs. Stannard; he's giving me
fits, and I'm in for a lecture."

The ladies were silent a moment, until the pair had passed on out of
earshoot. Then Mrs. Turner took up the cudgels again.

"And yet, Mrs. Stannard, it wasn't so when Mr. Truscott was adjutant. We
could have the band night after night if we wanted to, and surely you
won't say that Mr. Truscott wasn't the very paragon of an adjutant."

"No, indeed," was the reply. "We all know how unequalled Mr. Truscott
was; but then, were not the conditions very different, Mrs. Turner? For
instance, in Arizona the band was not mounted, the men had no stable
duty, and it was so hot in the daytime that they really had no duty to
perform but to play after dark when it was cool. Now, here they have
their horses, they have two parades each day; they practice every
morning, and play on the parade every afternoon; that, with morning and
evening stable duty, keeps them very busy, and don't you think Mr.
Billings is right?"

Now, all this was well understood by both Mrs. Turner and Mrs. Turner's
friends, and as put by Mrs. Stannard, the case was clearly in favor of
the bandsmen and the adjutant. Down in the depths of her consciousness
Mrs. Turner was well aware of the fact. She had gone over the fight with
her liege lord, the captain, more than once since the spring weather had
set in and the services of the band were in requisition several hours
each day. She knew perfectly well that there was no parallel in the
conditions existing in Arizona in Mr. Truscott's time and those of the
day in Kansas with Billings. Still, she wanted to contrast the men and
their methods, and, as is not unusual, pronounced the abstract statement
that "it wasn't so with Mr. Truscott. _Then_ we could have the band
night after night." She was only stating a fact, was her mental
justification, but that she was doing an injustice she would probably
have not admitted for an instant.

Mrs. Stannard, however, had seen through the argument, and in her
courteous way had shattered its effect. This put Mrs. Turner on her
mettle, and she half rose from the hammock.

"Don't for a moment think I mean to criticise Mr. Billings, Mrs.
Stannard; I really like him, _very_ much; only it's so poky not to have
the band now. The evenings are so lovely for dancing, and with so many
young officers here, it seems such a pity to waste so much time. They
are out drilling or shooting, or something, all day long, and who knows
but what they'll all be ordered off somewhere the next minute? Then we
can have the band all day and nobody to dance with. It's always the
way."

"Well, I like Mr. Billings, too," said Mrs. Raymond, eager to say
something pleasant of Mrs. Stannard's friend; "and Captain Raymond says
he is a very soldierly officer,--very military, I mean,--and knows his
duties so well, only we can't help contrasting him with Mr. Truscott.
Mr. Truscott was so dignified and calm and deliberate, while Mr.
Billings is a regular bunch of springs. They _say_ he's very quick and
irascible; real peppery, you know; but I suppose that is because they
bother him a good deal."

"Mr. Billings has a very nervous temperament I know," replied Mrs.
Stannard, "but we never thought him ill-tempered at Fort Gaines, and
certainly Captain Truscott thinks all the world of him. They correspond
constantly, and only last evening he showed me a letter just received
from the captain."

"Did he?" said Mrs. Turner, with sudden interest. "What did he say about
Grace?"

"About Mrs. Truscott?" said Mrs. Stannard, smilingly. "He said a good
deal about her. She was so bright and well and so pleased with West
Point, and they had such lovely quarters, looking right out on the plain
where they could see everything that was going on, and Miss Sanford was
visiting them----"

"What Miss Sanford?" asked Mrs. Turner, with that feminine impetuosity
which is born of an incredulity as to any one's being able to convey
information in one's own time and way.

"Miss Marion Sanford. She was a classmate of Mrs. Truscott's in their
school-days, and belongs to a wealthy New Jersey family, Mr. Billings
says."

"Oh, _I_ know!" said Mrs. Raymond. "She's that handsome girl in the
album that Grace had at Sandy, don't you know? with the Worth dress and
the something or other the matter with her forehead,--a burn or a
birth-mark,--wears her hair so low over it. Don't you know? Grace told
us she had such a sad history,--her mother died when she was sixteen and
her father married again, and she has her mother's fortune and had gone
abroad. She was travelling with the Zabriskies and was presented at
court last year, and the Prince of Wales said something or other about
her. Don't you know? we read it in the New York something as we were
coming out on the Kansas Pacific last fall. My! Just think of her at
West Point! What a catch!" And Mrs. Raymond paused, breathless with
admiration, not with effort. Talking fatigued her far less than silence.

"Yes, Mrs. Raymond, that is the very one, I believe," continued Mrs.
Stannard in her pleasant tones, as soon as the lady came to a full stop.
"Mr. Billings says that he has heard that her father married a very
unpleasant woman the last time, and that 'twas said he would be----"

"What! Mr. Billings said that? Oh, Mrs. Stannard, how rejoiced I am to
hear it! Captain Turner tried to make me believe that he was another
Truscott in his horror of gossip. Now, won't I crow over him when he
comes in to dinner?"

"Not crow, dear,--cackle," suggested Mrs. Raymond, mildly; "it's the
other sex that does the crowing."

"Very possibly I have betrayed a trust," laughed Mrs. Stannard, coming
to the rescue in the interests of harmony. "It was my mistake in
referring to it. _Do_ tell me about Mrs. Truscott; you know I never met
her."

"What is there to tell except that she _is_ Mrs. Truscott," half
laughed, half pouted Mrs. Turner, who never quite forgave the fact that
her queendom, real or imaginary, had been invaded by that very lady a
year before, to the temporary loss of her throne. As Grace Pelham, Mrs.
Truscott had won all hearts at Sandy. "She is undeniably pretty and
lady-like; but what else can any one say of her? Stylish? no. Now, Mrs.
Raymond, you need not try and say _you_ think her stylish, because only
last year at Prescott you wouldn't admit it. And as to her winning Mr.
Truscott as she did, it is simply incomprehensible. What men see in some
women is beyond _me_. She is neither deep, nor intellectual, nor
particularly well read that _I_ ever saw or heard of, and how she's a
match for him, as people say, I can't see. He's just head over heels in
love with her,--at least he was,--and she was simply wrapped up in
him,--at least she is. You ought to have seen the letter she wrote Mrs.
Page a few months ago; all about her happiness and Jack,--just as if
there never had been another man in the world worth looking at. She'd
have been just as rapturous over Mr. Glenham if she'd married him as she
promised to do, I haven't a doubt, or Ray. _He_ was ready to bow down
and worship her at one time; and she encouraged him not a little before
we left Sandy, too."

"Don't you believe _that_," interposed Mrs. Raymond. "They were warm
friends, I know, but Ray was never her lover."

"You always will contradict me, Nellie," protested Mrs. Turner; "but if
you could not see what every one else saw you were simply blind. I
wonder she doesn't sometimes regret not marrying Glenham, though. They
say he has gone abroad and has more money than he can ever spend."

"More than he ever could if he's as close as he was in Arizona,"
interposed Mrs. Raymond.

"But did you not know that Captain Truscott's ventures were coming out
wonderfully well?" asked Mrs. Stannard, eager to give a pleasanter tone
to the talk. "I heard not only that was true, but that an uncle had
left him a good deal of money. One thing is certain, they have fitted up
their quarters beautifully at the Point, and are living there in a good
deal of style."

"Here come the officers in from drill," exclaimed Mrs. Turner, as a
group of bronzed and soldierly-looking men came suddenly around the
corner of the adjutant's office and strolled towards them. "Ask Captain
Merrill, he will know. _Captain Merrill_," she called, raising her
voice. "Do come here a moment." And obediently he came, doffing his cap
and accepting the seat tendered him beside her by Mrs. Raymond.

"You were at the Point last month. Is it true that Captain Truscott has
a good deal of money now?"

"Can't prove it by me, madame," said Merrill, sententiously. "Ask Blake.
He's our Jenkins. How is it, Blake?"

"Don't call me pet names, dearie. 'When _my_ tongue blabs then let mine
eyes not see,'" declaimed Mr. Blake, sauntering up to the group and
swinging a long, lean leg over the railing. "What do you want to know?"

"Is Mr.--Captain Truscott rich?"

"If my individual experiences are indicative, I should say he was
boundless in wealth and prodigality."

"Why?"

"He lent me a hundred dollars when I was East on leave, and I know he
never expects to see it again."

"I declare, Mr. Blake, you are as bad as Mr. Ray!"

"They are scoundrels and substractors that say so of me. Mrs. Turner,
you--you make me blush. Ray, come hither and bear me consolation. Friend
of my youth, Merrill calls me Jenkins; Mrs. Turner calls me bad as you;
and you--called me with a pair of kings when mine was a bobtail. The
world is hollow, Ray."

"_Mr._ Blake! Will you stop your everlasting nonsense and tell us about
Truscott? When were you there?"

"Mrs. Turner, you aggrieve me, but I was there in April."

"And _are_ they so delightfully situated?"

"Yea, verily,--blissfully."

"Was Miss Sanford there?"

"She came, alas! the very eve I hied me hence. I saw her but a moment;
'twas----"

"You saw her? Tell us what she's like. Is she pretty? is she
sweet-mannered as they say?"

"Sweet? She's sweet, aye, _dix-huit_; at least she was a year agone.
Pretty? Ah me!" And Blake sighed profoundly, and straddled the rail a
picture of dejection. His auditors groaned in chorus, the customary
recognition of one of Blake's puns, but gathered about him in manifest
interest. With all his rattling nonsense he was a regimental pet.

"But where is she from? What connection of the New Jersey Sanford?"

"The Autocrat of the Preakness Stable, mean you? Marry, I know not. She
is a Sanford and has a Sanford's wealth, but 'twas not for me. She
adores a horse and worships a horseman. This I gathered from our too
brief converse. I strove to win her ear with poesie, but she bade me
cease. Her soul is not attuned to melody,--she'd none of mine. She
preferred my Lady Truscott and buttered muffins."

"What did Truscott say about Crook's fight with Crazy Horse?" asked
Ray, who looked blank enough at Blake's jargon, and wanted facts.

"I don't think Jack liked the looks of things," said Blake, relapsing
into sudden gravity. "He told me that he thought it more than likely
we'd all be in the field again in less than a month."

"We?" said Merrill. "It isn't a matter that affects Truscott one way or
another. He has his four years' detail at the Point. What difference
does it make to him whether we're ordered up to reinforce Crook?"

"Just this difference, my bully rook: that Truscott would catch us
before we got to Laramie--unless we went by rail."

"Why, Blake, you're addled!" replied the captain, in that
uncomplimentary directness which sometimes manifests itself among old
comrades of the frontier, even in the presence of the gentler sex. "Why,
Mr. Blake, you don't suppose he is going to give up his young wife, his
lovely home, his pleasant duties, to join for a mere Indian campaign, do
you?" asked more than one present, and a general murmur of dissent went
round. "What do _you_ say, major?" said one voice, in direct appeal to
the senior officer of the group.

"It depends on what you consider a 'mere Indian campaign,'" was the cool
response.

"But as to Truscott's going, what do you think, Ray?"

"I don't think anything about it. I _know_."



CHAPTER III.

HEROINES.


"What is so rare as a day in June?" sings the poet, and where can a day
in June be more beautiful than at this Highland Gate of the peerless
Hudson? It is June of the Centennial year, and all the land is ablaze
with patriotic fervor. From North, from South, from East and West, the
products of a nation's ingenuity or a nation's toil have been garnered
in one vast exhibition at the Quaker City; and thither flock the
thousands of our people. It is June of a presidential nomination, and
the eyes of statesmen and politicians are fixed on Cincinnati. It is the
celebration of the first century of a nation's life that engrosses the
thoughts of millions of hearts, and between that great jubilee and that
quadrennial tempest-in-a-teapot, the nomination, who but a few lonely
wives and children have time to think of those three columns far, far
out in the broad Northwest,--those three columns of regulars, cavalry
and infantry, rough-garbed, bronzed and bearded, steadily closing in
towards the wild and beautiful region along the northern water-shed of
the Big Horn Range, where ten thousand hostile Indians are uneasily
watching their coming? On the Atlantic seaboard comrades in full-dress
uniform, with polished arms, are standing guard over government
treasures on exhibition, and thoughtless thousands wonder at the ease
and luxury of the soldier's life. Out on the frontier, in buckskin and
flannel, slouch hats and leggings, and bristling prairie-belts, the
little army is concentrating upon an outnumbering foe, whose
signal-fires light the way by night, whose trail is red with blood by
day. From the northeast, up the Yellowstone, Terry of Fort Fisher fame,
the genial, the warm-hearted general, whose thoughts are ever with his
officers and men, leads his few hundred footmen, while Custer, whose
division has flashed through battery after battery, charge after charge,
in the great Rebellion, now rides at the head of a single regiment. From
the northwest, down the Yellowstone, with but a handful of tried
soldiery, comes Gibbon; he who led a corps at Gettysburg and Appomattox.
From the south, feeling his way along the eastern base of the Big Horn,
with less than two thousand troopers and footmen, marches the "Gray
Fox," the general under whom our friends of the --th so long and so
successfully battled with the Apaches of Arizona. He has met his match
this time. Cheyenne, Ogallalla, Brulé, Uncapapa, Minneconjou, Sans Arc,
and Blackfoot, all swarm over the broad and breezy uplands in his front,
or lurk in the deep shade of the lovely valleys. Twice have they sprung
upon him and checked his advance. Once only has he been forced to
hesitate, but now, as the longest days of the year approach and the
glistening dome of Snow Peak is yet warm with the flush of the setting
sun, when "morn, in russet mantle clad," tinges the eastern slopes with
glowing light; now, at last, the long-dreaded leaders of the border
warfare are being hemmed in between the encircling advance. Now may we
look for stirring work along the bluffs and boulders of the Big Horn.

And June, Centennial June, has come to West Point. Examinations are
going briskly on, four buoyant classes are all excitement with the
joyous prospects of the season: the seniors look forward to the speedy
coming of the longed-for diploma and the prized commission, for relief
from the restraint of academic life and for the broader field of the
army; the second, the juniors, to reaching the dignity of "first-class
camp," with the highest offices and honors to be achieved so long as
they shall wear the gray; the third, ah! they are the furloughmen, so
soon to be restored for two brief months to home and kindred after the
two years of rigid discipline and ceaseless duty; the fourth, to step at
once and for all from the meekness of "plebedom" and become the envied
"old cadet." June brings bliss for all,--for all but those who fail.

And June brings joy to sisters and sweethearts by the dozen, to fond
mammas, to proud paternals, who throng the hostelries of the Point and
the neighborhood, and swarm in lively interest all over the historic
spot, listening with uncomprehending but tireless patience to
examinations on fortification or grand tactics, mechanics or calculus;
gasping with excitement over dashing charges on the "cavalry plain,"
shuddering over the reckless daring in the riding-hall, stopping their
ears against the thunder of the great guns at the batteries, and beating
time with head and foot to the spirited quicksteps of the band.
Dress-parade, the closing ceremony of each day, concentrates the entire
assemblage along the shaded walk that borders on the west the beautiful
green carpet of the "infantry plain," and, at last, as the four gray and
white companies go dancing off in double-time through the grim
sally-port beneath the barracks, and the carriages and stages whirl away
the watching throngs, and the plumed cadet officers scurry off to
supper, and, group after group, the spectators saunter homewards, the
band disappears below the crest of the plain towards "Bumtown," and
little by little the light turns to violet on the wooded heights across
the swirling Hudson, and silence settles down upon the scene.

Gazing out from under the foliage of the great elms, watching these very
changes, two ladies are seated upon the piazza of the officers' quarters
opposite the southern half of the plain. One is a young matron, whose
eyes once seen are not soon forgotten,--so soft, so deep, so brown, so
truthful are they under the long curling lashes, under the low-arched,
heavy brows. Beautiful eyes were they when, in all their girlish
fearlessness and innocence, they first beamed upon our old friends of
the --th in the days of exile in Arizona. Lovelier still are they now in
that consummation of a woman's happiness,--a worshipped wifehood. It was
early in the previous winter when Captain Truscott brought his fair
bride to make her home among the scenes so dear to both, and her life
has been one song of unutterable gladness. If earth contained a thing to
wish for in those six months, Grace Truscott could not name it. Her
pretty army house is the gem of the military community, the envy of many
a wife. Her husband is a man whom all men honor and hold in deep esteem.
In strength, in dignity, in soldierly ability, and in his devotion to
her he is all her heart could ask. If she loved him dearly when they
were married, her love has developed into almost an idolatry,--"Jack" is
her world. Not that she talks or writes very much of that matter,
however; for quite a wise little head is that which is perched on Mrs.
Truscott's white shoulders. Once in a while in some letter to an old and
trusted friend she finds it more than she can do to utterly repress her
overwhelming sense of bliss, and then she lets slip some little
confession of which Jack is the subject. She never dreamed a man could
be so lovely, so delicate, so thoughtful, so considerate, so
_everything_ that was simply perfect, is the way she has once or twice
found herself constrained to clinch the matter in default of adjectives
sufficiently descriptive. "Every day he develops some new, lovely, and
unsuspected trait," she once confided to her friend Mrs. Tanner (with
whom she has corresponded quite regularly since her marriage, and to
whom we are indebted for some of these interesting details), and as Jack
Truscott was confessedly a man of many admirable qualities before his
matrimonial alliance, it may be conjectured that ere the waning of her
honeymoon Mrs. Jack's enumeration table was beginning to prove
inadequate. And bliss has been, and is, becoming to Grace. She has lost
none of the girlish delicacy of expression which was so marked a
characteristic of her youthful beauty a year before, still she has
rounded somewhat, and both mentally and physically has developed. The
slender white hand that rests upon the volume of Carlyle in her lap
looks less fragile than it did that day at old Camp Sandy when, in
Tanner's library searching for the children's books among the shelves,
it showed itself to Truscott's eyes without a certain ring. Mrs. Jack
does not fancy Carlyle. He is too crabbed by far, she thinks, and she
wonders how and where people get such distorted views of life, but the
captain has been reading him a great deal during the past two months,
and anything that interests him is food for her. Happy she is beyond all
question, happy as woman ever becomes in this world where happiness is
never perfect. If it were, where would be the use of heaven hereafter?
And as she sits here gazing out upon the soft lights and shadows
settling upon the distant hills, her sweet, mobile face is fit subject
for the brush of some inspired painter who seeks a model for an ideal
picture,--"I Ask No More."

It is twilight, too, the hour of all others when the faintest sorrow is
apt to assert itself upon reposeful features,--the hour when it takes a
very happy woman to look happy; yet Grace Truscott's eyes tell of only
one story,--love, peace, tranquillity; and at last the silence is broken
by the remark, which is naturally the result of a woman's undisturbed
contemplation of such a face,--

"I declare, Grace, it is enough to make one want to marry just to look
at you!"

Mrs. Truscott returns to earth with sudden bound, dropping her blissful
day-dream with a merry laugh and a blush that refuses to down at her
bidding. She holds forth her hand appealingly, leaning forward in the
great wicker rocking-chair in which, till now, she has been lazily
inclining.

"How absurd, to be sure! I wish you would seize me and shake me, Marion,
whenever you see me going off into dreamland like that. It is simply
detestable. Yet, I can't help it. Oh!" with sudden impulse, "wait till
you marry some one the least like Jack, and then see for yourself."

"But I never shall marry any one the least like Jack," replies Miss
Sanford. "To begin with, you would not be apt to admit any such man
could exist. Now, don't bristle all over, Grace; you are not in the
least absurd,--to ordinary people that is; you really behave very
creditably for so young a wife, but you are quite warranted in betraying
your admiration to me. I like it. It was simply mean of me to interrupt
your revery as I did, but the exclamation was involuntary. I had been
watching your face for several minutes, and thinking how few, how very
few women are blessed as you are."

Mrs. Truscott's eyes filled with tears, and her hand sought and clasped
that of her friend. A most unusual caress for her.

"Sometimes I fear I'm growing very selfish in it all, Marion, and I
blame myself more than I can tell you when these spells come over me. We
had planned to make your visit lovely,--Jack and I,--and here, the
moment we are alone together, I go mooning off and leaving you to be
entertained by the sight of my imbecility." Mrs. Truscott gave herself a
vigorous shake. "There! Now tell me about your walk. Was Mr. Ferris
pleasant?"

"Pleasant? Very! They all are for that matter, and I hate to think how
much I've lost in being away all May. Father insisted though, and so
those six weeks had to be spent at ---- with them. It is mockery to
call it home." And a deep trouble seemed to settle on her beautiful
face.

Mrs. Truscott leaned nearer to her friend, an eager tremor in her voice.

"Listen, Marion dear," she spoke; "I cannot allude to the subject except
when you do; but, much as your father loves you, he must see now that it
is next to impossible for you to live at home, and after her conduct
this spring,--first demanding that you should come instead of spending
May with us as was arranged, and then making it so wretched for you, and
finally almost driving you from the house,--it is useless to think of
going back this summer. _Do_ spend it with us. We both ask it, Jack and
I. It was such a disappointment to lose you in May, and now that we've
got you again,--though you said 'twas only for a week,--we talked it all
over last night, Maid Marion,"--and here Mrs. Truscott has recourse to
one of the pet names of their school-days,--"we talked it all over, Jack
and I, and that was one of the things he went to the city for to-day. He
had determined to ask your father to let you spend the summer here. I
want it so much, so does Jack, for he may have to go to Kentucky to buy
horses for the cavalry stables. Marion, _do_ stay if he will let you."
And both Mrs. Truscott's white hands now seized and clasped the
unresisting, passive members that lay, still gloved, in her companion's
lap.

For a moment there was no move. Two big tears were starting from Miss
Sanford's eyes; her sweet, sensitive lips were twitching nervously. She
glanced hurriedly up and down the broad road in front of the
quarters,--they were unobserved and alone,--and, leaning back in her
chair, she gently withdrew one hand and held her handkerchief to her
face. Mrs. Truscott quickly rose and bent over her, pressed her lips one
instant upon the luxuriant hair that fell thickly over the girl's
forehead; then, twining her arm around her head, nestled her own soft
cheek where she had pressed her lips. And there she hovered, saying
nothing more, waiting until the little rain-cloud had passed away.

Presently there came the sound of quick, springy footsteps along the
asphalt from the direction of the barracks. Mrs. Truscott raised her
head.

"It is Sergeant Wolf, Marion. I think he is coming here."

Miss Sanford started up, wiped her eyes and half turned her back, as a
young soldier in the undress uniform of a cavalry sergeant entered the
gateway, and, halting at the foot of the steps, respectfully raised hand
to his cap, and stood there as though addressing an officer.

"Pardon me, madame," he asked, with a distinctly German accent, but with
the intonation of a gentleman on every syllable. "The captain has not
yet returned?"

"Not yet, sergeant; I expect him on the eight-thirty train."

"It is about Corporal Stein, madame; he has overstayed his pass."

"I presume Mr. Waring should be told. Have you seen him?"

"Madame, the lieutenant is neither at his quarters nor the mess."

"Then there is nothing further to be done that I know of," said Mrs.
Truscott, whose girlhood had been passed in garrison at times, and
whose earliest recollections were of papa's dragoons. "I will tell the
captain as soon as he returns." And she stepped backward towards the
chairs.

The sergeant paused one moment. He was tall, lithe, of graceful and
muscular mould; his face was of the singular Saxon cast,--so very fair;
his eyes were blue and clear, his nose and mouth finely shaped; his
teeth were white and even, his hair crisp and curly, and the very color
of bleached straw, but redeemed from that dead, soda-dried effect by the
sheen of every lock; his face was oval; clean-shaved but for the upper
lip, whose long, blond moustache twirled trooper-fashion till the ends
almost swept his ears. He was a handsome fellow, and his manners and
language bespoke him a man of education. After the moment's hesitation,
he again touched his cap and quitted the little garden, walking with
quick, brisk steps and erect carriage away towards the upper end of the
row.

Mrs. Truscott stood silently looking after him a moment, then she
turned:

"Did you notice his hands, Marion?"

"Certainly; I did the first time I saw him, and he is always here. You
say Wolf is an assumed name?"

"Yes. Jack says there can be no question but that he is an educated
German officer who has had to quit the service there for some crime or
trouble. He came here just when I did, last December; and Jack says he
is the finest first sergeant he ever saw, though I believe the men don't
fancy him. He speaks French as well as he does English, and there is
apparently nothing he does not know about cavalry service."

"And how did he happen to be in the army?"

"I do not know; there was nothing else for him to do, I suppose. The old
first sergeant of the cavalry detachment here was discharged last fall,
and when a new one was needed, and there seemed to be no really good one
in the troop, Jack wrote to a recruiting officer in the city to send him
a first-class man. One day he got a letter saying that a young German
desired to enlist for cavalry service who was evidently a thorough
soldier, and that there was some mystery about him. He was dressed like
a gentleman, but had not a cent of money, and claimed to have arrived
only within three days from the old country. Next day the man himself
came here. Jack had told me nothing about the letter. The servant said
there was a gentleman in the parlor wanted to see the captain. Jack was
away at the riding-hall, and I went into the parlor, and there stood
this tall, fine-looking fellow. I thought, of course, he must be some
officer on leave,--some one whom Jack knew. It was a little dark,--one
of those rainy December days, and he had his back to the light,--but the
moment he spoke and I heard the German accent I saw there was a mistake.
He seemed greatly embarrassed, said he had been told he would find the
captain here, apologized for the intrusion, and started for the door,
when I saw his face was as white as a sheet and that he was staggering,
and the next thing I knew he had dropped like a fainting woman in the
big arm-chair. Something told me he was weak from want of food. I called
Mary, and got some wine and made him drink it, and pretty soon he
revived, and then Jack came, and I left them together. He said that he
had eaten nothing for three days and was exhausted.

"Well, Jack questioned him closely that evening after he had made him
rest and had fed him well, poor fellow! and the result was that in a day
or two he regularly enlisted. Jack really tried to induce him not to,
telling him that a man of his education would surely find something
better, but it was useless. He said that if he could not enlist here he
would go back to New York and enter for service on the frontier, so,
finally, it was settled. He was made a corporal in a few weeks, and now
he is first sergeant. He is invaluable in that respect; still, I do wish
there were no mystery. I hate mysteries. He is never seen with the men
at all, and when not on duty he is always reading. Jack lends him books
that no other soldier cares to look at and that they do not have in the
troop library. That is what brings him here so often. He comes every day
or two with a book he has read and wants another; but his name isn't
Wolf. Somewhere, he has a seal ring with a crest on it, and last
month--there had been some trouble among the men, and two hard
characters had laid in wait for the sergeant one dark night near the
stables and assaulted him, but he was too quick and powerful for them,
though they escaped--last month he brought Jack a sealed packet which he
asked him to keep, and if anything happened to him it was to be returned
to an address he gave in Dresden. It's really quite a romance, but I
wish----" And Mrs. Truscott broke off abruptly without saying what she
_did_ wish.

Miss Sanford was silent. She had recovered her self-control, and the
traces of recent tears were vanishing. Once more Mrs. Truscott seated
herself by her side.

"You will stay with us, won't you?" she said, with that uninterrogative
accent on the "won't" which is indicative of a conviction on part of the
questioner that denial is impossible.

"Yes, Grace, gladly, if Captain Truscott can win papa over to it. I
shall be far happier here, and he will at least have peace at home. She
will be satisfied and content if I am not there. How can I thank you
enough, Gracie? I had almost made up my mind to ask Mrs. Zabriskie to
take me back to Europe with her. You know she returns on the 'Werra' in
July."

"Indeed you shall not. I had counted on having you for bridesmaid, and
you would not come home. That was the only disappointment in my wedding;
but, after all, since Mr. Ray couldn't come, there would have been a
groomsman short if you _had_ been there."

"Why didn't he come? You never told me."

"Why? Poor Mr. Ray! He wrote one of his laughing letters to Jack to say
that he'd be switched if he was going to play hangman at his own
execution. You never knew such a queer fellow as he is. The real reason
was that he could not afford to come East from Kansas and give us a
wedding present too. Jack and I would have far rather had him drop the
present, but could not see how to tell him. He sent us that lovely
ice-cream set, you know,--one of the prettiest of all my presents.
Everybody thought Ray must have been studying up on art, it was so
graceful and pretty. Mr. Gleason, I believe it was, said that Ray wrote
to Colonel Thayer of the lieutenant-general's staff and had him buy it:
he was in Chicago when we were married,--you know that was Grandmother
De Ruyter's stipulation,--and that Colonel Thayer, not Ray, was entitled
to the credit for taste; but Jack says that there is far more to Ray
than most people give him credit for. He's a loyal friend anyway!"

"What was the name of that droll creature who was here last
April,--Drake? Blake?"

"Mr. Blake? Oh, yes! He is one of the characters of the regiment. He is
the book of nonsense on two very long legs, but he is full of fun and
full of goodness. He is not at all Mr. Ray's kind, however. Jack says
that Mr. Ray is the man of all others whom he would most expect to come
to the front in a general war, and that nothing could shake his faith in
him. Ray could never do or say a dishonorable thing."

"And wasn't it Mr. Ray who saved you when your horse was running away?"

"The very man. You glory so in daring horsemanship, Marion, I just wish
you could see Ray ride. Jack is splendid, of course, but he is so much
larger, heavier, you know. Ray rides as lightly as a bird flies; he
seems just part of a horse, as indeed Jack does, but then there's this
difference: Mr. Ray rides over hurdles and ditches and prairie-dog holes
and up and down hill just like an Indian, and the wonder is he isn't
killed. Jack is a fine horseman,--nobody looks better in the saddle than
he,--but then Jack rarely rides at top speed,--never, unless there's
some reason for it.

"See, Marion, it's almost dark. Shall we go in the parlor and light the
lamps?"

"Grace, wasn't Mr. Ray just a little bit in love with you once?"

"Honestly, Marion, no! I know he admired me, and I liked him, and had
reason to like him greatly, for he was a true friend to me when I wanted
one at Sandy. Once he was a wee bit sentimental," and even in the dusk
Grace could feel that Marion saw the flush that mounted to her very
brows, "but that was when I fainted after the runaway; never before,
never since. Don't talk nonsense, Maidie."

"I think I should like to know him," said Miss Sanford, as she rose to
enter the hall.

"I _know_ you would. Only--well, you might not like him entirely,
either. Jack should be here in less than half an hour now, then we'll
have tea. Oh, Marion! I'm so glad you will stay, so will he be."

On the parlor-table, as they entered, lay two letters. Turning up the
gas, Mrs. Truscott scanned the superscriptions. Both were addressed to
her husband. One was postmarked Fort Hays.

"This is the one Jack will open first," she said to her friend. "I don't
know whom the other comes from, but this is news from the regiment. It
is Mr. Billings's writing, and Jack is always eager for news from him."

"Mr. Ferris asked me this evening, while we were walking, if Captain
Truscott had any news from his regiment. He seemed unusually interested.
I could not tell why, but it was something about General Crook being
heavily reinforced by troops from somewhere. They were talking of it
down at the mess to-day, and Mr. Waring said that if his regiment were
ordered on that duty, he would apply by telegraph to Washington for
orders to join it at once. There was some embarrassment then, because
one of the gentlemen present--Mr. Ferris wouldn't say who--belonged to a
regiment already there on that very campaign, and he had not applied for
orders at all, and wasn't going to, and----Why, _Grace_! What is the
matter?"

With her face rapidly paling Grace Truscott had stood gazing piteously
at her companion, and then, seizing the letter in her trembling hands,
she stood glaring at the address. For a moment she made no reply, and
again Miss Sanford, alarmed, repeated her question.

"Marion! Marion! It means that I know now why Jack did not show me Major
Stannard's last letter. It means that this letter from the adjutant is
to tell Jack that the --th is ordered into the field. It means--it
means"--and she threw herself prone upon the sofa, clinching her hands
above her head--"it means that my dream of delight is shattered; they
will take my husband from me."

"But how--but why, Grace? I don't understand. Mr. Ferris said distinctly
that Captain Truscott would not be affected, that he had just begun his
detail here. If an officer doesn't _have_ to go when his regiment is
already in the field, how can your husband be required?"

"_My_ husband! Marion. You don't know him, neither does Mr. Ferris, if
that's his idea. My husband would never wait to be ordered to join his
comrades on campaign. If that letter says the --th is to go, that ends
it all, for Jack will start to-morrow."



CHAPTER IV.

IMPENDING SHADOWS.


When Captain Truscott drove up from the ferry and sprang from the
carriage at his gate, a cheerful light beamed from the open door and
windows of his home, and Grace, all loving greeting, met him on the
piazza. He could not but note the warmth of her embrace and welcome; but
Jack had been in town since early morning and never before since their
marriage had they been separated a single day. In the dim twilight on
the piazza he could not see what was apparent as soon as they entered
the parlor,--that his young wife's face was unusually pale and her
lovely eyes showed suspicious trace of tears; but he could only glance
an anxious inquiry, there was then no time for more, as Miss Sanford
stood smilingly at the centre-table.

Truscott stepped forward with his old-fashioned courtesy and bowed over
her extended hand. A few words of pleasant welcome and greeting were
exchanged, a few inquiries as to whom he had seen in New York and what
had been the result of his various commissions. Then as the dining-room
door was opened and the maid announced that tea was served, Truscott
looked inquiringly at the table.

"Any mail, Gracie?"

"Oh, yes, Jack. I put them under Carlyle; two letters."

The captain merely glanced at the superscription of the first letter,
but when the second caught his eye, he shot one quick look at his wife,
their eyes met, and leaving the first letter upon the table, he stowed
the heavier missive in the breast-pocket of the civilian suit he was
wearing, led the way to the dining-room door, and there smilingly bowed
the ladies to the brightly-lighted table, and demanded of Miss Sanford
an immediate and detailed account of the day's conquests.

Not until near midnight could Grace see her husband alone.

It was "band night," and long before they had finished tea rich strains
of music came floating in from the parade, and, as is always the case,
visitors began to arrive. Several ladies and officers dropped in during
the evening; they sat on the piazza enjoying the serenade until the
shrill piping of the fifes and rattle of the drums sounding tattoo sent
the musicians off to bed and numerous pairs of white trousers scurrying
towards the cadet barracks. They watched the simultaneous "dousing of
the glim" in the long façade as the clock struck ten and the three taps
of the drum ordered "lights out." Then they entered the parlor and Grace
had to sing. For the last year she had gloried in singing, her voice
seemed so rich with melody, her heart so rich with joy. To-night all the
strange old feeling came back. It made her think of those wretched days
at Sandy, when with Jack thousands of miles away, perhaps never to see
or speak to her again, she _had_ to sing because her father loved it so.
She was a soldier's daughter, a soldier's wife, and she rallied all her
strength and pride and strove to be blithe and animated and
entertaining. From her first appearance Mrs. Truscott had been a
favorite in that somewhat exacting garrison, perhaps the hardest one in
the army in which to achieve popularity, because of the various cliques
and interests; and now that that very interesting Miss Sanford was with
her, their pretty home on the plain was always a rendezvous for the
socially disposed. And so it happened that all the long evening neither
she nor Jack could obtain release from their duties as entertainers.
Eleven o'clock came before the last of the ladies departed, and then Mr.
Ferris lingered for a _tête-à-tête_ with Miss Sanford, and poor Grace
found herself compelled to sit and talk with Mr. Barnard, who was a
musical devotee and afflicted with a conviction that they ought to sing
duets, and Mrs. Truscott could not be induced to sing duets with any
man, unless Jack would try.

She knew that he had gone to the little library where he kept his
favorite books and did his writing. She heard the door close after him,
and, with unutterable longing, she desired to go and throw herself upon
her favorite perch, his knee, and twine her arms around his neck and
bury her head upon his broad shoulder. She could think of nothing but
that fateful letter from Hays. She wished that it might be Mr. Waring
who had come in, for he was in the cavalry and would know something of
what really was going on out on the frontier. She was feverishly anxious
to learn the truth, and twice directed the talk that way, but Mr.
Barnard was obtuse. He only vaguely knew from remarks he had heard at
mess that General Crook had called for reinforcements, and that Sheridan
was ordering up cavalry and infantry to his support. He did not know
what cavalry,--in fact, he did not care,--he was in the artillery, and,
forgetful of Modoc experiences, believed that Indian fighting was an
abnormal species of warfare of which men of his advanced education were
not expected to take cognizance. That it ever could call for more
science, skill, and pluck than the so-called civilized wars of which Mr.
Barnard was a conscientious student he would probably never have
admitted, and his comment at mess on the frequently-recurring tales of
unsuccessful attack upon savage foes was the comprehensive remark that
the affair must have been badly handled; "those fellows of the cavalry
didn't seem to understand the nature of the work they had to tackle." As
those were the days before a cavalry superintendent went to the Academy
and showed an astonished academic board what a cavalryman's idea of
scholarship and discipline really was, it followed that the corps of
instructors was made up almost entirely from the more scientific arms;
only two or three cavalrymen were on the detail of forty officers, and
they were mainly for duty as instructors in tactics and horsemanship. So
when Mr. Barnard dreamily blew the smoke of his cigarette through his
elevated nostrils and gave it as his opinion that those cavalry fellows
didn't seem to understand their work, his audience, consisting mainly of
staff and artillery officers, gave the acquiescence of silence or the
nod of wisdom; and the casual visitor would have left with the
impression that the whole mistake of this Indian business lay in failure
to consult the brilliantly-trained intellects of the higher corps. Odd
as it may seem, it is the men who have had the least to do with Indians
and Indian fighting who have apparently the most ideas on the subject.
This is not a paradox. Those who have spent several years at it probably
started in with just as many, and exploded them one after another.

Mr. Barnard, therefore, was more intent on humming the tenor part of
"See the Pale Moon" than of affording Mrs. Truscott any information as
to rumors of the orders sending additional troops to the field, but her
anxiety was only slightly appeased by his airy dismissal of the subject.

"Indeed, Mrs. Truscott, I would not feel any concern in the matter; with
the forces now concentrated up there in the Yellowstone country, the
result is a foregone conclusion. The Indians will simply be surrounded
and starved into surrender."

At last they went. Mr. Ferris with evident reluctance and not until he
had plainly received intimation from Miss Sanford that it was more than
time. Knowing Mrs. Truscott well, she could see what was imperceptible
to their visitors, that the strain was becoming almost unbearable. The
moment they were gone she turned to her friend.

"I must write a short letter before going to bed, Grace dear. Now go to
him at once;" then impulsively she threw her arms around her. "I shall
pray it is not true," she murmured, then turned and ran quickly to her
room.

Mrs. Truscott closed and bolted the front door, turned out the parlor
lights, and stepped quickly to the library; then she paused a moment
before turning the knob: her heart was beating heavily, her hands
trembling. She strove hard to control the weakness which had seized
her, and, for support, rested her head upon the casement and took two or
three long breaths; then with a murmured prayer for strength she gently
opened the door, and the soft swish of her trailing skirts announced her
presence.

His back was towards her as she entered; he was seated in a low-backed
library-chair, with both elbows upon the writing-table before him, and
resting his head upon the left hand in an attitude that was habitual
with him when seated there thinking. Before him, opened, lay a long
letter,--the adjutant's letter from Hays. A pen was in his hand, but not
a scratch had he made on the virgin surface of the paper. Truscott never
so much as wrote the date until he had fully made up his mind what the
entire letter should be, and he had far from made up his mind what to
say in this.

Without a word Mrs. Truscott stole quietly up behind him. He had been
expecting her any moment; he knew well she would come the instant her
visitors left her free; he was listening, waiting for her step, and had
heard Miss Sanford trip lightly up-stairs. Then came the soft, quick
pitapat of her tiny feet along the hall and the _frou-frou_ of the
skirts,--never yet could he hear it without a little thrill of
passionate delight. He half turned in readiness to welcome her, his
love, his wife; then came her pause at the door,--a new, an unknown
hesitancy, for from the first he had taught her that she alone could
never be unwelcome, undesired, no matter what his occupation in the
sanctum, and Jack's heart stood still while hers was throbbing heavily.
Could she have heard? Could she have suspected? _Must_ he tell her
to-night? He turned again to the desk as she entered, and waited
for--something he loved more than he could ever tell,--her own greeting.

Often when he was reading or writing during the day, and she, on
household cares intent, was tripping lightly about the house, singing
sweetly, softly as she passed the library, and bursting into carolling
melody when at undisturbing distance away, it was odd to note the many
little items that required her frequent incursions on the sanctum
itself,--books to be straightened and dusted, scraps of writing-paper to
be tidied up, maps to be rolled and tied. Mollie, the housemaid, could
sweep or tend the fires in that domestic centre, the captain's den, but
none but the young housewife herself presumed to touch a pen or dust a
tome. Jack's mornings were mainly taken up at the barracks, riding-hall,
or in mounted drill far out on the cavalry plain, whence his ringing
baritone voice could reach her admiring ears and--for it was only
honeymoon with her still--set her to wondering if it really were
possible that that splendid fellow were her own, her very own; and time
and again Mrs. Grace would find herself stopping short in her avocation
and going to the front windows and gazing with all her lovely brown eyes
over to the whirling dust-cloud on the eastern plain and revelling in
the power and ring of Jack's commanding voice, and going off into
day-dreams. _Was_ it possible that there had been a great, a fearful
war, in which the whole country was threatened with ruin, and hundreds
of men had made wonderful names for themselves, and Jack not one of
them,--Jack, her hero, her soldier beyond compare? _Could_ it be that
the war was fought and won without him? But then, who could be braver
in action, wiser in council, than he? Did not the --th worship him to a
man? Was not Indian fighting the most trying, hazardous, terrible of all
warfares, and was not Jack pre-eminent as an Indian-fighter? Was there
not a deep scar on his breast that would have been deeper and redder but
for her little filmy handkerchief that stopped the cruel arrow just in
time? Was any one so gallant, so noble, so gentle, so tender, true,
faithful,--um-m-m,--sweet? was the way Mrs. Grace's intensified thoughts
would have found expression, had she dared, even to herself, to give
them utterance? And he loved her! he loved her! and--heavens and earth!
but _this_ isn't practising, or housework either; and pretty, happy,
blushing Mrs. Truscott would shake herself together, so to speak, and
try to get back to the programme of daily duty she had so
conscientiously mapped out for herself. Perhaps it was because she
accomplished so little in the mornings that, when Jack betook himself to
his study for his two hours of reading or writing in the afternoon, his
witching wife would find such frequent need of entering. At first she
had been accustomed to trip in on tiptoe after a timid little knock and
the query, "Do I disturb you, Jack dear?"--a query which he answered
with quite superfluous assurance to the contrary. Later, even after
their wise conclusion that they must be rational, she had been
accustomed to put the question, not at all as a purely perfunctory
marital civility, but, as she shyly admitted to herself, because it was
so sweet to hear Jack's negation and see the love-light in the eyes that
soon brought her, fascinated and fluttering, to be folded in his arms a
moment. Later still, so confident had she become in her dominion, both
knock and query were abandoned, and, unless only five minutes or so had
elapsed since the previous visit, she had a pretty little way of
greeting him that, though very gradually acquired despite surging
impulse, was at last quite a settled fact, and he loved it,--well, he
would have been an unappreciative, undeserving brute had he not. She
would steal behind him, lean over the back of the chair (Jack refused to
exchange it for the high-backed one suggested by Mrs. Pelham on the
occasion of a brief visit paid them in March), and, twining her arms
around his neck, would draw back his head till it rested on her bosom,
then sink her soft, sweet lips upon his forehead. It was this he waited
for to-night, and not in vain.

Another minute and he had drawn her around and seated her on his knee,
folding her closely in his arms. But soon she gently released herself,
slipped to the little ottoman that stood always ready by his chair, and,
clasping her hands upon his knee, looked bravely up in his face. No need
to speak one word,--no need to break it to her; he saw she well divined
that news, and hard news, had come from the frontier,--news which meant
more to her than to any woman at West Point.

"Shall I read it, Gracie?" he presently asked, gently stroking the
shining, shimmering wealth of her hair,--her glory and his. She bowed
lower her head and clasped tightly her hands.

"One word first, Jack. Does the --th go?"

"Yes, darling."

She shivered as though a sudden chill had seized her, but spoke no word.
Truscott bent and strove to draw her again to his breast, but she
roused herself with gallant effort,--threw back her head and again
looked bravely up in his eyes.

"No; I'll bear it best here, Jack. I won't----Read it, dear."

"My brave girlie!" was all he said, as his eyes moistened suspiciously
and his hand lingered in its caress upon her soft cheek.

"It's from Billings, you know."

"Yes, Jack; go on."

And then he read to her:

                    "FORT HAYS, KANSAS, June 6, '76.

     "DEAR TRUSCOTT,--Stannard showed me your letter and bade me
     answer it. There was no time for him to do it, and I myself am
     writing 'on the jump.' You sized up the situation about as
     comprehensively as Crook himself could have done it, and your
     predictions have come true. Eight troops of the regiment left
     night before last by rail for Cheyenne _via_ Denver, and by
     this time headquarters and most of the --th are tenting
     somewhere near Fort Russell, where we are all to take station
     and wait further developments. The band follows as fast as we
     can pack up plunder and be off. It means, of course, a
     permanent transfer of the regiment to the Department of the
     Platte, and from the mere fact that the colonel and eight
     companies were hurried ahead, there can be no question but that
     we are destined to take part in the campaign against Sitting
     Bull, Crazy Horse, etc., and for myself, I'm glad of it.

     "But I'm glad you weren't here, Jack. There was weeping and
     wailing and gnashing of teeth among the women-folks, and some
     two or three Benedicts looked bluer than brimstone. You know
     they had counted on a peaceful summer and a good time, and it's
     particularly rough on those who had fitted up their quarters so
     handsomely and had young ladies to visit them, like the
     Raymonds and others. Most of them have to break up and go East,
     but as six troops are to take permanent station at Russell,
     yours among them, those who are ordered there will simply move
     from Hays to Russell with us, as the officers can choose
     quarters on the way up; for up we are going, and I'll bet a
     farm we water our horses in the Yellowstone before we see
     Russell a second time. As soon as packed I shall move all
     baggage to Russell, public and personal, escort the ladies
     thither and see them comfortably settled in their new quarters.
     Mrs. Stannard, Mrs. Turner, and Mrs. Wilkins (of course) go to
     Russell with us. Old Whaling of the Infantry is to remain in
     command there until the campaign is over, as it will be the
     main supply depot. His wife is an enlivening Christian, a sort
     of Mrs. Gummidge and Mrs. Malaprop rolled into one, but,
     barring a sensational tendency and a love for theatricals in
     every-day life, there is nothing dangerous about her. I'm glad
     my own wife will be able to remain with the home people, for
     Mrs. Whaling would scare the life out of her with her tales of
     fearful adventure in the Indian country, and I don't quite like
     the idea of our ladies being subjected to her ministrations
     during the separation. However, Mrs. Stannard will be there,
     and she's a balance-wheel. Bless that woman! What would we do
     without her?

     "Now, Jack, a word from Stannard himself. He said to write you
     fully, that nothing might be concealed. Stryker's letter is
     straight to the point. It is going to be the biggest Indian war
     the country has ever seen, and one in which there must be hard
     fighting. Armed, equipped, and supplied and mounted as those
     Sioux and Cheyennes are, it will take our best to thrash them.
     Stannard says that you must be influenced in your action by no
     misrepresentation one way or other. No man in the regiment can
     say in his presence or mine that you have not done your full
     share of Indian work, and no gentleman in the regiment will
     blame you should you see fit to stick to the Point and let the
     rest of us tackle Mr. Lo. You are the only newly-married man in
     the crowd. On the other hand, your troop is commanded in your
     absence by Gleason, whom--well, you know him better than I; and
     in his absence by young Wells, who is to take his first lesson
     in campaigning this summer. Just as luck would have it, Gleason
     and Ray were ordered to Leavenworth on a horse board, and were
     not here to go with the command. Ray heard of the move and
     telegraphed, begging Stannard to get him relieved and sent at
     once to the regiment, but the board was ordered at division
     headquarters and 'twas no use. Ray will have to stay until the
     horses are all bought; and I'm bound to say he did his best to
     get back. For some reason, which I could better explain if I
     didn't have to write, Ray and I don't seem to 'gee.' He has
     been offish to me ever since our first meeting here, and was
     one of the men whose failure to congratulate me on the
     adjutancy I felt. Then I heard of some unjustifiable though,
     perhaps, natural things he said. However, let that slide. I
     wish you were adjutant again, that's all. Very probably the
     others do too. The colonel telegraphed to all officers on
     leave, and every blessed one responded inside of twenty-four
     hours, 'Coming first train, you bet,' or words to that effect.
     It makes one proud of the old --th. Gleason hasn't chirped, but
     then he is somewhere in central Iowa buying. They say Ray's
     brother-in-law is one of the largest horse-dealers, and
     Stannard clamps his mug and looks ugly when it is spoken of. He
     knows something about him, and was a good deal stampeded when
     he heard Ray was being wined and dined by him at Kansas City.
     But, be it understood, I don't think Ray has any suspicion of
     Stannard's objection to the man. And now, Jack, I'll wind up
     this rigmarole. It is long after taps, and the men are still at
     work packing. I've been interrupted time and again, and this is
     all incoherency. If you decide to join, let it not be said for
     an instant that the faintest urging came from us. Address your
     next to Russell. The colonel forbade my telegraphing you lest
     it might sound like a hint. My compliments to Mrs. Truscott,
     and tell her I saw her old friend Ranger off for the wars two
     nights ago; likewise that young imp of the devil,--the Kid.
     Tanner's old troop isn't what it was in his day.

                     "Yours always faithfully,
                        "BILLINGS."

Long before he had finished reading she had bowed her head upon her
hands, but there came no sound. At last he laid the letter down, and
then bent over her.

"Grace,--darling!"

Slowly she lifted her eyes and looked up in his face. All the light, all
the joy and gladness had fled. Her lips moved as though to question, but
a hard, dry lump seemed to have formed in her throat; she could not
speak. His strong hands trembled as they gently raised her from the
lowly attitude in which she had been crouching at his knee. He would
have drawn her to his breast again, but she put her little hands upon
his shoulder and held herself back. Twice she essayed to speak before
the words came,--

"Jack, God knows I have tried to be ready for this. But is there _no_
way? I never thought to stand between you and your duty--your honor. I
would not--I would not now if I were--all. Oh, Jack,--my husband,
there--there is another reason."



CHAPTER V.

MARION SANFORD.


As a school-girl Marion Sanford started by being unpopular. On first
acquaintance there were very few girls in Madame Reichard's excellent
establishment who did not decide that she was cold and unsympathetic.
Courteous, well-bred, self-possessed, she was to a fault,
but--unpardonable sin in school-girl eyes--she shrank from those dear
and delicious intimacies, those mushroom friendships of our tender
years, that are as explosive as fire-crackers and as evanescent as the
smoke thereof. The volumes of satire that have been written on the
subject have exhausted the field and rendered new ideas out of the
question, but they have in no wise diminished the impetuosity with which
such friendships are daily, hourly entered into, and they never will.
Ours is a tale which has little that is new and less that is didactic.
Army life and army loves differ, after all, but little from those which
one sees in every community. Human nature is the same the world over,
despite our different tenets and traditions. Boys are as full of
mischief and sure to get into scrapes as in the days of Elijah and the
bears. Girls have had their sweet secrets and desperate intimacies with
one another since long before Elijah was heard of. Nothing one can say
is apt to put a stop to what the Almighty set in motion. Let us not rail
at what we cannot correct, but make the best of it. Let us accept the
truth. School-girls meet, take desperate and sudden fancies, swear
eternal friendships, have eternal tiffs and squabbles, kiss and make up,
fall out again, and as they grow in grace and wisdom they keep up the
system, simply taking a new object every few months. It is one of their
weaknesses by divine right, over which common sense has no more control
than it has over most of ours.

But Marion Sanford had no such weakness. Being destitute of the longing
for intimate and confidential intercourse with some equally romantic
sister, she was spared the concomitant heartburnings, recriminations,
and enmities. She passed her first year at the school without an
intimate friend. She left it without an enemy. Hers was not the most
brilliant mind in the class. She was not the valedictorian of the school
on that eventful day when,

    "Sweet girl-graduates with their shining hair,"

they listened in tears and white muslin to Madame's parting injunctions;
but her last two years at the old _pension_ had been very precious to
her. Grace Pelham was her room-mate, and Grace Pelham's loving arms had
opened to her when, motherless and heart-broken, Marion Sanford had
returned from the second year's summer vacation. Between the two girls
there had gradually grown a deep and faithful friendship, born of mutual
respect and esteem. It would be saying too much to assert that at first
there had been no differences. Four years at one school give
opportunities which are illimitable, but the present writer knew neither
of them in the bread-and-butter period, and was properly reproved by the
one and snubbed by the other when, in the supposed superiority of his
years and co-extensive views on the frangibility of feminine friendship,
he had sought to raise the veil of the past and peer into the archives
of those school-days. Partly from school-mates and partly from
observation the author formed his opinion of what Marion Sanford had
been as an undergraduate. What she became the candid reader must judge
for ----self.

For a woman she was reticent to a marked degree in discussing the faults
and foibles of others. She was slow to anger, loath to believe ill of a
man or woman, truth-loving, sincere, and simple-hearted. She had not
been the most studious girl at school. Deep down in her heart of hearts
she had a vein of romance that made the heroes of fiction the idols of a
vivid imagination. Wilfrid of Ivanhoe, Sir Galahad, Launcelot, William
Wallace, Bayard, Philip Sidney, were men whom she fondly believed to
have existed in other shapes and names time and again, and yet she was
staggered in her faith because the annals of our matter-of-fact days
told no such tales as those she loved of knighthood and chivalry.
Once--once she had found a modern hero. Heaven only knows to what a wild
worship would not that brief dream have expanded had she not seen him.
He was the elder brother of one of her friends at school,--a navy
officer,--a man who when his ship was cut down by a blundering Briton,
and sent to the bottom with over a hundred gallant hearts high-beating
because "homeward bound," he, the young ensign, gave his whole strength,
his last conscious minute to getting the helpless into the lowered
boats, and was the last man in the "sick-bay" before the stricken ship
took her final plunge, carrying him into the vortex with a fevered boy
in his strong young arms. Both were unconscious when hauled into safety,
and that ensign, said Marion, was the man she would marry. She was less
than sixteen and had never seen him. The nearest approach to a desperate
intimacy she ever had was with that fellow's sister: a girl of hitherto
faint attractions. At last the ensign came to the school,--such a day of
excitement!--and as a great, a _very_ great concession, Madame had
permitted that he should be allowed in her presence to speak with his
sister's most intimate friends. She was threatened with popularity for
the time being, and Marion was presented. The hero of her four months'
dream was a stoutly-built youth of twenty-five, with florid complexion
and hair, and a manner so painfully shy and embarrassed that additional
color was lent to his sun-blistered features. He had faced death without
a tremor and, in the most matter-of-fact way in the world, had saved
three lives at the imminent risk of his own, but he could not face these
wide-eyed, worshipping school-girls, and was manifestly ill at ease in a
very unbecoming civilian suit. Still, he wriggled through the interview
and made his escape, leaving only a modified sensation behind. The fatal
_coup_ occurred next day when, as prearranged, he came to say farewell.
This time Jack Tar had braced for the occasion, and was unexpectedly
hilarious and demonstrative. In bidding good-by to his sister he had
effusively embraced her, then turned suddenly upon Marion, and before
she could dream of what was coming, had caught her in his arms and
imprinted upon her fresh young lips a bacchanalian salute that left
thereon a mingled essence of Angostura bitters, cloves, and tobacco, and
drove her in dismay and confusion from the room to seek her own in a
passion of angry tears and disenchantment. Never before in her life had
she known such an affront. Never for long afterwards did she worship
modern heroes.

But while she sought no intimacies, as a school-girl her friendship and
affection for Grace Pelham strengthened with every week of their
association. Their last two years at school were spent as room-mates,
and then Marion had gone almost immediately abroad. Some hint has been
conveyed to the reader of a domestic unpleasantness in the Sanford
homestead. Sanford paterfamilias was a successful business man of large
means and small sensibilities. His first wife, Marion's mother, was a
New York beauty, a sweet, sensitive, refined, and delicate girl; in
fine, "a sacrifice at the altar of Mammon." She married Mr. Sanford when
she was eighteen and he thirty-eight, and she married him because the
family necessities were such that she could not help herself. Marion was
their first child, the darling of a young mother's heart, and later, the
pride of a fond father's. Yet, before that daughter was eighteen she was
called upon to welcome in the place of her idolized mother--who had died
after some years of patient suffering--the children's governess. It
marred all joys of graduation, so far as Miss Sanford was concerned. She
had gone home in obedience to her conviction of filial duty, and had
striven to make her little sister and her brother believe that the new
mamma was all that she should be. She had been conscientiously earnest
in her effort to like in her new rôle the ex-governess, whom she had
found it impossible to believe in before. The effort was a failure, due
quite as much to the jealous and suspicious nature of the lady of the
house as to Miss Sanford's unconquerable prejudice. Pretences for
rupture were easily found; the rupture came; Mrs. Sanford did all the
talking, Miss Sanford said nothing. When her father came home from the
city he found his new wife in tears and his daughter fled. The Frenchman
who wrote _les absents ont toujours tort_ was undoubtedly thinking of
the field as left in possession of a woman, and that Mrs. Sanford's
recital of the trouble was a finished calumny at Marion's expense we are
spared the necessity of asserting. In her few words written to her
father that day, Miss Sanford simply said that she was going to pay a
brief visit to the Zabriskies; but in less than a fortnight, with his
full consent and a liberal allowance, she went with them abroad. That
his experiences in his new marital relations were not blissful we may
conjecture from the fact that he soon found reason to believe that he
couldn't believe Mrs. Sanford. Unbelief grew to conviction and developed
into profound distrust. Still, as she not infrequently had to remind
him, she was his lawfully wedded wife, and held the fort. He aged
rapidly, and his struggles for the mastery were futile. She was young,
active, healthy, and wise as the serpent. He mourned for his absent
daughter, and when, yielding to her own yearnings, she returned to
America in the spring of the Centennial year, he sent for her to come to
him. She went, and remained as long as she could, but in leaving, she
told him, with eyes that filled and lips that quivered but never shrank,
that it was her last visit so long as her step-mother remained beneath
the roof, and he broke down and sobbed like a little child, but sought
not to dissuade her.

"Her mother's fortune," said the Mrs. Grundys of Fort Hays, was now her
own; but her mother had no fortune, and if she had, it would have been
shared by the two other children. In the old days her father had
laughingly bought and set aside for Marion's own account some government
bonds and some railway stocks; the latter at time of purchase being
practically drugs on the market. In fifteen years they were at a heavy
premium. When it came to parting, he had placed these bonds with all
their unclipped coupons to her credit at his banker's, and she was
mistress of a little fortune it seemed to her, which, added to the
liberal allowance he insisted on keeping up, gave her far more than she
could ever spend on herself even were her tastes extravagant.

She dressed richly; she would have nothing that was not of the best, but
she was never wasteful. It had been her habit to keep accurate account
of her expenditure, and to send her father a quarterly balance-sheet
that was a delight to his pragmatical eyes. He would have doubled her
allowance her last two years at school, but she would not agree to it.
She was in deep mourning and in sore distress, and money was the one
thing she had no use for. All the same he paid it to her account, as he
termed it, and in due time the money became her own. She had loved him
dearly despite his rough exterior and what she thought his lack of
appreciation of her gentle mother. But when he married the governess
before that second winter's snow had mantled the hallowed grave, her
soul rebelled in indignation and dismay. For a year her heart had held
out against him, and softened only when she saw that he was breaking
under the self-imposed burden,--a shrewish second wife. However, Mrs.
Sanford "held the fort," as has been said, and Marion, high-spirited,
sensitive, refined, and loving, was entering on her twentieth
year--without a home.

Was she pretty? Yes. More than pretty, said those who knew her best. She
was simply lovely. But alas for those to whom disappointment is sure to
come, she was a decided blonde.

A fairer, lovelier, whiter skin than Marion Sanford's was rarely seen;
her complexion was wellnigh faultless, her eyes were large, clear, full
of thought and truth and expression, and in tint a deep, deep blue,
shaded, like Grace Truscott's, with curling lashes, not so long, but
thick and sweeping; her hair was too dark, perhaps, for the purity of
her blond complexion. It was a shining, wavy brown, very soft, thick,
and luxuriant. She would be far more striking, said her commentators,
had she real blond hair, but those who grew to know her well soon lost
sight of the defect. Her mouth was a trifle large, but her teeth were
perfect, and the lips so soft, so sweetly curved, that one readily
forgave the deviation from the strict rule of facial unity when watching
her frequent smiles. In stature she was perhaps below, as Grace was
above, the medium height of womanhood, but her figure was exquisite. Her
neck and arms were a soft and creamy white, and the perfection of
roundness and grace. "She must lace fearfully," was the invariable
comment of the sisterhood on first acquaintance. In truth, she did not
lace at all. It was a fault beyond her control, but her waist was
perhaps too small. Her hands and feet were not like Grace's, long and
slender. They were tiny, but her hand was plump and white and might be
compressible. It was undeniably pretty, and her foot was always so
stylishly shod that its shape was outlined most attractively.

But what would have made Marion Sanford attractive had she been simply
plain instead of pretty, was her manner. Cold and unsympathetic had been
the original school-girl verdict pronounced because of her distaste for
imparting confidences. This was amended in her second year, abandoned
in her third, and would have been attacked, if asserted, in her fourth.
Over no girl's departure was there such frantic lamentation among the
younger scholars as over Marion's. They had learned to love her. To all
who were her elders there was gentle deference, to her equals and
associates a frank and cordial bearing without degeneration into
"confidences." To younger girls and to children Marion Sanford was an
angel, the sweetest, the gentlest, the kindest, the most winning girl
that lived. No matter who was with her, no matter what her occupation,
for them she had ever smiles and sunshiny greeting. It was to her the
younger girls soon learned to go in homesickness or troubles, sure of
welcome to her arms and comfort in her sympathy; it was to her that the
wee toddlers were never afraid to run for "sweeties," or refuge from
pursuing nurse-maids; it was to her that girls of younger sets,
accustomed to being snubbed and put down by those two years older, would
yield the outspoken homage of loyal subjects. She was Queen Marion to
the youngsters of the school, brave, wise, and, oh! so generous; while
to the chosen few in the class, who knew something of her love for the
heroic, she was Maid Marion, but only "Maidie" to one, her loyal and
faithful ally, Grace.

She was still abroad in the fall of '75 when that quiet wedding took
place which she was vainly implored to attend as first bridesmaid. Three
years had elapsed since her mother's death, but her heart was still in
mourning. But early in the spring of the Centennial year, after a stormy
passage, she was safely restored to her own land, and the evening after
the arrival of their party Captain and Mrs. Truscott were dining with
them at the Clarendon. There had been a brief, a very brief call from
her father and step-mother, and then she accepted Grace's invitation to
come to them at the Point. A slight illness of Mr. Sanford's made it
necessary to abandon the visit at the time, as she was telegraphed for
before she had been forty-eight hours at the Point. The month that
followed settled the question as to future relations with Mrs. Sanford.
She would meet her father whenever or wherever he wanted except under
that roof; on that point she was adamant, and he neither could nor did
blame her. And so it resulted that she was once more with Grace and the
"Admirable Crichton," as she had been accustomed to allude to him in her
letters for the past year; and up to the moment of his return from the
city he was the only hero who had appeared to her eyes in that
manufacturing centre where the article is supposed to be turned out at
the rate of fifty a year. It never had occurred to her that men so
particular about the cut of their uniform trousers, the set of a
"blouse," or the nice adjustment of the hair could by any possibility
develop heroic qualities, and yet Captain Truscott always looked as
though he had stepped out of a band-box.

It was late when she went to her room this lovely night in June. It was
true that she had one or two letters to write, but they were very brief.
She longed to have Grace come to her and tell her the result of her
interview with Jack, and she longed to know what that letter would say.
Never for an instant had it occurred to her that at a moment's notice a
home could be abandoned, a young wife left to mourn, a delightful
station left to anybody who wanted the place, and all as an every-day
incident of army life. That such things could be expected and demanded
in the midst of a mortal struggle for national honor was another matter
entirely,--something to be encountered once in a lifetime, and something
to be cherished in family tradition as grand, patriotic, heroic, and
worthy of keeping in remembrance from generation to generation; but that
to do all this merely as a piece of duty because one's particular
regiment happened to be setting forth on probably hazardous service, but
of a trivial nature as compared with the interests involved in the only
war she heard much talked of, why, she never dreamed of such a
possibility, and her ideas were no more vague than are those of the
general public on precisely the same subject.

Twelve o'clock struck from the great bell over at the tower, and still
Grace and her husband remained below. It was time--high time to go to
bed, said Miss Sanford, though still perplexed, anxious, and distressed.
Grace would surely come to her as soon as matters were decided. She
stepped to her window to take a good-night look at the moonlit plain.
Drawing aside the curtain, she peered through the blinds. Standing in
silence at the front gate, leaning on the iron fence and gazing fixedly
in the direction of the library window which opened toward the north,
there appeared the figure of a man. A moment he stood there motionless,
attentive. Then, without a sound, he swung back the gate, and quickly
and almost on tiptoe, it seemed to her, stepped up the walk, passed
through a broad, moonlit space, and was as quickly lost to sight and
hearing around the corner of the house. She recognized the form and
bearing at a glance. The man was Sergeant Wolf.



CHAPTER VI.

AT THE FRONT.


Rare indeed is a day in June! Warmth and fragrance, sunshine and roses,
strawberries, straw hats, summer costumes, music and moonlight, soft
zephyrs, softer speeches, softest of swains have we left at the Point.
Farewells--sweet, sad, sentimental some of them--have been said. The
corps of cadets has gone to the Centennial with thousands of sight-seers
from all over the nation. They hardly had dared hope for such an
unaccustomed delight. They had not expected to go, but went. The nation
flocks to Philadelphia, but out in the Northwest some hundreds of its
defenders are flocking in another direction. Come with us and take
another look at our old friends of the --th. They had expected to go,
but didn't.

It is a rare, rare day in June, but where are the soft breezes, the
sweet fragrance, the blossoms and the bliss of that month of months at
the dear old Point? Rare indeed is the breeze, cloudless the sky,
brilliant, beaming, magnificent, the sunshine, but not a leaf stirs in
answering rustle to the wind. Far and near no patch of shade delights
or tempts the eye. Look where you will,--look for miles and miles over
boundless expanse of rolling upland, of ridge and ravine, of dip and
"divide," of butte and swale, no speck of foliage, no vision is there of
even isolated tree. The solid earth beneath our feet is carpeted with
dense little bunches of buffalo-grass, juicy, life-giving, yet bleaching
already of the faint hues of green that came peeping through the last
snows left in May. Tiny wild flowers purple the surface near us, but
blend into the colorless effect of the general distance. We stand on a
wave of petrified ocean, tumbling in wild upheaval close at hand;
stretching away to the east in a league-long level flat as the barn
floor of tradition, and bare as the description.

Far to the east the prairie rolls up to the horizon wave after wave till
none is seen beyond. Far to the north, bare and treeless, too, the same
effect is maintained. Far to the south, across an intervening low-land
one would call a valley elsewhere, the ground rises against the sky,
until its monotonous gray-green meets the gray-blue of the southern
heaven; but west of south, what have we here? The farthest wave of
prairie surges, not against the naked sky, but against a cold gray
range, whose peaks and turrets are seamed and sprinkled with glistening
snow. Aye, there they stand, the monarchs of the Rockies; there through
the short summer sunshine their lofty crests defy the melting rays and
bear their plumage through the very dog-days, to greet and welcome the
first, faint, timid snow-flakes of the early fall. There they gleam and
glisten, no longer as we saw them from the Kansas plains, dim in the
western distance, unapproachable, but close at hand, neighborly,
sheltering, for we nestle under their very shoulders. Here, to the west,
just behind us, no great day's walk away and seemingly far nearer, in
jagged outline against the blue of heaven, are the guardians of the old
transcontinental pass. Here, to the west, where you see the rugged spurs
jutting out from the range, runs the old trail which the engineers have
followed, and carried the Union Pacific to its greatest altitude between
the oceans. Far out there among the buttes runs that climbing ridge, yet
it seems so close, so neighborly with the foreshortening of that strange
scenery, that one cannot realize that in its climb it carries the iron
rails still two thousand feet farther aloft. For years we have read of
the Rockies, and is this possible? Do you mean that here, with this
expanse of level prairie before us, we are up among the clouds, so to
speak,--far up on the very backbone of the continent, and that is why,
instead of towering thousands of feet aloft in air, the great
peaks--Long's and Hahn's and Pike's--seem so near us to the south'ard
and no higher at all? Aye, call it prairie level if you will, for
straight to the east it looks as flat as Illinois, but we are standing
six thousand feet higher in air than the highest steeple in Chicago, and
our prairie flat is but the long, long slope of mountain-side that
begins in the Black Hills of Wyoming--back at Cheyenne Pass--and ends at
the forks of the Platte down near Julesburg.

You say it must be up-hill to that ridge that meets the horizon at the
east. Is it? Look over here to our left front, a little to the
northeast. See that tiny lake surrounded by low, wooden buildings, and
approached by the hard, beaten road from the distant town. A pleasure
resort of some kind, judging from the streamers and bright flags about
the place. It stands on a hill, does it not? and the hill has risen
gradually from the west, but slopes abruptly again to the east and south
to the general level. Did you ever see a lake on a hill before? How does
the water get there? Springs? No. Mark that slender rivulet that runs
from far up the ravine at the southwest; it crosses the prairie in the
near distance, and then goes twisting and turning up that apparent slope
until it reaches the little lake on the hill. The outlet, you say? Yes.
From here it certainly looks so, but step forward a few hundred feet and
look at the rivulet, and by all that's marvellous! the water is running
up-hill.

So it certainly seems, but the explanation is simple. The prairie is not
horizontal by any means. It is a gradual but decided slope to the east,
and the top of the little hill two miles away is forty feet lower than
the point on which you stand.

Then how deceptive is the distance! Across the level to the southeast
lies the bustling frontier city. You wonder to see glistening dome and
spire far out there under the very shadow of the Rockies. At least you
would have wondered a decade ago in the Centennial year. You note the
transparency of the atmosphere. Science has told you that at such an
altitude the air is rarefied. There is no light haze to soften outlines
and to lend enchantment to a distant view. Roof, spire, chimney, all
stand out clear and hard, and the coal-smoke from the railway blots the
landscape where it rises, yet is quickly scattered by the mountain
breeze. Between you and the little town lies the prairie over which the
stage road runs straight and hard as a pike until, nearing us, it begins
to twist and turn among the foot-hills for a climb across the ridge into
the valley of Lodge Pole Creek beyond. Lodge Pole indeed! The creek
valley has not a stick of timber far as one can see it. Follow it to its
source, two days' trot or tramp up towards Cheyenne Pass, and there you
find them, as the Sioux did twenty years ago, before we bade them seek
their lodge-poles farther north. How far is it to the prairie
metropolis,--a mile and a half, you venture? My friend, were you an
artillerist, and were you to sight a two-hundred-pounder to throw a
shell into Cheyenne from where we stand, "setting your sights for three
thousand yards,"--more than your mile and a half,--the shell would rip
up the prairie turf somewhere down there where you see the road crossing
that _acequia_. Cheyenne lies a good four miles away, and is a good deal
bigger than you take it to be. But here to the south lies a strange
diamond-shaped enclosure,--a queer arrangement of ugly brown wooden
barns and sheds far out all by itself on the bare bosom of the prairie.
That is _called_ a frontier fort. It is not a fort. It never has been.
Even tradition cannot be summoned to warrant the name. It was built
after our great civil war, and named for one of the gallant generals who
fell fighting in the Shenandoah Valley. It has neither stockade nor
simplest defensive work. It is all it can do to stand up against a
"Cheyenne zephyr," and a shot fired at one end of it would go clean
through to the other without meeting anything sufficiently solid to
deflect it from its course. It is a fort by courtesy, as some of our
non-combatants are generals by brevet, and would be as valuable in time
of defensive need. All around it, east, west, and north, sweeps the
level prairie. South of its unenclosed limits there flows a
rapid-running stream, down in whose barren valley are placed the long
unsightly wooden stables, the big square corrals for quartermaster's
stock, the huge stacks of hay and straw, and vast piles of cord-wood.
Farther east along this tortuous stream, and on its left bank, too,
midway between fort and city, is another big brown enclosure, in which
are dozens of sheds and storehouses. It is a great supply depot for
quartermaster's stores and ordnance, and over it, as over the fort,
flutters the little patch of color which stamps the property as Uncle
Sam's. For reasons that can soon be explained only small-sized flags are
ever hoisted near Cheyenne. By noon of three hundred days a year,
straight from the wild pass to the west, there comes sweeping down a
gale that would snap the stoutest flag-staff into flinders, and that
whips even a storm-flag threadbare in a few brief weeks.

But it is a rare June morning now, too early for the "zephyr," and
nature beams and sparkles even over such bare landscape. The air is
crisp, cool, invigorating. Far out on the slopes and side hills great
herds of horses and mules are grazing, guarded by vigilant troopers,
some alert in saddle, others prone upon the turf. Out along the road
from town comes a train of white-covered wagons slowly crawling
northward, with stores and supplies for the army up in the Indian
country, and down here to our right front, covering the flat between
fort and depot, blocked out in regular rows and groups, dotting the
plain with gleaming canvas, is the camp of the --th regiment of cavalry.
For the first time since the war of the rebellion two-thirds of its
entire strength is massed under command of its senior officer.

Morning mounted drill is just over, and the two battalions, having
unsaddled and turned the horses out to graze, are now busily occupied
about the camp. The soft notes of the trumpet sounding "Officer's Call"
has drawn to the colonel's tent a knot of tanned and athletic men in
rough field uniform and bristling beards. Those who best know the --th
will be quicker to recognize old friends in this guise than when in the
glitter of parade uniform or the accurate and irreproachable evening
dress of civilization. There is not a man in the group who is not quite
at his ease in ball-room attire; most of them have held acquaintance
time and again with the white tie and stiff "choker" of conventionality,
but the average gallant of metropolitan circles would turn up his
supercilious nostrils at the bare suggestion were he to see them now.
The --th is in its element, however, for the order has come, and with
the coming dawn it will be on the march for the Black Hills of Dakota,
and the colonel has summoned the officers to his tent for some final
instructions. It must be conceded that they look like business in their
dark-blue flannel shirts, their "reinforced" riding-breeches, the
substantial boots, and the field blouses and broad-brimmed campaign hats
that Arizona suns and storms have long since robbed of gloss or
freshness. The faces are strong and virile in almost every case. It is
ten days since the razor has profaned a single chin, and very stubbly
and ugly do they look, but long experience has taught them that the
sooner the beard is allowed to sprout when actual campaigning is to be
done the greater the eventual comfort. Occasionally some fellow draws
off the rough leather gauntlet, and then the contrast between his
blistered, wind-and-sun tanned face and the white hand is startling.
Every man is girt with belt of stout make, and wears his revolver and
hunting-knife,--the sabre is discarded by tacit consent,--its last
appearance for many a long month. Some of the number, indeed, have taken
the order to prepare for campaign work as a permit to doff the uniform
entirely. Gruff old Stannard hates the blouse on general principles, and
looks solid and "stocky" in his flannel shirt; not a vestige of "rank"
can be found about him. Turner and old Wilkins, Crane and Hunter, are of
his way of thinking, but others who preserve the military proprieties to
the last are still garbed in the undress uniform coat. Perhaps they are
thinking of the good-byes to be said in the garrison to-night. Less than
twenty officers are there who report in answer to the signal, and,
having saluted the colonel, dispose themselves on the few camp-stools or
on the grass and wait for his remarks.

Some are old friends, and some old friends are absent. It is odd to
think of the --th being here in force without Truscott, or Ray, or old
Bucketts, the men we knew so well in Arizona. Colonel Pelham is, of
course, not looked for: he is far too old to be in saddle on so hard a
campaign as this promises to be. Truscott's troop is not yet here, but
is under orders to remain in Kansas for the present, and he, we know, is
far away at the Point. Ray, with one of the captains whom we have yet
to meet, and with Mr. Gleason, is still detained on that horse
board,--very reluctantly, too, fretting himself into a fever over it say
some accounts, and other accounts say worse. Bucketts, as quartermaster,
is behind at Hays gathering up the fragments that remain and shipping
property to the new station. Captain Canker is here: he was East with
his wife and little ones, vastly enjoying the surf at Cape May, when the
telegram reached him saying that the --th were off for the wars again,
and within twelve hours he was in pursuit. Four of the group now waiting
around the colonel's tent came in just that way.

"Gentlemen," says the colonel, stepping quickly from the tent, "I called
you here for a word or two. First, there will be forty new horses here
at three this afternoon. They will be distributed according to color
among the eight companies, five to each. See to it that they are shod
first thing. There will be twenty in the next lot; they are to be left
here for Webb and Truscott. Overhaul your ammunition and equipments at
once, and if anything is lacking, you can draw from Cheyenne depot this
afternoon. I presume those of you who are to take station at Russell
will want to go over to see about your quarters, but my advice is that
only those who have families make any selection: there will be some
changes by the time we get back. We march at six in the morning, so have
everything cleared up to-day. There will be no further drill. Those who
have business to attend to in town or at the fort can leave camp without
further permission. I shall remain here until we start, and one officer
from each troop must be in camp, at stables, and during night. That's
all, unless somebody has questions to ask." And the colonel looks
inquiringly around.

Apparently nobody has, and the group breaks up. Some few of the older
officers remained to talk over the prospects at the colonel's tent.
Others went to the garrison to rejoin anxious wives and children, and to
spend the last day with them in helping get things settled in the new
army homes to which they had been so suddenly moved. A third party, "the
youngsters," or junior officers, sauntered across the intervening
stretch of prairie towards the low wooden building standing just north
of the entrance-gate of the fort. In old army days 'twas known as "the
sutler's." In modern parlance it is simply called "the store." The
middle room of which, fitted up with a couple of old-fashioned
billiard-tables, a huge coal stove, some rough benches, chairs, two or
three round tables, and the inevitable bar and cigar-stand, bore on the
portals the legend "officers'," as distinguished from the general
"club-room" beyond.

Seated around the room in various attitudes of _ennui_ and dejection
were three or four infantry officers stationed at the post, while at one
of the tables a trio of young lieutenants were killing time after
morning drill in the fascination of "limited draw." Target practice, as
now conducted, was then unknown, or there would have been no time to
kill. The announcement languidly conveyed from the occupant of the
window-seat, "A squad of the --th coming," produced neither sensation
nor visible effect.

A minute more, however, and the door burst open, and in they came, half
a dozen glowing, breezy, vigorous young cavalrymen, ruddy with health,
elastic with open-air life and exercise, brimful of good spirits and
cordiality, and headed by the declamatory Blake, who made a bee-line for
the bar, shouting,--

    "'An if a man did need a poison now,
    Here lives a caitiff wretch would sell it him.'

His name's Muldoon, and he's a fluid man. Step out, Muldoon. What'll ye
have, fellers?" he asked, with the sudden transition from the sublime to
the ridiculous, which was one of Blake's delights. "Name your respective
pizens, gentlemen. Come, join us, ye gallants of mud-crushers. What, ho!
Poker?" and with one stride he was at the table and peering over the
hands: "No use, Sammy,--

    'Two queens with but a single ace,
    Two sharps that beat as one.'

That's no hand to tackle a one-card draw with. Never you mind whether
he's bluffing or not. There ain't enough in that pot to warrant the
expense of testing the question. Take another deal. _What_ did you say,
Muldoon? Whiskey? No! Throw whiskey to the dogs; I'll none of it. Give
me foaming lager. That's right, my doughboy ancient. Didn't I tell you
to take another hand? What says the inimitable Pope?--

    'Fair tresses man's imperial race ensnare,
    And Sammy scoops us with a single pair.'"

"Good heavens! Blake. Give us a rest! Here, swallow your beer, or take
something to choke you," laughed the victim at the table, while a chorus
of groans saluted Blake's unconscionable parodies. "If you were to be
here a week longer I vow I'd go mad. The best news I've heard in a year
is that you're ordered to march in the morning. What quarters did you
choose?"

"What difference does it make to you, Rags?" put in Mr. Dana. "You
fellows will have the post to yourselves all summer, anyhow. We shan't
get out so much as a chair until we come back from the campaign."

"Well, the married officers have chosen theirs, you know. Stannard's
traps are all moved into No. 11, and they are pretty nearly settled
already,--the carpets were all down yesterday. So they were at Turner's.
Mrs. Whaling has been helping them unpack for the last three days, and
telling everybody what they had and didn't have. I tell you what,
fellows, we're going to have no end of a good time here this summer with
your band and all the ladies while you're roughing it out on the Big
Horn. Whaling says he'll bet a hat none of you get back before
Thanksgiving."

"Is it so that Truscott comes here with his troop?" asked one of the
captains of Lieutenant Crane.

"Well, the troop comes, but as to Truscott, that's another matter."

"I don't understand you, Crane," said Mr. Blake, with sudden change from
his roystering manner. "I thought you heard Ray say that he knew
Truscott would be after us as soon as it was settled that we would take
the field."

"Ray knew no more about it than you do, Blake," was the impatient reply.
"Ray has a fashion of being oracular where Truscott is concerned as
though he were on intimate and confidential terms with him. Now I, for
one, don't believe he had any authority whatever for saying what he
did."

"Well, hold on here," said Blake, deliberately. "My recollection is that
Ray only spoke of it as his conviction,--not that Truscott had told him
anything; still, he was certain that Truscott would come, and that he
would lose no time in getting relieved either. You know he is at the
Point," he said, in explanation, to the silent infantryman.

"Well, I'm d----d if I can understand it in him," muttered Wilkins, as he
buried his broad face in a beer-mug.

"No, Wilkins, I dare say you can't," was the drawling reply, and the
sarcasm was not lost among the listeners, though it missed its effect on
the stolid object. "Truscott, Ray, Heath, and Wayne, and Canker, are not
the style of men to spend this summer, of all others, away from the
regiment."

"Well, here we are, marching to-morrow, and where are your Ray and
Truscott?" asked Wilkins, with as near an approach to a sneer as he dare
venture.

Blake rose quickly from his chair, near where the trio still continued
their game, though by this time far more interested in the tone of the
talk than in "ten-cent ante." Dana and Hunter, too, were flushing and
looking ill at ease.

"This is no time or place to be discussing regimental matters," said he;
"but since the matter has come to it, I mean to give what I believe to
be the general opinion as opposed to that of a limited few. Crane,
Wilkins, you are the only men I have heard express any doubts as to
Truscott's coming, or Ray's, for that matter. I've got just fifty
dollars here to bet against your ten that if this regiment has any
fighting to do this summer they'll both be in it."

"I'm not making bets on any such event, Blake, and I did not mean to
intimate that they were not apt to come," said Crane, conscious that he
had been incautious.

"Well, you then, Wilkins," said Blake, impulsively. "I want this thing
clinched. It is the third or fourth time I've heard you half sneering
about these two men. It's bad enough in the regiment, but you are
talking now in a bar-room and among outsiders. By Jove! if there's no
other way, I say stop it."

There was an embarrassed silence. This was a new trait in Blake, one of
the most jovial, whole-souled, rattle-brained fellows imaginable
ordinarily, but now he seemed transformed. For years the regiment had
been serving by itself. Now for the first time it was thrown into
contact with the comparative strangers of the infantry. These gentlemen,
too, were ill at ease at the suppressed feeling in the conversation, but
Wilkins was "mulish" at times, and he had a reserve.

"If you know Truscott's coming it ain't fair to bet," he muttered,
sulkily; "but you'd better go slow on backing Ray; that's my advice,
Blake, unless you've more money than you know what to do with."

"All the same, I stand by my bet. Do you take it?"

"Oh, dash your bet! Blake, I'm no betting man; but you'd better be
certain what Ray's doing before you champion him so glibly. Perhaps I
know more than you think."

Blake's face clouded a little.

"I don't like your hints, Wilkins. We all know, of course, that Ray has
been wild and reckless many a time, but he is disbursing officer of that
horse board; he is the man of all others on it to decide what they'll
take and what they won't take. Buxton knows mighty little about horses
and will vote as Ray does, so that leaves the responsibility with him.
He never failed us yet, and, by gad! I don't believe he will now."

"All right! Blake, just you wait. All I've got to say is that if Ray
wants to keep his skirts out of the mud he'd better quit the company of
that fellow Rallston, and I hear he's with him day and night, and has
done no little drinking and card-playing with him already. _I_ don't say
gambling, but there's those that do," continued Wilkins, hotly.

"More than that," he went on, after a pause. "When Wayne came through
Kansas City, Gleason and Buxton were at the train to meet him, but they
didn't know, they said, where Ray was. _I_ heard he was at the hotel
sick; been on a tear, I suppose."

"See here, Wilkins, unless you can prove it let up on this sort of talk.
Ray told Stannard when he went on this detail that he would touch no
card so long as he was disbursing officer, and that he'd let John
Barleycorn alone. Now, do you know he has been on any spree?"

"No, I don't know it, Blake, and yet I'm certain of it just from past
experience with him."

"By gad! you're as bad as old Backbite himself. Do you remember that
time Chip of the artillery was walking down Nassau Street, and a
steam-boiler or something burst under the sidewalk and broke his leg?
The first thing old Backbite said when he heard of it was, 'H'm! been
drinking, I suppose.' Now here's Billings with a despatch. What is it,
bully rook?" he hailed, as the adjutant came bounding in.

"Truscott starts to-night, and the horse board will break up next week,
so we'll have Jack and Ray with us inside of ten days."

"_Pre_cisely. Now, Wilkins, if you want a nice mud-bath for your head,
there's an elegant spot back of the stables. Come on, Billings, I'm
going to camp."

And with that he left, followed by all the cavalrymen but Wilkins and
his associate Crane. The latter held the ground, and, as they were
plainly the defeated parties in the argument so far, human nature
demanded that Mr. Wilkins should set himself right in the eyes of the
reluctant auditors, and so it happened that among the officers composing
what might be termed the permanent garrison of the post the first
impressions received of Mr. Ray were conveyed by a tongue as ill
regulated as--other people's children.



CHAPTER VII.

WAR RUMORS.


The announcement that Captain Truscott had gone to Washington was
received at the officers' mess with no little excitement. Questioned as
to the meaning of it, the commandant of cadets unreservedly replied that
Truscott would not risk failure, but, with the full permission of the
superintendent, had gone to see the Secretary of War and get immediate
orders to join his regiment. The --th was to take the field at once,
said the colonel, and Truscott felt that it was his duty to go. Things
looked very much as though there would be a stubborn and protracted
Indian war, and undoubtedly the captain was right in his view of the
matter. In this opinion there was general acquiescence among the staff
and artillery officers present,--it is always safe to adhere to general
principles which are not apt to be personal in their application, and
the staff and artillery rarely were called upon to take part in such
hostilities,--and Mr. Ferris being a cavalryman of spirit was quite
disposed to think it the proper thing for him, too, to ask for orders,
although the possibility of his regiment's being involved was indeed
remote. One or two officers, however, maintained that the principle was
bad as a precedent; that hereafter officers might feel it a reflection
upon them if they did not immediately ask to be sent to their commands
on the first rumor of hostilities, no matter how important might be the
duties upon which they were detached. On this view of the case very
little was said, but one or two gentlemen whose regiments were known to
be marching on the Yellowstone country looked gratefully at the
originator and nodded their heads appreciatively. It was mid June now,
and except the fight with Crazy Horse's band on Patrick's Day and an
unimportant brush with the Sioux on the head-waters of the Tongue River,
nothing that could be called "hostilities" had really taken place. "The
Indians will be surrounded and will surrender without a blow," said
those who sought for reason to evade going; but no man who knew anything
of Indian character or Indian methods believed that for an instant.
Every experienced officer knew, and knew well, that a mortal struggle
must come and come soon, and come it did.

But Jack Truscott needed no such spur to urge him on the path of duty.
What it cost to cut loose from all that was so beautiful to him in his
happy home no one ever knew. What it cost his brave young wife to let
him go was never told. Barely half a year had they rejoiced together in
their love-lit surroundings, the most envied couple at the Point,--and
there is vast comfort in being envied,--and Grace Truscott had never for
an instant dreamed that so rude an interruption could come; but come it
had, with blinding, sudden force, that for a time stunned and wellnigh
crushed her. Jack had lifted her in his strong arms and almost carried
her to their room the night when he _had_ to tell her of his
determination, but, once satisfied that his duty was plain, she rallied,
like the soldier's daughter she was, and spoke no word of repining. She
looked up in his eyes and bade him go. True, she cherished faint hope
that in Washington there would be attempt to dissuade him, for she had
good reason to know that in the days whereof we write there were
officials of the War Department who regarded Indian warfare on the
frontier as a matter quite beneath their notice,--one which might of
course concern the officers and men actually engaged, but that could be
of small moment to the Army,--that is, the Army as known to society, as
known to the press, and, 'tis to be feared, as understood by
Congress,--the Army in its exclusive and somewhat supercilious existence
at the National Capital. Colonel and Mrs. Pelham were there, and Jack
would of course see them; and was it not possible that there would be
officials of the highest authority who could convince him that his
services were not needed at the front, but could not be dispensed with
at the Point? Poor Grace! She little dreamed that for such a place as
her husband held there were dozens of applicants, and that senators and
representatives by the score had favorites and friends whom they were
eager to urge for every Eastern detail; and then, even now she did not
entirely know her Jack: so gentle, loving, caressing, as he was with
her, she could hardly realize the inflexibility of his purpose. The
interview with the Secretary of War was over in five minutes, and never
had that functionary experienced such a surprise. He had received
Captain Truscott's card and directed that he be admitted, vaguely
remembering him as the tall cavalry officer whom he had seen at the
Point on the first of the month, and whom, after the manner of his kind,
he had begged "to let him know if there should ever be anything he could
do for him in Washington," and now here he was, and had a favor to ask.
The Secretary sighed and looked up drearily from his papers, but rose
and shook hands with the young officer who entered, and blandly asked
him to be seated. Captain Truscott, however, bowed his thanks, said that
he had just left the adjutant-general, and had his full permission to
present in person this note from the superintendent of the Academy, and
his, the captain's, request to be immediately relieved from duty at West
Point with orders to join his regiment, then _en route_ to reinforce
General Crook.

The Secretary mechanically took the note between his nerveless fingers,
and simply stared at his visitor. At last he broke forth,--

"By the Eternal!" (and the administration was not Jacksonian either)
"Captain Truscott. This beats anything in my experience. Since I've been
in office every man who has called upon me has wanted orders for himself
or somebody else to come East. Do you mean you want to go West and
rejoin your regiment to do more of this Indian fighting?"

"Certainly, Mr. Secretary," was Truscott's half-amused reply.

"It shall be as you wish, of course," said the cabinet officer; "but
I've no words to say how I appreciate it. You seem to be of a different
kind of timber from those fellows who are always hanging around
Washington,--not but what they are all very necessary, and that sort of
thing," put in the Secretary, diplomatically; "but we have no end of men
who want to come to Washington. You're the first man I've heard of who
wanted to go. By Jove! Captain Truscott. Is there anything else you
want? Is there anything I can do that will convey to you my appreciation
of your course?"

"Well, sir, I have spoken to the adjutant-general about some six men of
the cavalry detachment at the Point who are eager to go to the frontier
for active service. If they could be transferred,--sent out with
recruits; we are short-handed in the --th, and my own troop needs
non-commissioned officers."

"Certainly it can be done. We'll see General T----about it at once."

That night Grace's last hope was broken by the telegram from Washington,
which told her that Jack would be home next day and that the orders were
issued.

Mrs. Pelham had stormed, of course, that is--to her husband. She stood
in awe of Jack, and had counted on spending much of the summer at the
Point. Living as they were at a Washington hotel, expenses were very
heavy, and madame had planned to recuperate her exhausted frame and
fortune in a long visit to dear Grace, who really ought to have a
mother's--"well, at least, if the captain is to be away so much of the
time, she will surely be lonely," madame had argued. It was really quite
fortunate that he had to go to Kentucky to buy horses. In his absence
she might recover much of the ground she felt she had lost in the last
year. The plan was fairly developed in her strategical mind, when who
should appear but the captain himself, and with the brief announcement
that they would start for Wyoming in a week.

Madame could not believe her senses; but either from shock or unusually
profound discretion, she refrained from an expression of her
sentiments, and Truscott continued his calm explanation. Grace had borne
up bravely at the idea of his throwing away the detail at the Point, but
had made one stipulation. She should go with him to the frontier,
rebuild their nest at the new station of his troop, and be near him as
woman could be during the summer's campaign, and all ready to welcome
him home at its close. He could not say her nay. Old Pelham's eyes
brimmed with tears, but when he spoke it was only to repress the
impetuous outbreak of his wife.

"Now, Dolly, no words. Truscott's right, so is Grace. It's bound to be a
sharp campaign no matter what your society friends say. By gad! I'd--I'd
give _anything_ to go, but I'm too old, Jack; I'd only be in the way.
You're right, my boy. You're right; you always are. Your place is with
the regiment when there's work to be done, and Grace is a soldier's
wife. She's right, too. Her place is near him."

In vain Mrs. Pelham argued that Grace could better remain East. Jack
knew his wife's mind. She would be just as comfortable; she would be far
happier in the cosey quarters of the big garrison at Russell. She would
have Mrs. Stannard, whom they all loved, for friend and companion, and
there were a dozen pleasant acquaintances among the ladies there to be
quartered. It was simply useless for madame to interpose. Everything had
been settled beforehand and without reference to her. The best they
could do was to accept Jack's invitation to come to the Point, be his
guests at the hotel, and see them off. He would dismantle his quarters
forthwith.

And when he returned to Grace next day she was brave, smiling, really
happy. She gloried in the idea of going with her soldier husband back to
the dear old --th, and she had another plan,--a surprise. She and Marion
had had a long talk, and as a result Marion wanted to go too. It was
novel. It was almost startling, yet--why not? Several young ladies were
already visiting at Hays,--two of them were going,--had gone to Russell
with relatives who were married in the --th. Miss Sanford was to have
spent the summer with them at the Point. Why should she not accompany
Grace to Wyoming and see something of that odd army life of which she
had heard so much. If Captain Truscott would have her she knew no reason
to prevent. And they all knew that in the captain's enforced absence on
the campaign no one could be so great a comfort, so dear a companion to
Grace, as her schoolmate Marion. There was only one question, said
Truscott, "Will Mr. Sanford consent?"

"I will write to-night," said the young lady, in reply, "and I feel
confident of his answer."

Within a week, as we know, the telegram had reached the --th announcing
Truscott's move, and that very afternoon Mrs. Stannard, seated on the
piazza of her new quarters and gazing southward across the bare parade
to the dun-colored barracks on the other side and the snow-capped peaks
of Colorado seemingly just beyond, was startled by a sudden sensation in
the group of officers in front of Colonel Whaling's. Another telegram.
Presently her husband left the group and came quickly to her, hands in
his pockets as usual, and with his customary expression of
unastonishable _nonchalance_. Still, she saw he had disturbing news,
and she rose anxiously to meet him, her sweet blue eyes clouded with the
dread she strove to repress.

"What is it, Luce?" she asked.

The major unpursed his lips and abandoned the attempted whistle.

"Been a fight--way up on the Rosebud," he briefly said, as he dropped
into a chair, still maintaining his apparent indifference of manner.

"Yes; but--what was it? Who is hurt this time?"

"H----, of the Third; shot through the face; can't live, they say.
Reckon that isn't the worst of it, either. Crook found the Indians far
too many for him and he had to fall back to his camps."

"Oh, Luce! Then it will be a hard campaign. What news for the --th?"

"Nothing as yet. We march, of course, at daybreak, and I suppose the
rest of the regiment will be hurried up from Kansas. What must be looked
after at once is the great mass of Indians at the Red Cloud and Spotted
Tail reservations on White River. They will get this news within the
next twenty-four hours, and it will so embolden them that the entire
gang will probably take the war-path. There is where we will be sent, I
fancy. Orders will reach us at Laramie. They say Sheridan himself is on
his way to the reservations to look into matters. Mrs. Turner been
here?" he suddenly asked, with a quick glance from under his shaggy
eyebrows.

"Mrs. Turner? Not since morning. Why?"

"There was a sort of snarl down at the store this morning, Some mention
of it was made while we were talking there at Whaling's, and I was
anxious to get the particulars. Wilkins was saying something about Ray
that worries me. Have you heard nothing?"

"Not a thing, Luce. Did you suppose Mrs. Turner was possessed of all the
information and would come to me with it?"

The major looked uncomfortable. "She would be apt to go to somebody, and
you were the nearest. Both those youngsters, Dana and Hunter, were
present, and they are leaky vessels, I'm told. Turner never tells her
anything, but the boys do."

"What a thing to say, Luce!"

"Can't help it," growled the major, thrusting out his spurred boot-heels
towards the railing and tilting back in his chair. "You never heard, I
suppose, that between her and Mrs. Raymond and Mrs. Wilkins there was a
regular intelligence bureau at Sandy two years ago. So you heard nothing
about this affair?"

"Not a word; and it occurs to me, Major Stannard, that you look vastly
as though you wish Mrs. Turner _had_ come with the details. That's just
the way with you men. You rail at our sex for gossiping, and growl when
we can't or won't tell you anything. Luce! Luce! How consistent!" And in
her enjoyment of her burly lord's discomfiture, Mrs. Stannard forgot for
the moment her many anxieties and laughed blithely.

The major had too much to worry him, however, and this was so evident to
his devoted wife that her laugh was brief,--it was never loud or
strident,--and she moved her chair nearer to his own.

"Is Mr. Ray in any trouble?" she asked, with genuine concern.

"I don't know. Of the officers present at the conversation in the store
this morning all I have since seen were infantrymen, whom I couldn't
ask. Wayne and Merrill heard something of it and came to me at once
because of their regard for Ray, but Blake has gone to town. He is the
man who snubbed Crane and Wilkins. It seems Wilkins claims to have a
letter from somebody--that man Gleason probably--to the effect that Ray
has been on a perpetual tear with the very man of all others I dreaded
his meeting. You remember that contractor, Rallston."

"Mr. Ray's brother-in-law?"

"Yes; worse luck! I knew the fellow by reputation before we went to
Arizona. He's a scoundrel, and a very polished one, too. Ray is smart
enough ordinarily, but if Rallston has been trying to sell him horses
there will be trouble sooner or later. I'm more worried about that than
over the campaign news. Sorry about H----, of course, though I'd never
met him: They say he is a capital officer; but I can't start to-morrow
and have this thing haunting me all the way up to Laramie. I'll go down
to camp and hunt up Wilkins, and ask him flat-footed for his whole
story; then there will be time to write to Ray, or telegraph if need
be."

That was a dreary night at Russell. All the afternoon the telegraph
instrument at headquarters was clicking away with details of the brief
and sudden fight upon the Rosebud, and the officers read in silence the
description of the hordes upon hordes of savages that swooped down upon
Crook's little column, and whirled his allied Absarakás and Shoshones
off the wooded bluffs. "They must have been reinforced from every
reservation between the Missouri and the mountains," was the comment,
for the whole country swarmed with them. Scout after scout had been sent
out to strive to push through to the Yellowstone and communicate with
General Terry's forces, known to be concentrated at the mouth of the
Tongue. Some had come back, chased in to the very guard by yelling
"hostiles." Several had failed to return at all, but--significant
fact--none had succeeded in getting through. The last of June would soon
be at hand; the forces that were to co-operate--Crook's from the Big
Horn foot-hills at the south, Terry's from the banks of the Yellowstone
at the north--had reached their appointed stations and even gone beyond,
but not a vestige of communication could they establish one with the
other. Crook, striving to force his way through from his corrals and
camps, had been overpowered and thrust back by the concentration upon
him of five times his weight in foes. Terry, sending his cavalry
scouting up the Rosebud, found an unimpeded passage for miles and miles;
and even as our friends at Russell were reading with gloomy faces the
tidings from the front, a little battalion of cavalry, pushing
venturously up the wild and picturesque valley, came suddenly upon a
sight that bade their leader pause.

Up from among the wild rose-bushes along the sparkling stream, and
climbing the great "divide" to the west, there ran a broad, new-beaten,
dusty trail, pounded by the hoofs of ten thousand ponies, strewn on
every side with abandoned lodge-poles, worn-out blankets, or other
_impedimenta_, malodorous, unsightly. "The Indians have crossed to the
Little Horn within the last three days," said the experienced scouts in
the advance. Back went the column down the valley to report the news,
and three days afterwards two war-tried regiments of horse were _en
route_. From the south, heading for the Black Hills of Dakota, with
orders to find the trail leading from the reservations to the Indian
country and put a stop to the forwarding of reinforcements or supplies,
rode our old Arizona acquaintances of the --th. From the north, pushing
up the Rosebud into the very heart of the hostile regions, with orders
to find the lurking-place of the swarming savages and "hold them" from
the east, there came a command and a commander famed in song and story.
Between them and the Big Horn heights and cañons, where lay the comrade
force of Crook, there rolled a glorious tract of wooded crest, of
sweeping, upland prairie, of deep and sheltered valley, of plashing
stream and foaming torrent, and there in their guarded fastness,
exulting in their strength, mad with rejoicing over their easy victory,
lighting the valley for miles with their council-fires, rousing the
echoes with triumphant shout and speech, thousand upon thousand gathered
the Indian foemen, "covering the hills like a red cloud."



CHAPTER VIII.

AT RUSSELL.


"What do you think!" exclaimed Mrs. Turner, breathlessly, as she rushed
in upon her friend Mrs. Stannard one bright morning a week later, "Mrs.
Truscott and Miss Sanford will both be here to-morrow. Mr. Gleason
escorts them. Why!" she added, in visible disappointment, "you knew all
about it all the time. Why didn't you tell me?"

"I only knew yesterday, Mrs. Turner," was the smiling reply. "They will
stay with me until their quarters are ready. Captain Truscott and
Captain Webb will camp here with their troops until further orders, and
you knew, of course, that they were on their way. The ladies were to
have gone to the hotel in town, but Major Stannard sent word before he
left that Mrs. Truscott must come to me, and I have plenty of room for
Miss Sanford, too."

"Won't it be delightful to have them? It will add ever so much to the
life of the post," said Mrs. Turner, with visions of hops and parties
innumerable flitting through her pretty head. It was a week since the
--th had broken camp and marched away. Already they were far across the
Platte and up out of reach of all telegraphic communication somewhere
among the breaks of the South Cheyenne, and right in among the bands now
known to be hurrying day and night, northwestward, to join the hordes
of Sitting Bull. Captain Turner had been unusually grave in parting with
his wife, but that blissfully constituted matron had shed few tears. She
was philosophic and sensible beyond question. What good was there in
borrowing trouble? Didn't the captain have to go time and again just the
same way in Arizona, and didn't he always come back safely? Of course,
poor Captain Tanner and Captain Squires, and Mr. Clay and Mr. Walters
and others, had been killed, and lots of them were wounded at one time
or another; but heavens! if one had to go into deep mourning every time
a husband had to take the field, there would be no living in the cavalry
at all! Mrs. Turner was unquestionably sensible, and far be it from our
intention to upbraid her. Ladies there were in the --th who spent
several days in prayers and tears after they had seen the last of the
guidons as they fluttered away over the "divide" towards Lodge Pole, and
with these afflicted ones Mrs. Whaling, the "commanding officer's lady,"
would fain have lavished hours of time in sympathizing converse. She
loved the melodramatic, and was never so happy, said Blake, as when
bathed in tears. Detractors of this estimable woman, indeed, were wont
to complain that she was too easily content with these pearly but
insufficient aids to lavatory process; and her propensity for adhering
for weeks at a time to an ancient black silk, which had seen service all
over the Western frontier, gave sombre color to the statement. The few
ladies of the --th who had come to Russell for the summer were hardly
settled in their new quarters when the regiment was hurried away, and
from one house to another had Mrs. Whaling flitted, a substantial and
seemingly well-fed matron in appearance, and one whose eccentricities of
costume and toilet were attributable, no doubt, to a largeness of
nature, which rendered all care for personal appearance subordinate to
the claims of afflicted humanity. All the ladies had gracefully accepted
her proffered sympathy, and some had warmly thanked her for the
well-meant attentions; but Mrs. Turner was completely nonplussed by the
good lady's offer to come and pray with her, and it must be allowed that
Mrs. Whaling's visit of condolence had been productive of far more
comfort to Mrs. Turner than was expected,--and in a far different way;
for that volatile young matron rushed in upon Mrs. Stannard late in the
afternoon, choking with laughter, to describe her sensations in striving
to be proper and decorous until the venerable black silk had whisked
itself off out of hearing. Three days after the --th had gone the band
arrived from Hays. Mr. Billings had spent two days at the post in seeing
his men comfortably established and in turning over property to the
infantry officer designated to be post adjutant, and then he had taken
stage to Laramie and gone in chase. That evening, after the band had
played delightfully an hour or two on the parade, the officers suggested
an informal dance; their own ladies went readily, and Mrs. Turner
decided to go and see the hop-room, and once there it seemed so poky to
come away without a waltz or two. "The floor was lovely, so much better
than ours at Hays, and really, several of the garrison officers danced
remarkably well." So we infer Mrs. Turner had satisfied herself by
personal experiment on that score. Very properly, the informal hops
became regular features of the garrison life, and several ladies of the
--th, "grass-widowed" for the summer, were speedily induced to join in
these modulated gayeties. What with the band, the influx of some half a
dozen new ladies, and the constant arrival of officers _en route_ to the
front, the garrison not unnaturally remarked that Russell was jollier
now that the --th had gone than it was before.

And now Mrs. Truscott and the very interesting Miss Sanford were coming.
This was indeed news! They were to take quarters next to the Stannards,
and be Mrs. Stannard's guests until the furniture arrived and all was
made ready for them. Truscott's troop, with Webb's, was coming along by
rail fast as they could travel in the heavy freight-trains to which they
were assigned, and the ladies, Mrs. Webb included, were being escorted
on the express direct to Cheyenne by Lieutenant Gleason, who had joined
the party as they passed through Kansas City, and who had, doubtless,
made himself especially agreeable to the young and lovely Mrs. Truscott,
of whom he had heard so much, and to her friend, the heiress from New
Jersey. These were details of which Mrs. Turner was in ignorance when
she came in to surprise Mrs. Stannard with the news, and, after her
first astonishment, Mrs. Turner's sensations were not those of unmixed
delight. A whole day, it seemed, had the major's wife been in possession
of the tidings and had not imparted them to her. This was indicative of
one of two things: either Mrs. Stannard was so reticent that she did not
care to tell anybody, or else she had told others and kept it from
her,--from her who believed that she had made a most favorable
impression on this charming and popular lady of whom all men and most
women spoke so admiringly. Mrs. Turner's face betrayed her mental
perturbation, and Mrs. Stannard was quick to divine the cause. In
genuine kindness of heart she came promptly to the relief of her pretty
friend. Without being in the least blind to her frivolities, Mrs.
Stannard saw much that was attractive and pleasant in Mrs. Turner. She
was vastly entertained by her, and enjoyed studying her as she would a
graceful statue or a finished picture. Beneath the surface she had no
desire to penetrate. Warm friends and loving friends she had in troops,
and women of Mrs. Turner's mental calibre were sources of infinite,
though quiet, entertainment. She enjoyed their presence, was cordial,
kindly, even laughingly familiar, yet always guarded. Mrs. Stannard's
most pronounced characteristic was consummate discretion. She knew whom
to trust, and others might labor in vain to extract from her the
faintest hint that, repeated carelessly or maliciously, would wound or
injure a friend.

But here was a thing all the world might know. Truscott's telegram had
reached her the evening before, saying that the three ladies, escorted
by Lieutenant Gleason, would arrive at such a time, and that Mrs.
Truscott and Miss Sanford would gladly accept her offer. The average
woman could hardly restrain herself from going out and seeking some one
to whom to tell the interesting news. Few pleasures in life are keener
than the bliss of being able to convey unexpected tidings,--when they
are welcome,--but Mrs. Stannard knew that the ladies of the regiment
with whom she felt at all intimate were over at the hop-room. She had
all a woman's eagerness to tell the news, but--she was loyal to the
--th, and would not even in so little a thing let others be the bearers.
That Mrs. Stannard was a woman capable of deeds of heroism we deduce
from the simple fact that she went to bed that night without having
breathed the story to a soul. She had a strong impulse to tell her cook
and housemaid,--old and reliable followers of her fortunes,--but she
well knew that those amiable domestics would be clattering up and down
the back yards all the evening, and the news would surprise nobody when
she came to tell it next day. She was too true a woman to want to part
with such a pleasure. Then she had--ah! must it be confessed?--a little
mischievous desire of her own to see how Mrs. Turner would take it, for
those who knew Mrs. Turner best were given to the belief that she would
far rather have the attention of the masculine element of the garrison
concentrated upon herself than shared with such undoubted rivals as
these would be; and so, with perfect truth, Mrs. Stannard's reassurance
took the form of these words:

"You see I could not make up my mind to let any one know until I had
told you, and I've been expecting you all the morning,"--and Mrs. Turner
was charmed. "But," said Mrs. Stannard, "tell me how you heard it. I
thought no one knew it but myself."

"Oh! Mr. Gleason telegraphed as a matter of course, to announce that
_he_ was escorting these ladies. It was quite a feather in his cap to be
able to show the commanding officer here that Captain Truscott intrusts
to him the duty of guarding anything so precious. When you get to know
Mr. Gleason better you'll appreciate that," said Mrs. Turner, with a
pout. "Captain Turner can't bear him, and dislikes to have me notice him
at all; and what I wonder at is his escorting them. Why is he not with
his company? And where is Mr. Ray? If the board has adjourned, I should
suppose that Mr. Gleason would be on duty with his men,--he is
Truscott's first lieutenant, you know,--and that Mr. Ray would be
rushing through to catch _his_ company. Why isn't he escorting them I
wonder? Perhaps Captain Truscott had reasons of his own for not
permitting that,--Ray _was_ smitten with her, I don't care what Mrs.
Raymond says. Have you heard where Mr. Ray is?"

"Not a word. I wish I knew," said Mrs. Stannard, wistfully.

"Have you--have you heard anything about his being in any trouble, in
anything likely to keep him from going with the regiment?" asked Mrs.
Turner, hesitatingly, yet watching closely Mrs. Stannard's face.

"Nothing in the least that is anything more than a very improbable
story, and one that I have too little faith in to repeat. Tell me what
news you have from the captain." And Mrs. Turner knew 'twas useless to
ask questions. She hurried through her visit, and tripped eagerly away
up the row to carry the news throughout the garrison, meeting Mrs.
Whaling coming down, and the latter had the start.

And so, before the setting of a second sun, Grace Truscott was once more
in garrison, and Miss Sanford, with quietly observant eyes, was forming
her first impressions of army life in the far West, and welcoming with
sweet and gracious manner the ladies, who could not resist their
hospitable impulse to gather on Mrs. Stannard's piazza and greet the
new-comers as soon as they had removed the dust and cinders of railway
travel, and in the bewildering freshness of their New York costumes
reappeared on the parlor floor.

That evening, of course, they held quite a levee. The band played
delightfully upon the parade, welcoming back to the frontier the
colonel's daughter, and wishing, many of them, that old Catnip, too, had
come, for he was very thoughtful and kind to his men, and they were
realizing that it is no fun to be musicians for somebody else's
regiment. Many officers and ladies called, and Mrs. Stannard's pleasant
parlor was filled from early until late. One man appeared there before
anybody else, accepted an invitation to join them at dinner and stayed
until after eleven: this was Mr. Gleason.

The sunshine of Mrs. Stannard's bonny face was something the --th were
prone to speak of very often, perhaps too often to suit other ladies,
whose visages on the domestic side were not infrequently clouded. Just
as it is an unsafe thing to speak in presence of some mothers of the
grace or beauty or behavior of other children than their own, so it is
simply idiotic to talk of Mrs. So-and-so's sweet manners or sweeter face
to Mrs. Vinaigre, who is said, at times, to be snappish. It may be far
from your intention to institute comparisons or to refer, by inference,
to graces which are lacking in the lady to whom you speak, but there is
nothing surer in life than that you get the credit of it in the fullest
sense, and that, most unwittingly, you have affronted a woman in a way
the meekest Christian of her sex will find it hard to forgive; she will
never forget it. Mrs. Stannard's smile was sweetness itself; her eyes
smiled quite as much as her mouth, and her very soul seemed to beam
through the winsome, winning beauty of her face. All the young officers
looked up to her with something akin to worship; all the elders spoke of
Mrs. Stannard as the perfection of an army wife; even her closest
friends and acquaintances could find no one trait to speak of openly as
a fault. The nearest approach to such a thing was Mrs. Turner's
exasperated and petulant outbreak when her patient lord had ventured, in
presence of several of her coterie, to speak once too often of that
lovely smile. "Merciful powers! Captain Turner. Any woman with Mrs.
Stannard's teeth could afford to smile from morning till night; but it's
all teeth!" But even Mrs. Turner knew better. It was a smile born of
genuine goodness, of charity, of loving-kindness, and of a spiritual
grace that made Mrs. Stannard marked among her associates. In all the
regiment no woman was so looked up to and loved as she.

Grace Truscott had known her well by reputation, though this was their
first meeting. It seemed not a little strange to Miss Sanford that they
should be going thus suddenly and unceremoniously to be the guests of a
lady whom neither of them had ever seen, but "'tis the way we have in
the Army," was the laughing response when she ventured to speak of it,
and any hesitancy or embarrassment she might have felt vanished at the
instant when their hostess appeared on the piazza and both her hands
were outstretched in welcome. "Did you ever see a lovelier expression in
a woman's face?" was her first impulsive exclamation when she and Grace
were shown to their rooms. Yet, once her guests were up-stairs and out
of the way, Mrs. Stannard's brow clouded not a little as she descended
to the piazza, where she had left Mr. Gleason superintending the
unloading of trunks, boxes, and other baggage, and giving directions
about the distribution of this thing or that quite as though "one of the
family." She had never liked him; the major cordially hated him; she
knew that Captain Truscott could not possibly feel any friendship for
such a man, and yet here he was, the escort of Mrs. Truscott and Miss
Sanford on their journey. They were her guests, and therefore she had to
be unusually civil to him. One or two officers came up to speak to him
as he stood at the little gate, and the post adjutant invited him to
send his traps to his quarters, where a room was ready. Gleason looked
around at Mrs. Stannard and remarked, "Well, I'm much obliged, but you
see I'm rather bound as yet to our ladies," and plainly intimated that
he hoped Mrs. Stannard would offer him the spare room on the parlor
floor, but Mrs. Stannard did nothing of the kind; and, not very
gracefully, he availed himself of the young infantryman's courtesy. The
baggage was all in by this time, and there was no need of his prolonging
his stay. Mrs. Stannard, of course, announced that they expected the
pleasure of his company at dinner at six, and asked him to come in and
rest, unless he preferred to go at once and dress. Gleason concluded it
best to go, but, in the hearing and presence of the garrison officers
who were standing near, begged Mrs. Stannard to explain to the ladies
that he had to report to the commanding officer, and would she please
say to Miss Sanford that he would call at five?

What could that mean? was Mrs. Stannard's vexed inquiry of her inner
consciousness. Was the widower bent on making the most of his time in an
endeavor to fascinate the Eastern belle? The ladies were hardly dressed
when he reappeared, and was urging Miss Sanford to come out with him for
a brief stroll to see the mountain prairie and take a whiff of Wyoming
breezes, when the appearance of Mrs. Turner and others (who had just
happened by, but hearing their voices could not resist rushing in to
welcome Mrs. Truscott, etc., etc.) put an end to the possibility. It was
a comfort to note that though perfectly courteous and pleasant in her
manner, even to the extent of that indefinable yet perceptible half
intimacy which exists between travelling companions, Miss Sanford seemed
in no wise encouraging and by no means displeased at the interruption to
the plan so audaciously proposed. At dinner Mr. Gleason sat opposite the
young lady, and was, therefore, obliged to talk much with Mrs. Stannard.
After dinner he promptly established himself by Miss Sanford's side,
showing her albums full of photographs of the officers,--a collection
the major and his wife had been making for years, and one in which they
took great delight. Gleason knew most of them, and it enabled him to be
very entertaining, as he could tell some anecdote or incident connected
with so many, but the early coming of visitors broke in upon his
monopoly, yet could not wholly drive him from her side. It was observed
by every man and woman who came in that evening how assiduous was
Gleason in his attentions. More than that, there was something about
them that can best be described by the word possessive. It seemed as
though he had studied the art of behaving as though he felt that every
look and word was welcome to her. Mrs. Stannard was secretly
exasperated; Mrs. Truscott, who knew nothing of him until their westward
journey, was only vaguely annoyed, but no one could tell from her manner
what Miss Sanford thought.

It was after eleven when the last of the visitors withdrew, and still he
lingered. Once more Miss Sanford stood by the centre-table and bent over
one of the albums. She turned rapidly over the pages until she reached a
cabinet picture of a dark-eyed, dark-haired, trim-built young officer in
cavalry undress uniform.

"You did not tell me who this was, Mr. Gleason."

"That? Oh! That is Mr. Ray of our regiment," was the reply, in a tone
lack-lustre of all interest.

"Mr. Ray? Where? Let me see," exclaimed Mrs. Truscott, coming quickly to
them. "Oh, _isn't_ that perfect? When did you get it, Mrs. Stannard? How
mean of him not to send us one!"

"It was taken in Denver this spring," said Mrs. Stannard. "The major
says it's the only picture he has ever seen of Mr. Ray, and it is as
good as one can be that doesn't represent him in the saddle. You know we
think him the best rider in the --th,--we ladies, that is," she added,
knowing this to be one of Gleason's weak points. Mr. Gleason made no
remark.

"What became of the other members of the board, Mr. Gleason?" she
continued. "I expected to see Captain Buxton and Mr. Ray."

"Oh, they gave us all ten days' delay in joining so as to say good-by
to friends, you know. Buxton stopped to see his wife's family at
Leavenworth, but he'll be through here in a day or two." Then came a
pause.

"And where is Mr. Ray? I supposed that he would be off like a shot."

There was an unmistakable sneer on Mr. Gleason's face, though the reply
was vague and hesitating.

"Yes, Ray made no end of fuss about getting off--until the orders came;
since then I haven't heard much--that is, I haven't seen anything of
him."

"He couldn't well get to the regiment without going through here, could
he?"

"No; but he hasn't gone, and he won't be going in any great hurry."

It was evident to Mrs. Stannard that Gleason was striving to be
questioned. Whatever he knew he was ready to tell, provided some one
would ask. Mrs. Truscott and Miss Sanford stood silently by, still
looking at the photograph, when Mrs. Stannard again spoke.

"Well, Mr. Ray was never behind in any previous campaign, and I'll
venture to predict he isn't far behind now. Now, Mr. Gleason, I'm going
to send you home, for these ladies are tired out with their long
journey."

He would fain have put in another word about Ray, but she was vigilant
and checked him. He hoped for an invitation to breakfast, but it did not
come. He plead with languishing eyes for a few moments more at the side
of the lady he desired to fascinate, but Miss Sanford was still looking
at the photographs and would not return his glance. Go he had to, and it
was plain to him that in striving to belittle Ray he had damaged his own
cause. It made him bitterer still as he strode through the darkness
down to the beacon-lights of the store. Gleason drank more and talked
more before he went to bed than was good for him; but no seed is so
easily sown as that of slander.



CHAPTER IX.

RAY TO THE FRONT.


It has been said that Major Stannard told his wife that he proposed
going down to camp, hunting up Mr. Wilkins, and getting from him
"flat-footed" the authority he had for his insinuations at Mr. Ray's
expense the day before the regiment marched for the Black Hills. The
major went as he proposed; but at the very moment he reached camp the
object of his search was unpacking Mrs. Wilkins's trunks up in the
garrison. Stannard left word with the officer of the day that he wanted
to see Mr. Wilkins on important business right after "retreat" (sunset)
roll-call; and Wilkins was quick to divine that the major had already
heard of his morning's mischief at the store. He stood in awe of the
battalion commander, and knew well that when it came to a face to face
encounter with him there could be no dodging. He must swallow his words
or give his authority. Wilkins, therefore, had important business of his
own or his able wife's devising which kept him from going to camp during
the evening, and Stannard, being only the major, could not order him
thither in the face of the colonel's permission to be absent. He trudged
back across the prairie in no amiable mood, therefore, and swore in
stalwart Anglo-Saxon to Captain Merrill that he would bring Wilkins to
the scratch if he had to go to his quarters to do it. They looked in at
the store, and Wilkins wasn't there, so together they walked up the row
until they came to the cottage into which the lares and penates of the
Wilkins family had so recently been carried, and Mrs. Wilkins herself
met them at the door. She was afraid of nobody, and had doubtless been
requested (he never directed) by her husband to see who was knocking.
Now Mrs. Wilkins was as fond of Major Stannard as her husband was afraid
of him. She liked his blunt, sturdy, unaffected ways, and many a time
and oft she had held him up to her submissive lord as the sort of
soldier he ought to be. She knew nothing of the affair at the store as
yet, and Wilkins was afraid to tell her. With her keen insight she had
long since discovered that her husband's associates and intimates in the
regiment were not the strong or the good men, and she had warned him at
Sandy that whatever he might have against such men as Truscott or Ray,
he had better stamp it out and seek to re-establish himself in their
good opinion. Such men as Gleason, with whom he consorted, would soon
get him into trouble. Poor Wilkins heard the major's blunt salutation at
the door and his wife's cordial invitation to walk in; but the major
declined with thanks. "Ask Mr. Wilkins to come out here on the piazza,
please; I want to see him on business," was his request; and when Mrs.
Wilkins came puffing up-stairs supplementing the message with a "Hurry
now; the major isn't the man for you to keep waiting," the hapless
veteran wished himself anywhere out of Wyoming; but down he went with
rather a hang-dog look. Stannard had met him with unexpected kindness of
manner. "I'm worried about the story told of Ray, Mr. Wilkins, and I've
come to get the authority from you. Of course you must have had
something to base such statements upon," and being fairly cornered,
Wilkins said his informant was Gleason. Being asked to show the letter,
Wilkins declared that he had burned it, and would never have alluded to
it but for Blake's manner, which he declared had goaded him into the
remarks. Then he told Stannard that Gleason wrote in so many words that
Ray was with Rallston night and day, and intimated that the latter kept
him at cards and wine most of the time, and that if some scandal did not
result when it came to paying for the horses he would be surprised.
Still, he could not quote the language; but he gave his impressions.
Stannard had called Merrill to witness the statement; then, giving
Wilkins injunctions to say nothing more to anybody on the subject, and
pledging Merrill to reticence, he had gone home, written brief and
hurried letters to Ray and to Gleason, told his wife that he had heard
the stories, and that until Ray had a chance to explain would regard
them as baseless rumors, or at the worst as exaggerations, for which
Gleason was responsible; then he had slept the sleep of the just until
the corporal of the guard came banging at the door at four A.M. to say
the reveille had sounded out in camp. Two hours later he had jogged away
at the head of his battalion.

Mr. Gleason's complacent acceptance of her reluctant invitation, and his
evident expectation of more to come, were matters that therefore annoyed
Mrs. Stannard not a little. She knew well that her husband had written
him an angry letter, demanding that he either withdraw or substantiate
the allegations he had made at the expense of Mr. Ray, but she had not
been told what those allegations were. She felt certain that the letter
had reached Mr. Gleason, for it was sent to the care of the commanding
officer at Hays, yet here was the lieutenant himself, beaming with
effusive cordiality. She felt more than certain that were "Luce" at the
post Mr. Gleason would by no means be seeking to make himself at home in
his quarters, but Luce with the eight companies of the --th was out of
reach. Gleason was striving to make himself at home with her and her
guests, and, as far as the latter were concerned, he had the sanction
and apparent approval of Captain Truscott, whose name he incessantly
quoted, as though the terms of intimacy between them were already
established beyond peradventure.

"Truscott paid me one of the highest compliments I ever remember having
received," said Mr. Gleason to the three ladies at dinner, and Mr.
Gleason was a man who was always receiving compliments of one kind or
another, if one could accept his statements. "He said that he had never
seen the troop look so well as when I turned it over to him at Wallace."
Now, as he had arrived at Wallace on the same train with the Truscotts,
and did not "turn over" anything connected with the troop but the
property returns, anybody acquainted with such matters would have known
that Truscott's commendation, if bestowed at all, was probably given to
the junior lieutenant, who had put the troop in handsome shape during
the absence of Mr. Gleason on the horse board; but what Gleason aimed at
was to make an impression on Miss Sanford's mind, since she could not be
expected to know the intricacies of such matters. Mrs. Stannard would
have been glad to correct the impression, but could not in courtesy to
her guests, and so she remained silent. She meant, however, to
discourage his visits in future, but he was too old a practitioner for
her simple methods. She had slipped into the kitchen to see how nice a
breakfast was being prepared for her guests the following morning, and
in that brief absence he had appeared at the open door-way to urge the
ladies to come out and see guard mounting. They were just down; the air
was delicious out on the piazza, the band was inspiring; so what more
natural than that Mrs. Truscott and Miss Sanford should make their first
appearance that morning escorted by the obnoxious Gleason? When Mrs.
Stannard came back from the kitchen they were all on the piazza, and
others were strolling up the walk to join them. After the spirited
little parade was over and the infantry officers had to go to the
presence of their commander, Gleason lingered. He had no duties as yet,
and--how could she avoid it, ladies?--Mrs. Stannard had to ask him if he
had breakfasted when the maid came to announce that breakfast was
served. He had; but it was easy for Gleason to say that he had merely
sipped a cup of coffee and to insure the invitation he intended to
extract. After breakfast she had her household duties to attend to, Mrs.
Truscott had unpacking and other matters to look after. Miss Sanford
felt that some one ought to entertain their late escort, and the duty
fell to her. Garrison people who called that morning were edified by
finding Mr. Gleason and Miss Sanford _tête-à-tête_ in the parlor despite
Mrs. Stannard's efforts. Mrs. Turner was promptly on hand, so were other
ladies, and that they made certain inferences at the time, and compared
notes later in the day, is, perhaps, supererogation to state.

On one pretext or another there was not an hour during that morning in
which Mr. Gleason failed to appear at Major Stannard's quarters, and by
two P.M., at which hour there was a gathering at the adjutant's office
to await the distribution of the mail, it is not to be wondered at that
one of Colonel Whaling's officers remarked to another that the cavalry
seemed to have the inside track, if there was to be any race for the
Jersey belle, and that others looked knowing when Gleason appeared to
inquire if any letters had come for the ladies at Major Stannard's.
There was no necessity whatever for his going, Mrs. Stannard protested.
The orderly would bring the mail in five minutes if anything had come;
but Gleason said that the orderly would have to stop in two or three
houses before he got there, and he knew Mrs. Truscott was
impatient,--and so she was. In a minute he was back with letters for all
three, but Miss Sanford's was a mere note in reply to an order she had
sent East, and while Mrs. Stannard and Mrs. Truscott retired to read the
long letters that had come from their respective lords, once more Miss
Sanford found herself entertaining the assiduous Gleason. She was
beginning to think army life distasteful.

Determined to break up this monopoly, the major's wife came speedily
again to the parlor. Something she had read in her husband's letter had
fired her with resentment against Gleason and nerved her to resolute
measures. "Not a word of reply have I had from Ray," wrote Stannard,
"nor has Gleason yet answered, though I know the letter was delivered to
him. In conversation with Billings last night he admitted that he, too,
had heard that Ray had been playing fast and loose at Kansas City, and
when I asked him how it was brought to him, he replied that Wayne told
him, and Wayne had a letter from Gleason. I wish Billings and Ray could
have seen more of each other this spring; there is some feeling between
them which I cannot fathom and do not understand. It will disappear when
Ray joins us, for Billings cannot help admiring his energy and
usefulness in actual campaign. As yet nothing of great interest has
occurred, but everything points to wild excitement at the reservations.
We are camping to-night at the Cardinal's Chair up on the Niobrara, and
march northward to-morrow by way of Old Woman Fork to the Mini Pusa.
General Sheridan's orders are to hide in the valley of the South
Cheyenne, and keep a sharp watch on the trails crossing northwestward,
and be ready to strike any and all parties of hostiles going up from the
reservations on White River. Of course here will be sharp work. We have
had two rushes already, for the Sioux have war-parties out robbing stock
and running off horses from far south of the Platte, and a big band
swept down the Chug Water within forty-five miles of you the very day we
left Lodge Pole. 'K' went forward in pursuit, but they had too big a
start. This letter goes by courier to Laramie to-night. Expect nothing
more now for a week, as even the Black Hills stages have quit running.
The Indians have driven off every white man between the Platte and the
Yellowstone except those in the Black Hills settlements, and they are
practically isolated. It was rumored that Webb and Truscott would be
ordered forward to join us, and I suppose Buxton and Ray will take that
opportunity of joining their companies. Should Mr. Gleason stay any time
near Russell he will doubtless be inclined to cultivate the ladies from
Wallace,--Mrs. Truscott and Miss Sanford especially. If I could have
seen Truscott or foreseen the plan, it would have been easy to prevent
it. As I could not do either, you must give him few opportunities of
visiting them at our house. They will be in their own, though, by the
time he comes."

They were not, however, as we have seen. The major had not contemplated
the possibility of Gleason's taking a "ten days' delay" before reporting
for duty, and so having ample time in which to ingratiate himself with
the ladies. What he would have said in his own vigorous English could he
have seen the lieutenant leaning over Miss Sanford's shoulder as she sat
at the table once more looking through the cavalry album, will not bear
recording in these pages. As Mrs. Stannard herself glanced in from the
hall-way she more than wished that Luce were home if only to hear her
lion growl. She thought anxiously of him and of the situation of affairs
in the Indian country only a hundred miles to the north. She dreaded to
tell Mrs. Truscott of the regiment's prospects for immediate action,
but she determined to try some expedient to rid Miss Sanford and the
house of the presence of Mr. Gleason. Her air was brisk and determined,
therefore, as she entered the parlor.

"The major writes me from the Niobrara crossing that the regiment has
had some sharp chasing to do already, and that they will be across the
trails in two days, when they will certainly have fighting," she said,
looking intently at Mr. Gleason. "What news do you get?"

"Well, my mail has all gone on to Wallace, you see, Mrs. Stannard,"
explained he, unwilling to admit in the presence of the ladies that
nobody in the regiment cared enough for him to write. "It will all be up
to-morrow or next day, I presume, and by that time the troops will be
here, and I'll be myself again. The real cavalryman, Miss Sanford, is
like a fish out of water if separated more than a day from his horse. I
long to be in saddle again," he added, with a complacent glance at the
tall, well-proportioned figure reflected in the mirror. Gleason prided
himself, and not without reason, on his manly build, and was incessantly
finding some means of calling attention to it.

"If the major's views are correct, you will have abundant cavalry duty
this summer, Mr. Gleason," said Mrs. Stannard, "and I was about to ask
you if you heard nothing at the office,--if none of the garrison
officers had letters or news from the front." She hoped he would offer
to go and inquire in person, as he had gone for the mail; but Gleason
preferred to have the officers suppose that he was in full possession of
news which would not be sent to them. Going for the ladies' letters
implied certain authority from them,--certain intimacy in the household.
Going to inquire for news, on the contrary, implied lack of information,
and it was his rôle to play that the --th kept him fully posted. His
reply was therefore brief, and he quickly changed the subject.

"There was no news that I heard of, Mrs. Stannard, but I will go and see
Colonel Whaling after he has had time to read all his mail. Miss Sanford
was just asking me something about Mr. Stryker,--she was admiring his
photograph."

"Bring the album out on the piazza. It is lovely and bright there now,
and the wind is not blowing, for a wonder. I think we will all be better
for fresh air, and Mrs. Truscott will be down in a moment." Mrs.
Stannard spoke decidedly, and he had no course but to obey, even though
he did not see the grateful look in Miss Sanford's eyes. He much
preferred the confidential flavor which was possessed by a parlor
interview, but there was no help for it. Following the lead of his
hostess, he stepped out upon the piazza just as Mrs. Truscott, bright,
animated, and happy, came fluttering down the stairs waving the
captain's letter. Miss Sanford glanced up at her bonny face, and smiled
sympathetically.

"No need to ask you is all well, Gracie."

"No, indeed! Jack writes that they will be in camp close beside us
to-morrow morning. Oh, listen! There's the band, and that is the very
quickstep he used to love so much at the Point." And, fairly dancing in
her happiness, she threw her arm around Marion's waist and together they
appeared at the threshold,--a lovely picture, as the cap-doffing group
of officers thought to a man. Half a dozen of these gentry were lolling
at the gate; the broad walk was already alive with graceful forms in
summer dresses, with playful children and sedate nurse-maids trundling
the inevitable baby-carriage. The band had just taken possession of its
circular stand out on the parade; a few carriages and buggies had driven
out from town. It was a lovely June Saturday afternoon,--the hebdomadal
half holiday of the military bailiwick,--and the dingy brown frontier
fort looked merry as sunshine, music, and sweet faces could make it.
Seeing the ladies upon the piazza, there was a general movement among
the officers on the walk indicative of a desire to join the party, and
Mr. Gleason gritted his teeth and went for more chairs. Mrs. Turner had
appeared on her own gallery just before, possibly with the intention of
starting a rival levee, and one or two youthful moths were fluttering
about her candle already. She was not averse to a flirtation,
ordinarily, but it did not look well to see her sitting with only one or
two of the infantry subalterns when Mrs. Stannard's piazza was filled.
She wisely determined to join the majority; smilingly transferred
herself and escort thither, and was as smilingly welcomed. There must
have been a dozen in the group--officers and ladies--when the commanding
officer's orderly entered the gate, saluted Mr. Gleason, and said,--

"Colonel Whaling's compliments, sir, and could you tell him when
Lieutenant Ray will be here?"

The ladies looked up in surprise. The officers--all of whom remembered
the name in connection with what had been said by Messrs. Crane,
Wilkins, and Gleason himself--listened for his reply. Gleason was quick
to note the silence and to divine its cause.

"Give my compliments to the colonel, and say that I do not know. I have
not seen or heard--rather, I have not seen Mr. Ray since leaving Kansas
City," he replied.

For a moment no one spoke. Then, as the orderly walked away, Mrs.
Stannard, coloring slightly, turned full upon the lieutenant. "Mr.
Gleason, it seems strange that you should know nothing of Mr. Ray's
movements. You are generally well informed, and the major writes me how
pleasantly they are looking forward to Ray's coming. You know that out
in the regiment they expect him by 'pony express,'" she laughingly said,
for the benefit of her silent auditors.

Gleason well divined her object. It was to convey to the garrison
officers that Ray was popular among his comrades at the front, however
he might be regarded by those at the rear. He had already committed
himself in presence of several of those now in the party, and he
answered,--

"I'm afraid some people will be disappointed, then. To begin with, there
is no way of his reaching the regiment until Truscott and Webb go up
with their companies. He could get no farther than Laramie by stage even
were he here to try; but he isn't here,--and he isn't likely to be,
either."

"Will you tell me why?" asked Mrs. Stannard, paling now, but looking
fixedly at him with a gleam in her blue eyes that made him wince.

"Well, I'd rather not go into particulars," he muttered, looking
uneasily around.

"Is it illness, Mr. Gleason?"

"No; I don't know that it is."

"Then, for one, I feel confident that he will be here in abundant time
to go by first opportunity," she said, with quiet meaning.

"Who may this swell be?" languidly remarked one of the officers, looking
down the road towards the gate. All eyes followed his in an instant.

Speeding at easy lope upon a spirited sorrel a horseman came jauntily up
the row. The erect carriage, the perfect seat, the ease and grace with
which his lithe form swayed with every motion of his steed, all present
could see at a glance. Mrs. Stannard rose quickly to her feet; her gaze
becoming eager, then joyous.

"Look!" she almost cried. "It's Mr. Ray himself!"

In another minute, throwing himself lightly from the saddle, and tossing
the reins to a statuesque orderly, the horseman came beaming through the
gate, and Mrs. Stannard, to Miss Sanford's mingled amaze and
approbation, was warmly grasping both his hands in hers. Mrs. Truscott,
blushing brightly and showing welcome and pleasure in her lovely eyes,
but with the reserve of younger wifehood, had held forth one little
hand. Then she heard the voluble gush with which Mrs. Turner
precipitated herself upon him, and, while he remained captive--as he had
to--in that fair matron's hands, laughingly answering her thronging
questions, Marion Sanford had her first look at the young officer who
had been the subject of such varying report. First impressions are ever
strong, and what she saw was this: a lithe, deep-chested,
square-shouldered young fellow, with nerve and spring in every motion,
standing bare-headed before them with the sunlight dancing on his
close-cropped hair and shapely head. His eyes were dark, and heavily
shaded with thick brows and long curling lashes, but the eyes brightened
with every laughing word,--were full of life and health and
straightforwardness and fun. She could not but note how clear and brave
and wide-open they were, despite the little wrinkles gathered at the
corners and a faint shading underneath. His forehead, what could be seen
of it when he tossed aside the dark, wavy "bang" that fell almost as low
as her own, was white and smooth, but temples, cheeks, the smooth-shaven
jaws, and the round, powerful throat were bronzed and tanned by sun and
wind, and his white teeth gleamed all the whiter through the shading of
the thick, curling, dark moustache, and the lips that laughed so merrily
were soft and pink as any woman's might be; at least they were when he
bowed and smiled and spoke her name when introduced to her, and when he
nodded companionably to the bowing group of officers, to whom Mrs.
Stannard presented him with marked pride, "Mr. Ray--of Ours," but how,
for a second, his eye flashed and how rigid a spasm crossed his lips
when Gleason's name was mentioned. To him he merely nodded, and
instantly turned his back. All this and more Miss Sanford noted by that
electric process which was known to women long before lightning was
photographed, and enabled the sex to see in a quarter-second intricate
details of feminine costume that it would take the nimblest tongue ten
minutes to describe. She noticed his dress, so unlike the precise attire
of his comrades, who wore, to the uttermost detail, the regulation
uniform. He had tossed a broad-brimmed, light-colored scouting hat upon
the little grass plat as he entered, and now stood before them in the
field rig he so well adorned. A dark-blue, double-breasted,
broad-collared flannel shirt, tucked in at the waist in snugly-fitting
breeches of Indian-tanned buckskin, while Sioux leggings encased his
legs from knee to ankle, and his feet were shod substantially in
alligator-skin. Mexican spurs were at his heels; a broad leather belt
bristling with cartridges, and supporting knife and revolver, hung at
his waist; a red silk handkerchief was loosely knotted at his throat,
and soft brown gauntlets covered his hands until they were discarded as
he greeted them. If ever man looked the picture of elastic health and
vigor it was Mr. Ray. This, then, was something like the cavalry life of
which she had heard so much. Marion Sanford, despite Eastern education
and refinement, was so unconventional as to find something more
attractive in Mr. Ray in this same field rig than in Mr. Gleason in
faultlessly accurate uniform.

"Why, Mr. Ray, how very well you look!" was Mrs. Turner's exclamation,
"and somebody said you had been ill."

"I? No indeed! I never felt better in my life."

"But where have you been? When did you come? Why didn't you write?" were
some among the countless questions thrust upon him.

"I had a few days' delay, you know; came by way of Omaha to see my
sister; just arrived at one to-day; left my trunks with the
quartermaster at the depot; got into field rig in fifteen minutes;
packed my saddle-bags and slung them on Dandy, who has been waiting for
me ever since the regiment marched; galloped out here to say good-by to
you, and in half an hour I'll be off for Laramie."

"Why, _Mr._ Ray! What can be the hurry? Why start this evening?"

"Why not?" he laughed. "Dandy and I can reach the Chug and put up with
old Phillipse to-night, and gallop on to Laramie to-morrow. Once there,
it won't take me long to find my way out to the regiment."

"Why, the whole country is full of Indians!" expostulated Mrs. Stannard.
"The major writes in this very letter that no one ventures north of the
Platte."

"How did the letter come in, then? and how is communication kept up?"
asked the lieutenant, showing his white teeth in his amusement.

"Oh! couriers, of course; but they are half-breeds, and have lived all
their life in that country."

"Well, I can wriggle through if they can. One thing is certain, it won't
be for lack of trying. So, whatever you may have to send to the major,
get ready; the lightning express leaves at 4.30. I must go and report my
movements to the commanding officer, and then will come back to you. Is
the adjutant here?" he asked, looking around at the party of infantrymen
who were standing waiting for a chance to excuse themselves, and leave
the ladies to the undisputed possession of their evident favorite. Mr.
Warner bowed:

"At your service, Mr. Ray."

"Will you come and present me to the colonel? I will be back in ten
minutes, Mrs. Stannard; and, Mrs. Truscott, remember it is over a year
since I saw you last,--and you gave me good luck the last time I went
out scouting." With that, and a general bow by way of parting courtesy,
Mr. Ray took himself and the post adjutant off. For a moment there was
silence. Everybody gazed after him except Gleason.

"Isn't that just too characteristic of Mr. Ray for anything?" exclaimed
Mrs. Turner. "I wonder if any other officer would be in such a hurry to
risk his scalp in chasing the regiment? _You_ wouldn't, would you, Mr.
Gleason?" she added, with the deliberate and mischievous impertinence
she knew would sting, and meant should sting, and felt serenely
confident that her victim could not resent. He flushed hotly:

"My duties are with my troop, Mrs. Turner, and Mr. Ray's with his. When
my troop goes I go with it. When his went--he didn't. That's all there
is to it."

"But he couldn't go, Mr. Gleason, as you well know," replied Mrs.
Turner; and evidently Mrs. Stannard, too, was eager to ask him what he
had to say _now_ about Mr. Ray's staying behind. To tell the truth, he
was more dismayed by Ray's appearance than he dare admit even to
himself. He was startled. He had grave reason for not wanting to meet
him again, and as the officers were scattering he seized a pretext,
called to one of them that he wished to speak with him a moment, and
hurried away. When Ray returned from the colonel's quarters, he had the
field to himself, and that they might have him--their regimental
possession--to themselves, Mrs. Stannard begged the younger ladies to
usher him into the parlor, where they could be secure against
interruption until he had to start.

Gleason's business with his infantry friend was of slight moment,
apparently, as he speedily left him and wended his way to the quarters
of the commanding officer. Old Colonel Whaling was just coming forth,
and they met at the gate.

"You sent me an inquiry a few moments ago, sir, which I could not answer
at the time," said the lieutenant, in his blandest manner. "I see that
Mr. Ray has arrived to speak for himself. May I ask if he was wanted for
anything especial?" And Gleason looked very closely into the grizzled
features of the commandant.

"Some letters for him had been sent with my mail--and a telegram. I
inferred that he must be coming, and thought you might know. Rather a
spirited young fellow he seems to be. I was quite startled at his notion
of riding alone in search of the regiment. How soon does he start? I see
his horse there yet."

"He spoke of going in a few moments, sir. You see we have been so much
accustomed to this sort of thing in Arizona that there is nothing
unusual in it to us. Still, I hardly expected Mr. Ray would be going--or
rather--there were some matters which he left unsettled that I supposed
would prevent his going. You didn't happen to notice where his letters
were from, I suppose?" asked the lieutenant, tentatively.

The colonel would have colored had he been younger, but his grizzled old
face had long since lost its capacity for blushing. He felt that it grew
hot, however, and Gleason's insinuation cut, as Gleason knew it would.
Old Whaling was morbidly inquisitive as to the correspondence of his
officers, and could rarely resist the temptation of studying postmarks,
seals, superscription, and general features of all letters that came
through his hands.

"Not--not especially," he stammered.

Gleason saw his advantage and pursued it. He spoke with all apparent
hesitancy and proper regret.

"I feared that he might have been recalled, or his going arrested by
orders from division headquarters, or from Fort Leavenworth. Some things
with regard to the purchase of one lot of horses, of which I
disapproved, were being looked into when I came away, and when----Well,
colonel, it is against the rule of our regiment, to talk to outsiders of
one another" ("Like--ahem!" was old Whaling's muttered comment as he
recalled what he had heard of Gleason's revelations at the store), "and
I would not allude to this but that, as commanding officer, you will be
sure to hear of it all. You see the principal dealer with whom we did
business is a brother-in-law of Mr. Ray's,--a fellow named
Rallston,--and some of his horses wouldn't pass muster anywhere;
but--well, Ray was with him day after day, and kept aloof from Buxton
and myself, and there was some money transaction between them, and
there's been a row. At the last moment Rallston came to me to complain
that he had been cheated, and what I'm afraid of is that Ray promised to
secure the acceptance of a lot of worthless horses by the board for some
five hundred dollars cash advanced him by Rallston. He was hot about it,
and swore he would bring matters to General Sheridan's notice instantly.
That is what made me so guarded in the reply I sent you. I owe you this
explanation, colonel, but trust you will consider it confidential."

Whaling looked greatly discomposed but unquestionably interested. He
eyed Gleason sharply and took it all in without a word.

"I thought some of his letters might have been from Leavenworth," said
Gleason, after a pause.

"One of them was,--that is, I think I saw the office mark,--but nothing
official has reached me on the matter. I'm sorry to hear it, very; for
both your colonel and Major Stannard spoke in highest terms of Mr. Ray
when they were here."

"Oh, Ray has done good service and all that sort of thing, but when a
fellow of his age gets going downhill with debts and drinking and
cards--well, you know how it has been in your own regiment, colonel."

"He don't look like a drinking man," said the colonel. "I never saw
clearer eyes or complexion in any fellow."

"Ye-es; he looks unusually well just now."

And just at that moment as they stood there talking of him, Mrs.
Stannard's door opened and he came forth, the three ladies following. He
did look well,--more than well, as he turned with extended hand to say
good-by. "Dandy," his lithe-limbed sorrel, pricked up his dainty,
pointed ears and whinnied eagerly as he heard his step on the piazza,
giving himself a shake that threatened the dislocation of his burden of
blankets, canteen, and saddle-bags. The ladies surrounded him at the
gate. Mrs. Stannard's kind blue eyes were moistening. How often had she
said good-by to the young fellows starting out as buoyantly as Ray
to-day, thinking as she did so of the mothers and sisters at home! How
often had it happened that they came back maimed, pallid, suffering,
or--not at all! She had always liked Ray, he was so frank, so loyal, so
true, and more than ever she liked now to show her friendship and regard
since he had been slandered. Mrs. Truscott and Miss Sanford stood with
arms entwined about each other's waist,--the sweetest and best of them
have that innate, inevitable coquetry,--and Mrs. Stannard bent forward
to rearrange the silken knot at his throat, giving it an approving pat
as she surveyed the improvement. Ray smiled his thanks.

"Do you remember the night at Sandy, Mrs. Truscott, the last scout we
started out on, and how you came to see us off and wish me good luck?"

"As well as though it were only yesterday," she answered.

"We _had_ good luck. It was one of the best scouts ever made from Sandy,
and the Apaches caught it heavily. It was a success all through except
our--our losing Tanner and Kerrigan. Jack's hit was to be envied."

She shuddered and drew closer to Miss Sanford's side.

"Oh, Mr. Ray! I cannot bear to think of that fight. I won't wish you
good luck again. You always expect it to mean unlimited meetings with
the Indians. I pray you may not see one."

"Then I appeal to you, Miss Sanford. Shall I confess that your name is
one I have envied for the last five years? No, don't be amazed! We
Kentuckians always associate it now with two of our grandest
horses,--Monarchist and Harry Bassett. Why, I'm going to ride the old
Sanford colors myself this summer. See,--the dark blue?" he laughed,
pointing to his breast.

"Then you should be among the first coming home," she answered,
brightly, "and that isn't your custom, I'm told."

"But in this case the whole regiment will be wearing the dark blue; so
there will be no distinction. I won't beg for a ribbon. It's bad luck. I
stole the tassel of Miss Pelham's fan in Arizona and wore it on the next
dash; we never saw an Indian, and she married a fellow who stayed at
home. All the same, Miss Sanford, if you hear of the --th doing anything
especially lively this summer, remember that one fellow in the crowd
rides his best to win for the sake of your colors. _Au revoir._ Come,
Dandy, you scamp; now for a scamper to the Chug."

He sprang lightly into saddle, waved his hat to them, then bent low, as
by sudden impulse, and held out his hand.

"God bless you, Mrs. Stannard!" he said; and looking at her in half
surprise, they saw her eyes were brimming with tears.

Another moment and he had turned Dandy's head to the west, and was
tripping up the road past the adjutant's office. They saw him raise his
gauntleted hand in salute to the post commander, and heard his voice
call out, ringingly, "Good-day, colonel." They saw that between him and
Mr. Gleason no sign of recognition passed, and they stood in silence
watching him until, turning out at the west gate, he struck a lope and
disappeared behind the band quarters, out on the open prairie.

When Mr. Gleason touched his cap to the colonel and started to rejoin
the ladies, they saw him coming. Nobody said a word, but the three
ladies re-entered the house, Mrs. Truscott last; but it was Mrs.
Stannard who turned back in the hall and shut the door. When Gleason
reached the front gate he concluded not to enter, but went on down the
row.



CHAPTER X.

A JUNE SUNDAY.


It is a cloudless Sunday morning, the longest Sunday in that month of
longest days, warm, balmy, rose-bearing June. Only a few hours' high is
the blazing god of day, but his beams beat fiercely down on a landscape
wellnigh as arid as the Arizona our troopers knew so well. Not a breath
of air is stirring. Down in the shallow valley to the right, where the
cottonwoods are blistering beside the sandy stream-bed, a faint column
of smoke rises straight as the stem of a pine-tree until it melts into
indistinguishable air. The sandy waste goes twisting and turning in its
fringe of timber southeastward along a broad depression in the face of
the land, until twenty odd miles away it seems brought up standing by a
barrier of rugged hills that dip into the bare surface at the south, and
go rising and falling, rolling and tumbling, higher and raggeder, to the
north. All the intervening stretches are bare, tawny, sun-scorched,
except those fringing cottonwoods. All those tumbling heights are dark
and frowning through their beards of gloomy larch and pine. Black they
stand against the eastern sky, from the jagged summits at the south to
where the northernmost peak,--the Inyan Kara,--the Heengha-Kaaga of the
Sioux, stands sentinel over the sisterhood slumbering at her feet. These
are the Black Hills of Dakota, as we see them from the breaks of the
Mini Pusa, a long day's march to the west. Here to our right,
southeastward, rolls the powdery flood of the South Cheyenne, when
earlier in the season the melting snows go trickling down the
hill-sides. But to-day only in dry and waving ripples of sand can we
trace its course. If you would see the water, dig beneath the surface.
Here behind us rolls another sandy stream, dry as its Dakota name
implies,--Mini Pusa: Dry Water,--and to our right and rear is their
sandy confluence. Southward, almost to the very horizon, in waves and
rolls and ridges, bare of trees, void of color, the earth unfolds before
the eye, while, as though to relieve the strain of gazing over the
expanse so illimitable in its monotony, a blue line of cliffs and crags
stretches across the sky line for many degrees. Beyond that, out of
sight to the southeast, lies the sheltered, fertile valley of the upper
White Earth River; and there are the legal homes of thousands of the
"nation's wards," the bands of the Dakotas--Ogallalla and Brulé, led by
Red Cloud and Spotted Tail. There, too, are clothed and fed and cared
for a thousand odd Cheyennes. Just over that ridge at its western end,
where it seems to blend into the general surface of upland prairie, a
faint blue peak leaps up into the heated air,--"Old Rawhide,"--the
landmark of the region. Farther off, southwestward, still another peak
rises blue and pale against the burning distance. 'Tis far across the
Platte, a good hundred miles away. Plainsmen to this day call it Larmie
in that iconoclastic slaughter of every poetic title that is their proud
characteristic. All over our grand continent it is the same. The names,
musical, sonorous, or descriptive, handed down as the heritage of the
French missionaries, the Spanish explorers, or the aboriginal owners,
are all giving way to that democratic intolerance of foreign title which
is the birthright of the free-born American. What name more grandly
descriptive could discoverer have given to the rounded, gloomy crest in
the southern sierras, bald at the crown, fringed with its circling
pines,--what better name than Monte San Matéo--Saint Matthew,--he of the
shaven poll?

Over a century the title held. Adaptive Indian, Catholic Mexican,
acceptive dragoon, one and all respected and believed in it. But then
came the miner and the cowboy, and with them the new vocabulary. Monte
San Matéo slinks in unmerited shame to hide its heralded deformity as
Baldhead Butte. What devilish inspiration impelled the Forty-Niners to
damn Monte San Pablo to go down to eternity as Bill Williams' Mountain?
Who but an iconoclast would rend the sensitive ear with such barbarities
as the _Loss Angglees_ of to-day for the deep-vowelled Los Angeles of
the last century? Who but a Yankee would swap the murky "Purgatoire" for
Picketwire, and make Zumbro River of the Rivière des Ombres of brave old
Père Marquette? And so, too, it goes through all the broad Northwest.
Indian names, beautiful in themselves even though at times
untranslatable, are tossed contemptuously aside to be replaced by the
homeliest of every-day appellations, until the modern geography of
Wyoming, Dakota, Montana, and Idaho bristles with innumerable Sage,
Boxelder, Horse, and Pine Creeks.

Mini Pusa--Dry Water--have the Dakotas called for ages the sandy stream
that twists and turns and glares in the hot sunshine down here in the
vale behind us. "Muggins's Fork," some stockman said he heard it called
a month ago. Far over there to the east--almost under the black shadow
of the hills--we see another slender thread of questionable green;
cottonwoods again, no doubt, for nothing but cottonwoods or sage-brush
or grease-wood--worse yet--will grow down in the alkaline wastes of this
Wyoming valley; and that thread or fringe betokens the existence of a
stream in the spring-time,--one that the Sioux have ever called the
Beaver, after the amphibious rodent who dammed its waters, and thereby
rescued them from a like fate at the hands of modern residents. Far to
the southeast, miles and miles away, dim and hazy through the heatwaves
of the atmosphere one can almost see another twisting string of shade,
the cottonwoods on the banks of the winding War Bonnet; at least so the
Sioux named it, after their gorgeous crown of eagle feathers, but 'twas
too polysyllabic, too poetic for the blunt-spoken frontiersman, who long
since compromised on Hat Creek. We are in the heart of the Indian
country, but the wild romance has fled. We are on dangerous ground, for
there, straight away before our eyes, broad, beaten as a race-course,
prominent as any public highway, descending the slope until lost in the
timber of the South Cheyenne, then reappearing beyond, until far in the
southeast it dwindles in perspective to a mere thread, and so dips into
the valley of the War Bonnet and Indian Creek,--there lies the broad
road from the reservations to the war-path. It is the trail over which
for years the "Wards of the Nation" have borne the paid-up prices of
their good behavior to sustain their brethren renegados in the Powder
River Country far up here to the northwest. Over this road all winter
long, all the spring-tide, and to this very week in June, arms,
ammunition, ponies, bacon, flour, coffee, sugar, clothing, and warriors
have been speeding to the hosts of Sitting Bull. The United States is
sending to-day three or four thousand men at arms, equipped and supplied
by the Department of War, to try conclusions with about twice that
number of trained warriors similarly provided for by the Department of
the Interior. It is odd, but it is a fact. Camping along the banks of
the Rawhide, the first stream on the Indian side of the Platte, the
officer in command of the advance-guard of the --th was surprised to see
a train of wagons and without apparent escort. Galloping down to their
fires, he accosted the wagon-master, who smilingly assured him that he
and his train were in no danger from the Indians,--they were bringing
them supplies. What supplies? Why, metallic cartridges, of course,
Winchester and Henry, for their magazine-rifles, don't you know? Oh,
yes. He understood well enough that they were all going out on the
war-path, but he couldn't help _that_. He was paid so much a month to
haul supplies from Sidney to Red Cloud agency, and if it happened to be
powder and lead, 'tweren't none o' his business. How much had he? Oh,
three or four hundred thousand rounds, he reckoned. To whom consigned?
Why, the trader,--the Indian store at Red Cloud, of course,--Mr. ----'s.
In speechless indignation the officer rides off and reports the matter
to the colonel, and the colonel goes down and interviews the
imperturbable "boss" with similar result, and more; for he comes back
with a shrug of the shoulders and some honest blasphemy, for which may
Heaven forgive him. (The fine inflicted by army regulations has not yet
been collected.) "We can do nothing," he says. "That fellow has his
papers straight from the Interior Department. He has been hauling
cartridges all spring." And now, here is the advance-guard of the --th
again far up on the Mini Pusa, just arrived, and that slender column of
smoke rising from among the cottonwoods tells of a tiny fire where the
men are boiling their coffee, while, miles away to the southwest, the
rising dust-clouds proclaim the coming of the regiment itself. Out on
the distant heights, on either side, other smokes are rising. Indian
signals, that say to lurking warriors far and near, "Be on your guard;
soldiers coming;" and so, here on the breaks of the Mini Pusa on this
scorching Sabbath morn, the vanguard of the --th has reached and tapped
the broad highway of Indian commerce. The laws of the nation they are
sworn to defend prohibit their interfering with the distribution of
ammunition by that same nation to the foes they are ordered to meet. The
nation is impartial: it provides friend and foe alike. The War Office
sends its cartridges to the --th through the ordnance officer,
Lieutenant X. The Indian Bureau looks after its wards through Mr. ----at
Red Cloud. And now the --th is ordered to stop those cartridges from
getting to Sitting Bull up on the Rosebud. That is what brings them here
to the Mini Pusa, and we see them now riding down in long dusty column
into the valley, heedless of the dust they make, for the Indians have
hovered on their flanks, out of sight, out of range, but _seeing_, ever
since they crossed the Platte; and here they are, "old Stannard" and
Billings with the advance, lying prone on their stomachs and searching
through their field-glasses for any signs of Indian coming from the
reservations, while with the column itself, in their battered slouch
hats and rough flannel and buckskin, bristling with cartridges and ugly
beards, burned and blistered and parched with scorching sun and winds
tempered only with alkali dust, ride our Arizona friends,--many of them
at least. Old Bucketts with his green goggles; Turner with his
melancholy face and placid ways; Raymond, stern and swart; Canker,
querulous and "nagging" with his men, but eager for any service;
Stafford, who won his troop _vice_ the noble-hearted Tanner whom we lost
among the Apaches; Wayne, who is loquacity itself whenever he can find a
listener, and who talks his patient subaltern almost deaf through the
long day marches; and Crane and Wilkins, who are a good deal together at
every halt, and consort more with Canker than other captains; and then
there is the jolly element that ever clusters around Blake, whose
spirits defy adversity, and whose merry quips and jests and boundless
distortions of fact or fancy are the joy of the regiment. With Blake
one always finds Merrill and Freeman and some of the jovial junior
captains, and, of course, the boys,--Hunter, Dana, Briggs; and here they
are on this blessed Sabbath of the Centennial June, sent up to stop Mr.
----'s cartridges, _after_ they have become the property of "Mr. Lo;"
and once a cartridge becomes Indian property, there is only one way of
stopping it. The wealth of France is inadequate to purchase of Alfred
Krupp a single gun from his shops at Essen, because his love for
Fatherland will not let him place a power in the hands of the hereditary
enemy. It takes enlightened England and free America to supply friends
and foes alike with the means to kill.

Stannard closes his glass with a grunt of dissatisfaction, and turns to
Billings. "None of those cartridges get through here _this_ day anyhow;
but how many do you suppose Mr. ---- has sent up there already?" And he
points as he speaks to the far northwest.

Under that blue dome, cloudless, glaring; under the sentinel peaks of
the Big Horn shimmering there in the distance, over the rolling divide
in that glorious upland that heaves and rolls and tosses between the
Rosebud and the swirling stream in the broad valley farther west,
another regiment--that of which we spoke, whose leader is famed in song
and story--is riding rapidly this still Sunday morning in search of Mr.
----'s cartridges. Some say the tall, blue-eyed, blond-bearded captain
who leads that beautiful troop of bays is Mr. ----'s brother. Odd! yet
how can the Indian Bureau know that Crazy Horse and Two Bears and
Kicking Mule want to buy Mr. ----'s bullets to kill his brother with?
How, indeed, should Mr. ---- know? Army officers, 'tis true, have
warned them time and again; but when were army officers' statements ever
potent in the Interior Department against the unendorsed assertion of
Crazy Horse or Kicking Mule that he only wanted to kill buffalo? Indeed,
is not Mr. ---- himself eager to go bail for the purchaser, since his
profits are so high? Over the divide, hot on the broad, beaten trail
goes the long column. How different are they from our sombre friends of
the --th, who, miles and marches away to the southeast, are dismounting
and unsaddling under the cottonwoods! Years in Arizona have robbed the
latter of all the old love for the pomp and panoply of war. There is not
a bit of finery in the command, there is hardly a vestige of uniform;
but look here, look here at the brilliance of the Seventh. Bright
guidons flutter at the head of every troop; bright chevrons, stripes,
and buttons gleam on the dress of many an officer and man; the steeds,
though worn and jaded with an almost ceaseless trot of thirty-six hours,
are spirited and beautiful; some are gayly decked. Foremost rides their
tried leader, clad from head to foot in beaded buckskin. "The Long Hair"
the Sioux still call him, though now the long hair waves not on the
breeze, and an auburn beard conceals the handsome outline of the face
all troopers know so well. Near him rides his adjutant, dressed like
himself in their favorite buckskin, so too are others among the
officers, though many wear the jaunty fatigue uniform of the cavalry,
and the rank and file are all, or nearly all, in blue. But a short way
back they have come upon the scaffolding sepulchre of Indian warriors
lately slain in battle; but a few miles ahead they see a broad valley
from which, far from south to north, a vast dust-cloud is rising, and
for this there can be but one explanation,--thousands of Indian ponies
in excited motion. Ay, scouts in advance already sight indications of
the near presence of a great Indian community, and the column resolves
itself into three, trotting in parallel lines across the treeless upland
a mile or so apart. With the northernmost, the largest, rides now the
leader of all, while between them gallop couriers carrying rapid orders.
Every face sets eagerly westward. Every heart beats high with the thrill
of coming battle. Some there are who note the immensity of the
dust-cloud, who reason silently that for miles and miles the valley
before them is covered by the scurrying herds; ten thousand ponies at
least must there be to stir up such a volume; then, how many warriors
are there to meet these seven hundred? No matter what one thinks, not a
man falters.

Far to the south the snow peaks glisten over the pine-crested range of
the Big Horn. Nearer at hand deep, dark cañons burrow in towards the
bowels of the mountains. Then from their bases leap the rolling
foot-hills, brown and bare but for the dense growth of the sun-cured
buffalo-grass. Westward, open and undulating sweeps the broad expanse of
almost level valley beyond the bluffs, close under which is curling the
fatal stream,--the "Greasy Grass" of the Dakotas. Far to the north in
the same endless waves the prairie rolls to the horizon, beyond which
lies the shallow river where the transports are toiling up-stream with
comrade soldiery. Behind the column, eastward, dip the sheltered valleys
of the Rosebud and the breaks of the Tongue among the Cheetish
Mountains; and there, not fifty miles away as the crow flies, the
soldiers of the Gray Fox, over two thousand strong, are camped, awaiting
reinforcements before renewing the attempt to advance upon these lurking
bands of Sitting Bull. Not two days' march away, on both flanks, are
four times his numbers in friends and allies; not two miles away, in his
front, are ten times his force in foemen, savage, but skilled; yet all
alone and unsupported, the Long Hair rides dauntlessly to the attack,
even though he and his well know it must be battle to the death, for
Indian warfare knows no mercy.

There be those who say the assault was rash; the speed unauthorized; the
whole effort mad as Lucan's launch of the Light Brigade at Balaclava;
but once there in view of the fatal valley, the sight is one to fire the
brain of any trooper. Galloping to a little mound to the right front,
the broad expanse lies before the leader's eyes, and far as he can see,
out to the west and northwest, the dust-cloud rises heavily over the
prairie; here and there, nearer at hand, are the scurrying ponies and,
close down by the stream, excited bands of Indians tearing down lodge
after lodge and preparing for rapid flight. But one conclusion can he
draw. They are panic-stricken, stampeded. They are "on the run" already,
and unless attacked at once can never be overhauled. They will scatter
over the face of the wild Northwest in an hour's time. He cannot see
what we know so well to-day: that only the northern limits of the great
villages are open to his gaze; that the sheltering bluffs hide from him
all the crowded lodges of the bands farthest to the south, and that
while squaws and children are indeed being hurried off to the west,
hundreds, thousands of exultant young warriors are galloping in from the
western prairies, herding the war-ponies before them. He cannot see the
scores that, rifle in hand, are rushing into the willows and cottonwoods
along the stream, eager and ready to welcome his coming; he sends
hurried orders to the leaders of the little columns on his left: "Push
ahead; cross the stream; gallop northward when you reach the western
bank, and attack that end of the village while I strike from the east."
He never dreams that behind that solid curtain of bluff Ogallalla, Sans
Arc, Uncapapa, and Blackfoot lurk in myriads. "The biggest Indian
village on the continent!" they say, he shouts to the nearest column;
but only the northern limits of it could he see. Far, far away in the
East the church-bells are ringing out their glad welcome to the
God-given day of rest. Mothers, sisters, wives, lift up a prayer for the
loved ones on the savage frontier. Aloft the sun in cloudless splendor
looks down on all. Westward press the comrade columns, until, reaching
the head of a shallow ravine that leads northwestward towards the
stream, the Long Hair spurs to the front,--Oh, those beautiful Kentucky
sorrels! Oh, those gallant, loyal hearts!--and the eager, bearded faces,
the erect, athletic forms, the fluttering guidons, one by one are lost
to view as they wind away down the coulée; one by one they disappear
from sight, from hearing, of the comrades now trotting down the bluffs
to the west. Take the last look upon them, fellows,--five fated
companies. Obedient to their leader's order, loyal, steadfast,
unmurmuring to the bitter end, they vanish once and for all from loving
eyes. Only as gashed, lifeless, mutilated forms will we ever see them
again.

Who has not read the story of the Little Horn? Why repeat it here? Who
that was there will ever forget the sight that burst upon the astonished
eyes of Reno's men when, breaking through the willows along the stream
and reaching the level bench, they saw, not five miles away to the
north, as was the first idea, but here in their very front, only long
rifle-shot away, the southern outskirts of the great Indian metropolis
that stretched away for miles to the north. God of battles! was this a
position, was this a force to be assailed by one regiment? Why linger
over it?--the half-hearted advance of the dismounted skirmish line; the
hesitating rally; then the volley from the willows; the flanking
warriors on the west; the sudden consciousness of their pitiful numbers
as against the hordes now swarming upon them; the mad rush for the
bluffs, with the yelling Indians dragging the rearmost from their steeds
and butchering them as they rode; the Henrys and Winchesters pumping
their bullets into the fleeing mass; the plunge into the seething
waters; the panting scramble up the steep and slippery banks; the
breathless halt at the crest, and then, then the backward glance at the
field and the fallen. Who will forget McIntosh, striving to rally the
rearmost, dragged from the saddle and hacked to death upon the sward?
Who will forget Benny Hodgson's brave young face,--the pet, the pride of
the whole regiment? Even the daring and devotion of his men could not
save him from the hissing lead of those savage marksmen. Then the
strained suspense, the half-hour's listening to the fierce, the awful
volleying to the north that told of a fearful struggle. The flutter of
hope that it might be the stronger battalion fighting its way through to
the relief of theirs, the weak one; the blank faces that gazed one into
another with awe-stricken inquiry as trumpet blare and rallying shout
and rattling volley receded, not approached; died away, not thundered
anew in coming triumph; the pall of certainty that fell on every man
when silence so soon reigned in the distance, and pandemonium broke out
afresh around them. Back from their bloody work, drunk with blood and
victory, came by thousands the savage warriors to swell the forces that
had driven the white soldiers to cover. Up, thank God! not an instant
too soon, came the comrades from the distant left, and Benteen and
MacDougall riding in with four full companies and the needed ammunition
gave them strength to hold out. Through the hours of fierce battle that
followed, through that dread "running the gauntlet" for water that the
wounded craved, through the stern suspense and strain of the day and
night that intervened before the rescuing forces of Terry came
cautiously up the valley, and the Sioux melted away before them, ah! how
many a time was the question asked, "What can have become of Custer?"

Far, far to the east this still Sabbath afternoon, seeking shelter from
the glare of the same blazing sun, seeking sympathy from each other's
words, seeking hope and comfort from Him who alone can aid, a little
group of women gather at the frontier fort on the banks of the Missouri.
They are the wives of the officers who that morning ride "into the
Valley of Death" with their soldier leader. Fair young matrons and
mothers, whose thoughts have little room for the glad jubilee in the
still more distant East, whose world is with that charging column. Only
a few days since there came to them the evil news that the Indians had
forced back the soldiers of the southern Department,--that meant harder
work, fiercer fighting for their own. And this dread anxiety it is that
clusters them here, lifting up sweet voices in their hymn of praise to
the Heavenly Throne, pleading, pleading for the life and safety of those
who are their all in all. Oh, God! there is prophecy in the very words
of their mournful song, though they know it not. Pitying Father, listen,
and be merciful.

    "E'en though it be a Cross
    That raiseth me."

Vain the trembling hope, vain the tearful pleading. Far out on the
slopes of the Little Horn those for whom these prayers are lifted have
fought their last battle. God has, indeed, asked of these women that
henceforth "they walk on in the shadow and alone."



CHAPTER XI.

THE WOLF AND THE SHEEPFOLD.


The glorious Fourth has come and gone. The Centennial anniversary has
had its completed category of parade and picnic; speech and song; fun
and fireworks. The thronging cities of the East have rejoiced with
unusual enthusiasm, especially Philadelphia, whose coffers are plethoric
with the tribute of visiting thousands. Out on the frontier we have
celebrated with modified _éclat_, since the national celebrants are
mostly absent on active service, and have no blank cartridges to dispose
of. The big garrison flags have been duly hoisted and saluted. The
troops have been paraded where there were any to parade, as only a few
infantrymen remain to take care of the forts and the families. The
Declaration of Independence has been read in one or two of the bigger
posts, where enough remains of defenders to make up a fair-sized
demonstration. One of these is far up on the Missouri, where the cavalry
ladies are all invited to hear the infantry orator of the day--and go.
No news has come for some time from husbands and lovers on the war-path,
and it is best to be hopeful and cheery. They make a lovely picture, a
dozen of them in their dainty white dresses, their smiling faces, their
fluttering fans and ribbons. They applaud each telling point with
encouraging bravos and the clapping of pretty hands. How free from
care, how joyous, how luxurious is army life! How gleeful is their
silvery laughter! How beaming the smiles with which they reward the
young gallant who comes among them for their congratulations! _Vanitas,
vanitatum!_ They are nearly all widowed, poor girls, but they don't know
it--not yet. The steamer laden with the wounded and the fell tidings of
disaster is but a few hours away. Before the breaking of another day
there will be none to smile in all their number. Verily, "In the midst
of life we are in death."

And Russell, too, has had its jubilee--on a more extensive scale, for
here are Webb and Truscott with their fine troops of horse, the band,
the infantry companies, and a brace of old howitzers, with which they
make the welkin ring. No tidings of any account have come from the
front. The Gray Fox is puzzled at the situation. The Indians are out
there somewhere, as he finds every time a scout goes forth, but they
appear to be engrossed in some big council over at the Greasy Grass. One
thing is certain, he can get no word through to Terry on the
Yellowstone, and he cannot afford another tussle with such force as they
show when he does come out. The --th is still down near the Black Hills.
Busy? Oh, yes. Busy is no word for it! They are scampering all over the
south Cheyenne country after small bands of Indians, whose fleet ponies
keep them just out of range of the carbines and just out of reach of the
horses, who, grain-fed all winter, are now losing speed, strength, and
bottom on the scant and wiry grass they find in the sandy valleys.
Truscott and Webb are eager to go forward, but orders say wait. Mrs.
Truscott is again almost in heaven. Jack has been with her nearly a
fortnight. They are domiciled in their new quarters. Mrs. Stannard is
their next-door neighbor; much of their furniture has come, and the army
home is beginning to look lovely. Mrs. Whaling and Mrs. Turner can never
see enough of it, or say enough.

Large numbers of recruits have been sent to the post to be drilled and
forwarded to the cavalry at the front. They are having riding-school all
hours of the day, and the cavalry officers are in saddle from morn till
night teaching them. Mr. Gleason is assiduous in this duty. Whatever
Captain Truscott has heard to the gentleman's discredit in the past, he
admits to himself that it has prepared him for agreeable disappointment.
No lieutenant could be more attentive or subordinate, more determined to
please. Captain Truscott cannot but wish that Mr. Gleason were less
attentive to Miss Sanford, but that young lady is evidently fully able
to keep him at a very pleasant distance. It excites the captain's
admiration to see how perfectly lady-like, how really gracious is her
manner to the aspiring widower, and yet--how serenely unencouraging. No
one understood this better than Mr. Gleason himself. Finding her deeper,
less impressionable than he at first supposed, he simply changed his
tactics. He avoided the store, he shunned conversations on dangerous
topics, he cultivated the society of Colonel Whaling, and deeply
impressed that veteran with the depth of his information on dogs,
horses, and military affairs. He dexterously lost small sums to the post
commander at pool and billiards; enough to keep the old gentleman in
cigars--and good-humor. He became "serious" in his conversation with
the colonel's amiable wife, whose exemplary habit it was to be always
found seated at a little table behind a very big Bible when visitors
called; though the garrison _did_ say, as garrisons will, that
occasionally they had to knock or ring half a dozen times before the
summons could be heard; not because the good lady was so deeply plunged
in religious meditation, but because the clatter of angry tongues made
all demonstration from without simply inaudible.

The long-suffering and short-serving domestics who successively reigned
in the Whaling kitchen and chambers were wont to say that it was nag and
scold from morn till dewy eve,--sometimes later,--and that in the midst
of wrathful tirade the lady of the house would only be brought to
instant silence by the announcement of "some one at the door." A certain
Miss Finnegan, who served a brief apprenticeship in the household,
acquired lasting fame in the garrison for the mimetic power which
enabled her to portray "Mrs. Gineral's" instantaneous change from a
posture of fury to one of rapt devotion. She could look like Hecate
Hibernicized, and in one comprehensive second drop into a chair, "smooth
her wrinkled front" and side curls, shake out her rumpled draperies, and
rise from an instant's searching of the Scriptures with features
expressive of the very acme of Christian peace and benediction. "Mrs.
General" was a pet-name the lady had won from a wifely and lovable trait
that prompted her to aggrandize her placid lord above his deserts. Him
she ever addressed (in public), and of him she ever spoke, as "the
general," irrespective of the fact that the rank was one he never had or
never would attain, even by brevet, for the Senate drew the line at the
man who had been in the army through three wars and never heard a
hostile bullet whistle. His regiment had not been required in the
Florida business. He himself was put on other duty when they went to
Mexico, and, finally, in the great war of the Rebellion, there was
constant need of regulars to act as mustering and disbursing officers at
the rear. Such had been old Whaling's career, and, so long as he himself
was utterly unpretentious,--never claimed to have done any war service,
and was content to drift along and draw his pay,--nobody would have said
much in detraction had it not been for his wife's persistent pushing. He
was merely second in command of his regiment, but the lady spoke of him
as "the general" on all occasions, and alluded to his immediate
superior, who had led corps and divisions in his day, as Colonel Starr.
Others--of equal rank and with the brevets of major-generals--she
similarly belittled. They were merely field-officers. She admitted the
existence of no greater man than "the general," her husband, and
whatever might be the sorrows of other parents with their children, or
housewives with their servants, Mrs. Whaling pitied,--even
condoled,--but could not sympathize. With uplifted eyes she would thank
the Giver of all good that He had blessed her with sons so noble and
distinguished, with daughters so lovely and so dutiful, with servants so
singularly devoted. In the various garrisons in which the good lady had
flourished, what mattered it that her boys were known to be graceless
young scamps whom cudgelling could not benefit, or that her gentle
daughters squabbled like cats and flew to the neighbors to spread the
tales of their wrongs and mamma's injustice? What mattered it that her
paragons of servants left her one after another and swore they couldn't
stay in a house where there was so much spying and fault-finding? There
was no shaking Mrs. Whaling's Christian determination to run with
patience the race thus set before her.

Gleason found in converse with her so much that reminded him of the
mother he had lost, alas! so many years ago, and Mrs. Whaling welcomed
him to the consolations of her sanctified spirit. Together they deplored
the frivolity and vices of the younger officers (Ray came in for a good
showing-up just there, no doubt), and together they projected the
reformation of some of her favorites in the garrison. A wise man was
Gleason. She and her meek and lowly husband could be useful--very useful
in time of need. And did he abandon his devotions to Miss Sanford? No,
indeed! but they were modified as became the subject. He called less
frequently; he became less personal, less aggressive in his talk; he had
naught but good, or silence, for his comrades, and charity for the
world. He threw into his every look and word a deference and a respect
that made his manner proof against criticism; and yet, one and all, they
could not welcome him. Truscott, his captain, had never yet dropped the
"Mr." before the surname of his subaltern,--that well-understood barrier
to all army intimacy,--and Gleason, who stood among the very first on
the lineal list of lieutenants, hated him for the restriction, but gave
no sign.

It was necessary that some one of the cavalry officers should be placed
in charge of the newly-arrived recruits, and this duty fell to Gleason's
lot. It relieved him from service with his troop and made him
independent of his captain. Webb and Truscott, if consulted, would have
named a far better instructor among their lieutenants, but Colonel
Whaling issued the order from post headquarters, and there was nothing
for it but obey. Gleason lent his best efforts to the work, and he and
his drill sergeants were ceaseless in their squad instruction. Several
old cavalrymen had come among the dozens of green hands, so had a small
squad transferred by War Department orders from West Point. Among these
men were competent drill-masters, and among the drill-masters the most
active and efficient was the Saxon soldier, Sergeant Wolf.

Mr. Gleason had invited the ladies to walk out on the prairie east of
the post one lovely morning late in June, that they might see the
skirmish drills of the two cavalry troops. Often as she had been a
spectator before, Mrs. Truscott never tired of watching Jack and his
men, and Miss Sanford was greatly interested at all times in the martial
exercises, especially the mounted. Strolling homeward about ten o'clock,
having been joined by one of the young infantry officers, Mr. Gleason
suggested their stopping at the store and refreshing themselves with a
lemonade. Miss Sanford would have declined with thanks, but silently
waited for her hostess to speak; and Mrs. Truscott, who remembered how
papa had sometimes called her into the club-room when she was a child,
and who knew that the garrison ladies frequently accepted such
invitations, hesitatingly assented. It must be confessed that Mrs.
Truscott sometimes acted before she thought, and this was one of the
times. Truscott himself rarely, if ever, entered the club-room, and had
never thought it necessary to say anything to his wife on the subject.
The door stood invitingly open; the attendant was lolling thereat in his
shirt-sleeves admiringly scanning the approaching group. As soon as he
saw they were heading for the club-room instead of the gate, he slipped
behind the bar and put on his coat. Miss Sanford hung back as Mr.
Gleason threw open the portals, and called out encouragingly,--

"Come right in, ladies; there's no one here but the bar-keeper."

Mrs. Truscott stepped lightly over the threshold, and glanced with
smiling curiosity around. The first thing that caught her eye was a
placard hanging at the entrance of a little alcove-like space beyond the
rusty old billiard-tables. Within were two or three green baize-covered
card-tables and rude wooden chairs. On the placard, roughly stencilled,
was the legend,--

    "He who enters here leaves soap behind."

Mrs. Truscott's eyes expressed wonderment and mirth commingled.

"How utterly absurd! Who did that, Mr. Gleason?"

"That? Oh! That's some of Blake's work, I believe! Ah--are you not
coming in, Miss Sanford?"

"Thanks, no, Mr. Gleason; I believe I'll wait here," was the reply,
pleasant but decided.

"Why, Marion! Do come in!" cried Mrs. Truscott, hastening to the door.

Miss Sanford's face was flushing slightly, but her voice was gentle as
usual.

"I'll wait for you, Grace; but I do not care for a lemonade, and--would
rather not go in."

"Indeed, I don't care for one either. I only said yes because I thought,
perhaps, you would like it--or would care to see the club-room," Mrs.
Truscott protested, as she hurriedly came forth. "We are just as much
obliged to you, Mr. Gleason, but--not to-day." And with that they
resumed their homeward stroll. Once through the gate Mr. Gleason
slackened the pace, so as to detain his fair companion a moment.

"Why would you decline my invitation?" he asked, in a tone of what was
intended to be tender reproach.

"I prefer not to visit--the club-room, as I believe it is called."

"You would soon get used to it if you were in the Army," he ventured
awkwardly.

"But I am not in the Army," she began, self-restrainedly enough; then,
as though she could not repress the words, "Nor would I be if, as you
say, I had to get used to that."

She has a temper then, quoth Gleason to himself, ruefully noting that he
had made a bad move. It gave him an opportunity of putting in what was
generally considered a pretty effective piece of work, however,--one
that had been often employed on somewhat similar occasions, and will be
again.

"Ah, Miss Sanford, were there more women like you, there would be fewer
places like that."

But to this she made no reply whatsoever. If anything, its effect was to
quicken her pace.

Arriving near their quarters, a small party of enlisted men, apparently
recruits, were observed clustered about a wagon loaded with boxes. A
spruce, handsome, blond-moustached young soldier stepped suddenly into
view from behind the wagon, where he had been superintending the
unloading of some of the goods. At sight of him Miss Sanford stopped
short. Looking wonderingly at her, Mr. Gleason saw that her face had
paled, and that she was gazing intently on the approaching soldier and
on Mrs. Truscott, who, absorbed in laughing talk with her escort, had
apparently not observed him. As he halted and saluted, Mr. Gleason could
not but note that she started, then that she had flushed crimson. He
glanced quickly from one to the other,--the pale girl by his side, the
startled young matron in front, and the statuesque soldier, respectfully
standing with his hand at the cap visor.

"Pardon, madame; the quartermaster sends me to unload these boxes at
Captain Truscott's quarters, if madame will designate the room to which
they shall be carried."

"The captain will be here in a moment," she replied, hurriedly, and
moving into the gate as though eager to avoid the very presence of the
soldier. "Oh! may I ask you in, gentlemen?" she added, glancing over her
shoulder, and still evidently discomposed.

And Gleason followed.

The parlor was cool and pleasant after the hot sunshine without. Mrs.
Truscott threw herself into a chair, then rose as hastily and went into
the dining-room beyond. Miss Sanford's eyes followed her anxiously as
she stood at the sideboard pouring out a glass of water.

"That man--er--Wolf, who came with this batch of recruits, tells me he
was first sergeant of Captain Truscott's troop at the Point," he said,
tentatively.

"Yes. When did he get here, or how?"

"He came with recruits two nights ago; transferred from West Point with
some other men on the captain's application, as I understand it. I
presume he is to be assigned to our troop."

And here the clatter of hoofs outside announced the captain's return
from drill, and Gleason soon took his leave, pondering over what he had
seen. What was the secret of Mrs. Truscott's evident uneasiness, if not
agitation? what of Miss Sanford's visible annoyance?

It was very late that night when Miss Sanford sought her room. There had
been a drive to town during the afternoon, and a pleasant dance at the
hop-room afterwards. Not once had she had an opportunity of speaking
alone with Mrs. Truscott, nor was she quite certain of what she wished
to say even had the opportunity occurred. For several days previous to
their start from the Point, Sergeant Wolf, with others of the cavalry
detachment, had been constantly at the house packing goods and
furniture. Nothing could exceed the punctilious distance and respect
with which he addressed the ladies whenever occasion required that he
should speak to them at all; but Miss Sanford could not forget his
mysterious conduct the night she discovered him at the front gate. Once
she spoke with half-laughing hesitancy of the assiduity with which the
sergeant devoted all his spare time to his captain's service, or to
madame's, and Grace had looked so annoyed that she ceased further
mention of him. She wanted to tell her of his being at the gate that
night, and his going around under the library-window, but it proved a
difficult thing, and she postponed it from day to day. Then came the
sudden departure of the sergeant and his party for New York, where they
were ordered to report at a recruiting rendezvous. Believing that they
had seen the last of him she breathed freer, and decided to keep the
story of his midnight visit to herself, at least for a time; and now
here he was again, and his coming had evidently startled her friend. She
wanted, above all things, to have a frank talk with Mrs. Truscott. This
keeping a secret from her was distressing, and she could not bear the
thought of a possible cloud or misunderstanding between them, but poor
Grace had totally forgotten the existence of such a person as Wolf by
the time they got home. She was having a little trouble of her own. They
were strolling across the parade in the brilliant moonlight, Grace on
her stalwart husband's arm, looking up in his face with all her soul in
her eyes, chatting merrily over the events of the day. Miss Sanford was
amiably listening to the dissertation of an infantry friend upon
astronomical matters, while Gleason was elsewhere escorting Mrs.
Whaling. At the door Truscott looked back and hospitably invited the
young officer to enter, but the latter doffed his cap and gallantly said
something to the effect, that all who entered left their hearts behind,
and took himself off with the conviction that he had made a glowing
impression. It reminded Mrs. Truscott of the stencil inscription over
the local Inferno.

"Oh, Jack! Have you seen Mr. Blake's latest absurdity,--that slangy
paraphrase of Dante at the club-room?"

"I heard of it," said Truscott, smilingly. "Who told you of it,
Queenie?"

"Why!--I--saw it to-day," she replied, as though suddenly conscious that
she had put her foot on forbidden ground. Then, as he said nothing
whatever, she went on in anxious explanation: "Mr. Gleason asked us in
to have a lemonade on our way from drill. You know the ladies often go,
Jack."

"I know some of them do, Gracie."

"Ought we not to have gone--I mean, ought I not to have gone? for Marion
would not. Indeed, Jack, the moment I saw she had not come in I left at
once. Was it--are you vexed?"

"There's no great harm done, dear. I had not thought to warn you against
it, though I knew the others--some of them, went there at times."

"You mean you had not supposed it would be necessary, Jack."

And so, it must be admitted, he had; and poor Grace was in the depths as
a natural consequence. It was the first time she had felt that he was
disappointed in her, and though the matter was trivial and his loving
kiss and caress reassured her, she was plunged in dismay to think that
in entering the club-room with Mr. Gleason she had done what he
disapproved of, what, as a woman of refined breeding, she should have
shunned, and--what Marion _had_ declined. She was too much a woman not
to feel that therein lay an additional sting; she was too gentle and
loving a wife not to feel forlorn at thought of having disappointed
Jack. Some women would have resented the idea of his objecting to such a
thing. (No, fair reader, of course I don't mean you; but is it not just
possible I may be right in saying so of Mrs. ---- next door?)

Grace had kissed her friend good-night just a wee bit less
affectionately than usual, and Marion well knew that husband and wife
were best left alone together, as the surest and speediest way of
settling the affair. She, therefore, went to her room.

There were only two rooms up-stairs in the little army house, each with
its big closet, a door connecting the two, and others opening out on the
narrow landing above the stairs; each with its sharply sloping roof and
dormer-window. Grace had insisted on her guest's taking the front room,
looking out on the parade as she had at the Point; but after much
laughing discussion they settled it by pulling straws, as many a
question had been decided in the old school days. This reversed the
assignment, and the rear room became Miss Sanford's. The view from the
window was not attractive. Immediately beneath was the shingle roofing
of the dining-room and kitchen annex, stretching out to the servants'
rooms and sheds beyond. The yard, like all its fellows, was bare and
brown, for nothing would grow on such a soil. Rough, unpainted wooden
fences separated them one from another; rough cow-sheds, coal-sheds, or
wood-sheds were braced up against the fences, and back of all the yards
along the row ran a high rickety barrier of boards, as rough and
unprepossessing as the others. Beyond this fence lay a triangular space
of open prairie ornamented only by ash-barrels and occasional heaps of
empty cans awaiting the coming of the "police cart." Beyond this space
stood the big brown hospital on the north; the back-yards of the
surgeon's and sutler's quarters on the east; while the hypothenuse of
the right-angled triangle thus limited was the unsightly fence that
bounded the back-yards of officers' row. Mr. Dick Swiveller's delightful
view "of over the way" was a gem of landscape in comparison.

But for such gloomy outlook Miss Sanford had little thought. She went to
the window to draw the curtain, and far out across the distant prairie
slopes, where she could see them at all, the moon was throwing her
silvery beams, while closer at hand broad, irregular wastes of blackness
sailed over the dry plateau as the clouds that caused them drifted
across the dazzling face. Harsh and unlovely as were the surroundings by
day, they lost something of their asperity under the softening shimmer
of that mystic light. Far down by the stables she could hear the ringing
watch-call of the sentries proclaiming half-past twelve o'clock and all
well, and then--and then as a cloud floated away and the bright beams
poured down in unhindered radiance, she became aware of a form enveloped
in a cavalry overcoat standing in the corner of the fence. She could see
the moonlight glinting on the polished insignia,--the crossed
sabres,--on the front of his forage-cap, and though she could not see
the face, she knew it was that of Sergeant Wolf.

Captain and Mrs. Truscott were still below. She could hear them putting
out the parlor lamps and locking the doors. She could hear a quick
footstep on the hard-beaten walk in front and the clink of a scabbard,
and knew it must be the officer of the day starting out to make his
rounds. So too, apparently, did the mysterious prowler in the back-yard.
He stepped quickly out of the enclosure, and the next instant she could
see the erect, soldierly figure moving rapidly away towards the
northwestern entrance of the post, where lay the band's quarters.



CHAPTER XII.

A SERENADE.


"News from Mr. Ray!" exclaimed Mrs. Stannard, as she came in all smiles
and sunshine the morning after the Fourth. "Just think of it, Captain
Truscott! the major says they were all wondering when they could hope to
get letters from home, when who should come trotting into camp but Ray
with a bagful. He found a couple of men at Laramie who had been left
behind when the regiment went through, and the three of them slipped off
together, and by riding all night managed to escape the Indians. Did you
ever know such a reckless fellow?"

Truscott shook his head. "I wish Ray _would_ be more prudent. If there
were any occasion for such a risk 'twould be a different thing----"

"But there _was_" said Mrs. Stannard, promptly. "The commanding officer
at Laramie had received important orders for the --th by telegraph, and
he didn't know how to get them through. No scouts or runners were in.
Ray got there the evening before, and the moment he heard of it he went
right to the colonel and begged to be allowed to go. It seems that
trouble is expected at the agency," she continued. "The major sends just
a few lines to say they expect to leave the Cheyenne valley and go right
in there. The pickets have chased Indians coming from the
northwest,--runners from Sitting Bull, they say,--and the officers do
not like the looks of things."

Truscott's face was very grave but his manner was unchanged. Mrs. Grace
and her friend had risen from the breakfast-table to welcome their
ex-hostess and valued neighbor, and the three ladies looked as though
news from the front brought far more of anxiety than comfort. Before
anything further was said there came a light tap at the door, and Mrs.
Turner fluttered in, bewitchingly pretty in her white muslin, with
bright-colored ribbons. There were ill-natured people who observed at
times of Mrs. Turner that she took far more pains with her dress when
the captain was away on campaign and "the doughboys" were running the
garrison, than she did when her liege lord was at home. Of this we
cannot speak advisedly. Certain it is that on this particularly bright,
glorious sunshiny morning of the fifth of July in the Centennial year,
Mrs. Turner was most becomingly attired.

"I wouldn't have intruded at so unconventional an hour only I saw Mrs.
Stannard come running in; I knew she had a letter, and so had I. Isn't
it horrid? Captain Turner says it looks as though they might be out all
summer! Oh, Miss Sanford! I'm so glad you are dressed and ready, for the
ambulance is coming around now, and I _know_ you and Mrs. Truscott want
to go in this morning and see Mrs. Wing's new goods. She opened
yesterday, you know, and Mrs. Wilkins says all the bonnets are fresh
from New York and lovely. You _will_ go, won't you? Come just as you
are. You'll only need a light wrap, for the sun is very warm."

Why is it that when one woman knows herself to be tastefully and
becomingly dressed, she is so eager to assure others who are to
accompany her that they need nothing by way of adornment? The ambulance
_was_ at the door. The visit to town had been contemplated for two or
three days, so matters were quickly arranged. There was abundant room,
and Mrs. Stannard decided to go too.

In a few minutes half a dozen ladies in their airy summer costumes were
gathered around the Concord wagon, ordinarily referred to as "the
ambulance." Mr. Gleason was promptly on hand with other officers to
assist; the band was just marching away towards its quarters, when Miss
Sanford's quick eye was attracted by the sight of some evident commotion
at the adjutant's office at the west end; one soldier was running at
full speed in pursuit of the old and new officers of the day, who were
descending the slope to the creek valley, another soldier--the
commanding officer's orderly--came running down the road towards the
party.

She was already seated, as were most of the others. Mrs. Turner sprang
lightly in, and coquettishly kissed her hand to the group of officers on
the walk.

"Go on, driver," she said.

"One moment, Mrs. Turner; please wait. I think something is the matter.
Look!"

And Miss Sanford pointed to the running men. All eyes were instantly
fixed on the orderly. He came up, wellnigh breathless.

"Captain Truscott! gentlemen! The commanding officer's compliments, and
desires to see all the officers at once."

The group started at the instant. Truscott turned and held out his hands
to his wife.

With the quick intuition of a woman accustomed to "war's alarms," she
felt that evil tidings had come, and was already starting to leave the
carriage.

"Oh! what can it be?" almost wailed Mrs. Turner. "Do you know, orderly?"

"It's been a big battle, ma'am, and they say General Custer and lots of
officers is killed."

Truscott swung his wife from the wagon, and almost lifted her to the
piazza. Miss Sanford, white and silent, sprang out unaided and ran to
her side. Mrs. Stannard, with an awful dread in her kind blue eyes, took
Truscott's hand as he returned and assisted her to alight.

"Will you stay with Grace?" he whispered. "I will go at once to the
office. Come, Mrs. Turner."

But Mrs. Turner hung back irresolute. "Perhaps it isn't true at all,
captain, and this may be the only time we can have the ambulance for a
week."

For answer he silently took her at the waist in his powerful hands, set
her speechless with astonishment on the sidewalk, sprang in, and spoke
sharply to the driver,--

"Whirl round. Get there to the office quick as you can."

And the lashed mules went at a gallop.

Entering the office with the customary knock at the open door, Truscott
stood first in the presence of the post commander and his adjutant.

"For God's sake read that!" said the colonel, holding up to him some
three or four sheets of telegraphic despatch paper. The other officers
came hurrying in.

"Read it aloud, Truscott."

And so to the group of speechless officers and to the knot of soldiers
who had gathered in the hall the dread news of the battle of the Little
Horn was told at Russell. Custer and his five pet companies completely
"wiped out," said the staff-officer, who sent the news flashing around
to the military posts in the department. Three hundred and twenty-five
soldiers swept out of existence only an easy day's gallop in front of
the Gray Fox's pickets, and it had taken all this time--ten days--to get
the news into civilization. There was no sign of a smile the rest of
that long day at Russell. The gloom of death had settled down on the
post. The ladies were seen no more. The doctor was sent for in more than
one instance. Mrs. Truscott was reported very ill.

But if garrison after garrison was thrown into dismay all over the
frontier by the sudden news, who can picture the scene at Lincoln, when
at dawn of that dreadful day a sergeant came over from the boat at
Bismarck to arouse the people at the hospital and to break the blow to
the widows and orphans? Reveille had not sounded when the commanding
officer, the adjutant, and a surgeon started on the gloomy round of the
cavalry garrison. Yesterday we saw those fair, smiling women bravely
striving to hide their anxieties and loneliness, and to lend enthusiasm
to the celebration of the nation's anniversary. One after another they
were startled from the deep slumber of early morning by the knocking at
the door,--"the first knell of disaster,"--and who that saw the old
Missouri post when the fearful news was finally made known to all will
ever forget the scene that ensued? May God avert the possibility of such
another!

The day wore gloomily away at Russell. Twice Mr. Gleason called at
Captain Truscott's quarters. The second time Mrs. Stannard appeared at
the door, and briefly told him that Mrs. Truscott was not well enough to
see anybody, and that Miss Sanford begged to be excused. Mrs. Whaling
permeated the post in an ecstasy of soulful comfort, shedding prayers
and prophecies of similar fortune for the --th with the impartiality of
a saint. She even succeeded in scaring Mrs. Turner half to death and
exasperating Mrs. Wilkins to the verge of a tirade, but the latter had
contented herself with the spirited, though ungrateful announcement that
when it came to having hearses and mutes it wouldn't be Mrs. Whaling
they'd inquire for. "Matters are bad enough without your making 'em
worse, ma'am," she said, in her decided way. And the good lady, longing
to deluge somebody with sympathetic tears, was compelled to confine
herself to the round of the infantry quarters, where, with the ladies of
her own regiment, she could bemoan the unfathomable ingratitude and lack
of appreciation of their sisters of the --th.

Late that afternoon there came more orders and despatches. Truscott and
the other cavalry officers were summoned to Colonel Whaling's, where
they found most of the infantrymen already assembled. Captain Webb had
been called back to Kansas as a witness before a civil court, and to
Truscott the order of the division commander was conveyed that he should
march with the two troops at Russell without delay, and join the --th
wherever he could find them north of the Platte. Three of the four
infantry companies would also march for Laramie at dawn. Colonel
Whaling, with one small company, the recruits, the band, and the
non-combatants, would remain to take charge of the post.

Sending for his first sergeant, Truscott ordered him to have everything
put in readiness at once. A man was sent to town to recall all soldiers
on pass. There had been no drills during the day. Officers and men alike
seemed stunned by the tidings that had come at guard-mounting. He then
went to his quarters, and to his young wife's bedside. She was prepared
for the news; he had told her during the day that now every available
officer and man would be hurried to the front. She was in no danger
whatever; it was the shock, the abruptness of the announcement of the
orderly, that had so prostrated her. She lay there very pale and
still--never taking her soft eyes from his face and holding tightly his
hand--as he gently told her all he had to say.

"I cannot be too thankful," he said at last, "that I have Miss Sanford
and Mrs. Stannard here to be your companions during the campaign. It
will be late in autumn before we can hope to return, my darling."

Later that evening the young subalterns of his own and Webb's troop came
to him for certain instructions as to the mess and baggage arrangements.
Mr. Gleason had not appeared since the issuance of the orders to march.
Tattoo was just sounding out on the parade, and the men could be seen
flitting to and fro against the lights of the company barracks. They
were standing at the little gate in front of his quarters, and two or
three officers passed them.

"Oh, Mr. Gleason, one moment," called Truscott.

Gleason turned and approached them.

"I presume you will mess with the rest of us,--at least until we reach
the regiment. Mr. Wells has been arranging for mess-furniture and
supplies."

"Well--er--no, captain," said Gleason, in evident embarrassment. "The
fact is the colonel directs that I remain here. _Somebody_ has to stay
to instruct recruits, and the colonel has settled upon me. It is merely
temporary, of course."

Truscott stood looking at him in silence a moment; a dark line was
growing between his brows.

"The colonel--er--sent for me just at retreat," Gleason stumbled on; "I
assure you I had nothing to say to him to bring about such a thing. It
was entirely against my wishes, but orders are orders."

"I am glad to hear you say the order was unsolicited," said the captain
shortly. "The colonel will, doubtless, notify me. That is all, Mr.
Gleason; I will not detain you."

And Gleason went on his way to the store, which he had lately avoided;
he felt that he stood in need of bracing. Still, so far as saying that
he had made no request of Colonel Whaling, he had told the truth. He
had simply represented the detachment of recruits as being utterly
demoralized by the news of the massacre, and that he had reason to
believe many of them would desert, and as _that_ would reflect on the
vigilance of the post commander, the latter jumped at what was suggested
to him by his far-sighted wife,--the temporary detention of Mr. Gleason
to take charge of them. At daybreak on the sixth, Truscott's squadron,
of over a hundred horse finely mounted, equipped, and disciplined, was
marching rapidly over the ridge to Lodge Pole, leaving Russell--wives
and children--behind; leaving to care for them, among others, Gleason
and Sergeant Wolf.

Wearily the day of their departure rolled away. Mrs. Truscott never left
her room. Mrs. Stannard and Miss Sanford rarely left her. Once or twice
had Mr. Gleason called, being met again by Mrs. Stannard, whom he was
beginning to hate. "The ladies were resting," he was informed; so, too,
was Mrs. Whaling told when she came, and seemed discomfited at not being
invited up-stairs. It was difficult, indeed, to persuade her that she
had not better remain in the parlor in case Mrs. Truscott should ask for
her.

"You see, Mrs. Stannard," explained Gleason, "the last thing I promised
Truscott as he rode away was that I would not lose sight of the ladies,
would watch over them incessantly, and I want to keep faith with him."

Mrs. Stannard had her doubts as to how much of this statement was true,
though she had no doubts as to how much was uncalled for. Mr. Gleason
went away feeling injured and rebuffed. It was Miss Sanford's business,
he held, to come down and see him if only for a moment. He had gained
his object in being kept back at the post, that he might pursue his
wooing. Satisfied of the wealth and social standing of the lady, he felt
no doubt whatever that if given a fair field he could win her, and win
her he would. If unlimited conceit has not yet been mentioned or
indicated as one of Mr. Gleason's prominent traits, the omission is
indeed important. He felt that up to the time of Truscott's coming his
progress had been satisfactory. Officers and ladies were already making
sly allusions in his presence as to his prospects for a second
entanglement, and were heard with complacent undenial. Ever since the
day of his aspersion of Ray he had been losing ground, however, and now,
confound it! here was Ray looming up as a hero again, making a wild
night-ride with despatches. He felt that things must be brought to a
crisis speedily. He knew that, properly handled, he had the means of
clouding Ray's name with something worse than suspicion. He had already
sneeringly replied to the officers who had spoken admiringly of Ray's
daring, by saying that Ray was, doubtless, trying to make a record to
block matters that were working against him here. Some of his auditors
had gone off disgusted. One had plainly said he was sick of
insinuations. Now, however, they were all gone, and he had the field
practically to himself. The half-dozen officers left at the post would
be little apt to interfere with him. Only, he must manage Mrs. Stannard.
Gleason took a fortifying glass or two, ordered up his horse, and, late
as it was, rode in to Cheyenne. There he dropped in at the
telegraph-office,--he could have sent it from the adjutant's office just
as well,--and, after some deliberation, wrote this despatch:

    "WILLARD RALLSTON, ESQ., Omaha.

     "Why no letter? When you coming? Act now. Ferguson gone.

                    "G."

Being in town he dropped in at one or two places of popular resort, and
had more or less conversation with the hangers-on at the open bars. He
drank more freely than usual, too, and while by no means off his
balance, mentally or physically, when at midnight he turned his horse's
head homewards, he was rather more capable of any deed of meanness than
would ordinarily have been deemed expedient. His quarters reached, he
stood for a moment gazing along the dark and silent row. Suddenly, soft
and sweet on the clear night air he heard the notes of a guitar, then a
tenor voice, well trained, rich and melodious. He well knew there was no
officer in the garrison who could sing like that. Who was it? Where was
it?

Slipping through the back-yard and keeping close under the high board
fence, Mr. Gleason tiptoed up the row until behind Truscott's. A
convenient knot-hole enabled him to peer through, and his eye lit on the
dim figure of a man enveloped in cavalry overcoat standing beneath the
rear window. This, then, was the troubadour.

A moment or two previous, Miss Sanford, wearied after a long day of
anxiety and care, was roused from a broken sleep by a soft, sweet tenor
voice beneath her window, and the tinkling accompaniment of a guitar.
Each word came floating through the silent night,--

    "Rings Stille herscht--es schweigt der Wald,
    Vollendet ist des Tages Lauf;
    Der Vögleins Lied ist längst verhallt,
    Am Himmel ziehn die Sterne auf.
      Schlaf wohl, schlaf wohl,
    Und schliess die schönen Augen zu;
      Schlaf wohl, schlaf wohl,
    Du süsser, lieber Engel Du."

She knew instantly who it must be. She noiselessly slipped to the door
leading into Grace's chamber, and the dim night-light showed her sweet
friend sound asleep. Returning, she crept to the window, shrouded as it
was by the inner curtain. No sign would she give that the song was
heard, but what woman would not have risked one peep? Finishing his
song, the serenader turned on his heel, gave one long, lingering look at
the darkened window, then strode out of the rear gate and away towards
the band quarters. Drawing the curtain farther aside, Miss Sanford
plainly recognized the walk and bearing. She followed him with her eyes
until he had gone full a hundred yards, was about to let fall the
curtain, when, crouching like panther, sneaking from shadow to shadow,
there slipped past the gate the dim figure of a second man in stealthy
pursuit. Who could this be? The first, of course, was Sergeant Wolf.



CHAPTER XIII.

SURROUNDED.


"One thing is certain: we ought to get word over to Wayne or he'll be
cut off." The speaker was old Stannard, and his auditors were a knot of
half a dozen officers of the --th. It was just daybreak, cold, crisp,
and clear. It was about a week after the news of the battle of the
Little Horn had reached the regiment. Already its two strongest
battalions were marching to join Crook at the Big Horn, but a little
squadron--two troops under command of Captain Wayne--lay nearly two
days' march away, lower down the broad valley towards the southeast. The
tidings that had come by special couriers were exciting, even alarming.
A great outbreak had occurred among the Indians still at the agencies on
White River. Nearly a thousand of the Southern Cheyennes, who had
nothing whatever to do with the quarrel of Sitting Bull and his people,
who had no grievance whatever against the government, but had been fed,
clothed, petted, and pampered for six or eight years, and who up to this
time remained at the reservations, had become so emboldened at the
success of the renegades and warriors in the Big Horn country, so
envious of their great massacre of Custer and his men, that they had
suddenly thrown off all disguise, loaded up with all the provisions,
arms, and ammunition they could buy or steal, and had jumped for the
Northwest, murdering and pillaging as they went. Waiting no orders,
dropping, indeed, the retrograde movement he was ordered to make before
this outbreak was known, the regimental commander had turned his columns
and shot "cross country" on a night march to head them off. A soldier
who doubted the "grit" of his officers and men, who was himself
indisposed to dare so strong and savage a foe, could easily have taken
refuge in these orders and, marching as directed, avoid the Cheyennes
entirely. They were known to be the fiercest, sharpest, trickiest
fighters of the plains, full of pluck and science, superb horsemen, fine
shots, splendidly mounted and equipped. A foe, indeed, the average man
would think twice before "tackling," especially in the light of the
fearful exhibition of Indian prowess of the 25th of June. But the leader
of the --th never thought twice. No sooner did the breathless couriers
reach him with the news than he formed his plans instanter. Within an
hour every horse and man in the --th seemed to know they had a race and
a fight ahead. Eighty miles of rough country to ride over before they
could strike the line on which the Cheyennes were moving, and then the
--th could speak for themselves. The news of the tragedy of the Little
Horn came like a stunning blow to many a fellow who had lost old and
tried comrades in the fray; but while laugh and jest seemed banished for
the time, there was no doubting the spirit of the regiment for the
coming business. They had turned sharply from their course late in the
afternoon of the previous day, had marched nearly all night, had halted
to make coffee and give the horses water and a good feed as they reached
the sheltering cottonwoods by the stream; and now, while some of the
officers with their field-glasses were lying prone upon the commanding
ridges studying the distant valley for signs, another party was gathered
here around the colonel, who had been having a brief chat with "old
Stannard."

"Wayne has been warned by this time. I sent two of the scouts across
from the Rawhide last evening," was the colonel's quiet reply to the
impulsive outburst of his junior.

"He is off their line of march entirely, I know," admitted Stannard,
"but those fellows have had eyes out in every direction. They know just
where he is. They know just where that wagon-train is, and up to last
evening they knew just where we were, though they are puzzled now, I
reckon. All I'm afraid of is that the moment they find we're not in
supporting distance, they'll drop what they're after and turn on Wayne.
He ought to be only forty odd miles down this valley,--considerably off
their line,--and if he has kept close and not fooled away his time he is
safe enough; but Wayne is Wayne, colonel, and I've known him to go
poking off on side scouts and losing time 'topogging' over pretty
country when he ought to have been making tracks for home." (Stannard
_would_ use the vernacular of the frontier when at all excited.) "Now it
would be just like Wayne to have lost a day in just such a manner. I
hope not,--but I fear it."

"He has Ray with him," suggested Captain Turner.

"I know that; but Wayne is butt-headed as a billy-goat on some points,
and one is that he can't be taught anything about Indians. He's as
innocent and unsuspicious and incapable of appreciating their wiles as
the average Secretary of the Interior; and Wayne isn't the kind of man
to be influenced by Ray's opinions. He'd be more apt to tell Ray to keep
them to himself. It couldn't be helped, of course, but it's a pity two
companies had to be sent on that scout. I'd feel safer under Ray with
one troop than under Wayne with two."

"I confess I wish we could see just where they were and what they were
doing," said the colonel, with an anxious look on his sun-blistered
face; "but we have our hands full as it is. Come, Mr. Adjutant, it's
time we were off! Get the men in saddle and have the arms and ammunition
inspected,--fifty rounds to the man, at least. Major Stannard, where
would you locate Truscott's command this morning? I shall send couriers
back from here to find him and tell him to join Wayne."

To join Wayne! Well, just at that particular moment Wayne was wishing
that he might,--or somebody equally strong. And if the colonel could but
have seen the fix that doughty dragoon was in--fifty miles away--the
concern on his ruddy face would have been intensified. Wayne had
succeeded in justifying everything Stannard had said of him. He had,
indeed, been "fooling away his time" on side scouts, and now, before he
had fairly dreamed of the possibility of such a thing, the hills around
him were alive with Indians.

Ray, with his troop, had been assigned to the captain's command for a
scout of some importance over towards the reservations three days before
this unlucky morning. Rumors of the disaffection of the Cheyennes had
come to the colonel. Everybody knew that the Indians would be wild with
delight over the news from Sitting Bull. Indeed, there was reason to
believe that it was being whispered at the reservations before the
telegraph flashed the tidings broadcast on the 5th of July. Were there
not two days there on the Mini Pusa--the 2d and 3d of July--when little
parties of Indians were chased towards as well as from the White River?
Wayne's orders were to scout the valley and report whether Indians were
venturing out that way. Before he had been two days away from the
regiment he found trail after trail of war-parties crossing the valley
northward. Signal-smokes and night-fires were in the hills beyond. The
evidence was conclusive to expert eyes, but Wayne said that, all told,
no more than one hundred warriors could have gone out. He was bent on
going farther and seeing how many more there were. Ray, as second in
rank among the five officers present, ventured to suggest that they had
seen quite enough, and that without delay they should either return
directly to the regiment or send word. Wayne would not send because only
a hundred tracks had been seen, and by the time he had run over double
that number the two scouts with them refused to go back. "We would be
cut off and killed, sure as fate," was their comprehensive reason. They
bivouacked that night in the timber, keeping out strong guards and
pickets, but with early dawn were astir, moving back up the valley. Once
again had Ray offered a suggestion,--that they should put back during
the night, but Wayne was nettled at the fact that Ray's prophecy had
come true. They had stayed too long and gone too far. He was a John Bull
sort of fellow, full of the ponderous, bumptious courage which prompts
the men of that illustrious island empire to be shot down like cattle by
Boers and Zulus and Arabs and Afghans, adhering rigidly to the tactics
of Waterloo to fight the scientific light troops of the savages sooner
than depart from that which was the conventional British method of
making war. Wayne was lacking only in moral courage. He was afraid to
say he was wrong and Ray was right. Before they had gone two miles he
was forced to admit it. He was hemmed in on every side.

The valley had narrowed considerably just here, and the bare, rounded
bluffs came down to within two hundred and fifty yards of the timber
along the stream. Willows in sparse groups and cottonwoods in
sun-bleached foliage were scattered along the level bench on both sides
of the river-bed. Broad wastes of sand extended in places from bank to
bank, and what water there was lay in heated pools. Here and there the
white incrustation on the sand told of the strongly alkaline nature of
the soil and the consequent impurity of the fluid. The little column,
with scouts well out on front and flanks, was moving four abreast up the
south bank along their trail of the previous day. Every now and then
some officer or man would note a new signal-smoke puffing up to the sky
among the hills some distance off the valley, and Wayne was riding in
rather sulky dignity at the head of the command. He had come to the
conclusion that he had done an idiotic thing the morning previous, in
pushing on down the valley after discovering beyond question that so
many Indians were already on the move. He well knew that Ray was the
last man in the regiment to counsel avoiding danger, unless it were
danger which would prove overwhelming and for encountering which there
could be no excuse. He _knew_ he had been idiotic now, for he could see
indications that Indians were closing in on him from every side; but,
worse than that, he knew that he had added to his idiocy a performance
that was simply asinine: he had lost his temper and said an outrageous
thing to Ray, and some of the men had heard it. From earliest dawn the
lieutenant had been out with the pickets eagerly scanning the
surrounding country. Indians, of course, were not to be seen. They kept
out of sight behind the bluffs and ridges, but their signals were
floating skyward from half a dozen different points, and Ray knew it
meant that they were calling in their forces to concentrate on this lone
command. At last he had gone to Wayne, who was sipping his coffee with
as much deliberation as though the troops had nothing on earth to do all
day.

"Captain Wayne. May I ask if anything further has been done towards
getting word back to the regiment?"

Wayne looked curiously at his junior a moment. He had the unpleasant
conviction that whatever his own views might be, the regiment generally
would be more apt to back Ray's opinions as to the chances in Indian
fighting than they would his. He could not complain of the lieutenant's
manner in the least, but all the same he felt certain that Ray had a
higher opinion of his own judgment than he had of his, the squadron
commander's. It was time to take him down.

"Why do you ask, Ray?" he said, with assumed composure, setting down
his tin cup and motioning to the attendant that he desired to have it
refilled.

"Because--we are now pretty well hemmed in, and unless word _has_ gone,
there will be little chance of sending any."

"Well, Mr. Ray, why _should_ we send any?"

"Because, Captain Wayne, we have neither ammunition nor provisions for a
siege, and the chances are in favor of our having to stand one."

"Oh, trash! Ray. I expected more nerve of you, and you are the first man
in the crowd to get stampeded."

For an instant there was danger of an explosion. Ray's eyes blazed with
wrath. He would have burst into a fury of denunciation, captain or no
captain, but there--close at hand--stood many silent groups of the men.
For once in his life Ray said not a word. For one long ten seconds he
stood there, looking Wayne straight in the eye, then turned on his heel
and left him.

The captain would have given much to recall the words. He knew their
utter injustice. He knew, worse luck! that if they succeeded in getting
back to the --th in safety, about the very first thing he would be
called upon to do would be to eat them. For the moment he was Ray's
commanding officer and there was no resenting them; but once back with
the --th, then there _would_ be fun!

Wayne rode for the first mile or so in sulky dignity, as has been said.
Ray was out in front with the scouts. He had gone without saying a word
to the commander, and though that was a breach of etiquette, the
captain well knew that there of all others was the place for Ray to be.
None of his other subalterns came near him. There were only two,--Dana
and Hunter,--and they were riding each at the head of the troop to which
he was attached. A young assistant surgeon was with the party, and a
civilian who had charge of the half-dozen pack-mules ambling alongside,
but even these men seemed indisposed to chat with the commanding
officer. The column was riding "at ease," but in silence. No whistling,
joking, or singing was going on. To the right was the timber through
which, well to the front, half a dozen skirmishers were pushing so as to
secure the main body against surprise. To the left, full eight hundred
yards away, rose the low line of bluffs, sweeping around the left front
so as to approach the stream. Two or three men rode warily along their
crest, keeping sharp lookout to the south, while scattered across the
valley a like distance ahead were half a dozen active troopers, the two
guides, and Ray. The latter, easily recognized at that distance by his
riding and by "Dandy's" elastic stride, had discarded his coat, and was
moving rapidly from point to point in his dark-blue scouting-shirt.

Nearing the bluffs that bent around their front, it could be seen that
the guides were hanging back a little, so were the skirmishers in
advance; but the men on the flanks pushed ahead. No Indians could be
seen from their more elevated position.

"They're shy of that bluff," said Wayne between his teeth. "Here, Mr.
Dana, send a sergeant and two sets of fours forward, and stir them up a
little. Wait a moment! There goes Ray."

Sure enough, Ray and a couple of horsemen, opening out considerably,
could be seen spurring diagonally across the bottom towards a point of
bluffs that rose higher than the general line off to the left. Before
they had gone two hundred yards, out from the very crest of the bluff
there leaped half a dozen quick puffs of smoke; half a dozen little
spirts of dust and sand flew up from the prairie near the three horsemen
farthest to the front, two of whose steeds were seen to veer and shy
violently, and then six sharp, spiteful, half-muffled reports were borne
on the still air.

Even before the shots were heard Wayne was turning in his saddle.

"Deploy to the front, Dana; only your first platoon," he added, as the
young officer was about throwing forward the whole troop. "Look out for
the bluffs on your left. I'll have Hunter face them. Half front your
line that way so as not to let them enfilade you. I'm going right out to
the front." With that he rode back, said a few words to Hunter, and
then, followed by his orderly trumpeter, went thumping off at ponderous
gallop towards his distant advance.

Almost at the same instant the flankers on the bluffs to the left were
seen waving their hats and spurring about in violent excitement,
pointing towards the south. Then they fired two or three wild shots in
that direction, and, ducking as though to avoid return fire, came
sweeping down the slopes at full speed.

It was stirring to mark the bearing of the little command just then.
Every man knew that the unseen foe was present in front and flank in
heavy force. Every hand seemed nerved to sudden strength. The horses
tossed their heads and pricked up their ears, looking eagerly in the
direction of the firing. In obedience to his orders, Dana was rapidly
deploying his leading platoon, and a sheaf of skirmishers went
scattering out to the front in support of the advance, while Hunter,
left for the moment alone, divined in an instant that the Indians were
coming with a rush upon the southern flank. He wheeled his fours to the
left, and, dismounting his skirmishers, sent them at the double-quick
out across the prairie. Not an instant too soon! Almost simultaneously
the ridge to the south, the bluffs out in front, and even the narrow
level between them and the timber fairly bristled with daring, dashing
horsemen,--the Cheyennes in all their glory.

Oh, what a brilliant sight they made with plume and pennon, floating
war-bonnet, lance and shield; the sunlight dancing on their barbaric
ornaments of glistening brass or silver, on brightly-painted, naked
forms, on the trappings of their nimble ponies, on rifle and spear! All
at full speed, all ayell, brandishing their weapons, firing wildly into
the valley, leaping, some of them, for an instant to the ground to take
better aim, then, like a flash, to saddle and top speed again; through
every little swale, over every ridge they popped like so many savage
Jacks-in-the-box, and came swooping, circling down on the little column
at the old-time tactics of the stampede. Warily though, with all their
clamor, for though they whoop and yell and shoot and challenge, they
veer off to right or left long before they get within dangerous range of
those silent skirmishers of Hunter's, now sprawling in long blue line
out on the dusty prairie, _ventre à terre_, and every fellow with his
carbine at the front just praying the painted scamps will come a little
closer. Warily in front, too, where Ray is skilfully retiring, face to
the foe, but keeping them back while Wayne has time to return to the
column and move his horses into the sheltering timber and prepare for
vigorous defence.

It is the only course now open to him. This is not civilized warfare,
remember, and far different rules must govern. It would be no difficult
matter against ordinary troops to lead a dashing charge, cut through the
opposing line, and so make his way back to the regiment. Of course many
men might be unhorsed and wounded, and so left behind, but they would be
cared for as prisoners until exchanged or the war was at an end. But war
with the Indian means, on his side, war _à outrance_,--war to the
cruellest death he can devise. When _he_ is cornered, all he has to do
is surrender and become the recipient of more attention and the victim
of higher living than he ever dreamed of until he tried it, and found it
so pleasant that it paid him to go on the war-path every spring, to have
a royal old revel in blood and bestiality until fall, and then yield to
the blandishments of civilization for the winter. But to officer or
soldier capture means death, and death by fiendish torture as a rule.
The Indian fights for the glory and distinction it gives him. He has
everything to gain and nothing to lose. The soldier of the United States
fights the red man only because he is ordered to. He has nothing to
gain--even glory, for the Senate has fixed a bar sinister on gallantry
in Indian warfare. He has everything to lose. However, no words of mine
will ever effect a change of political heart in such matters. The fact
remains that the one thing left for Wayne to do--finding himself cut off
by some two hundred Cheyennes--was to take to the timber and stand them
off.

By this time the fray was spirited and picturesque in the extreme. The
whole line of bluffs was alive with Indians dashing to and fro,
occasionally swooping down as though to burst through or over the
slender skirmish line. Others had swung clear around to the left, and
were circling about in the valley below them. From all but the north
side, therefore, the bullets came whistling in, and occasionally some
stricken horse would plunge and snort madly, and one or two men were
being assisted to the bank of the stream, where the young doctor had
already gone to work. Hunter's dismounted men, sturdily fronting the
south and southeast, were holding five times their force in check, while
Ray's and Dana's mounted skirmishers, fronting southwest and west, were
slowly falling back fighting. The Cheyennes encircled them on every side
but the north.

Busy in getting his horses into shelter under the bank, which was a few
feet high, and directing where the provisions and pack-mules should be
placed, Wayne was suddenly accosted by Ray.

"If twenty men can be spared, sir, I'll put them on that island,"
pointing to a clump of willows and cottonwoods that stood along the
opposite shore. "The Indians are crossing above and below, and we'll
soon have their fire on our backs."

Wayne was soldier enough to see the force of the suggestion. He was man
enough, too, to want to ask Ray's pardon for his language of the
morning, but there was only time to accede to the request. The
Kentuckian, still mounted on Dandy, was darting across the sandy space
with a dozen or more of his men at his heels. The island was a Godsend.
In less than five minutes the warriors who had ventured across, and were
now seeking for a shot at the safety-roost along under the bank, were
met by a score of well-aimed bullets that drove them to cover, dragging
with them the lifeless body of one of their number.

"Spread out there, men!" shouted Wayne. "Seize every point you can get
on t'other shore. Run up-stream fifty yards or so and scoop holes for
yourselves in the sand." And then he rode out to the front again to
superintend the retirement of his slender lines.

But all this time the firing had been rapid and almost incessant. As the
troopers came slowly in towards the timber and the Cheyennes realized
that it was impossible to drive them into panic or stampede, they seemed
to give far more attention to the accuracy of their aim, and for this
purpose the best shots had thrown themselves from their ponies and were
striving to pick off the officers and prominent sergeants. Still, the
greater number remained in saddle whooping and yelling and darting to
and fro at a comparatively safe distance, banging away at anything or
anybody within the soldier lines, and offering tempting though difficult
marks for the sorely-tried skirmishers. Until he noted the distant
war-parties crossing to the north side of the stream, Ray had been
riding up and down the lines checking the useless waste of ammunition.
Everywhere his voice could be heard, placid, almost laughing at times,
as he rebuked the senseless long-range shooting of the men.

"Hold your fire, men. You can't hit those skipping jack-rabbits half a
mile away. What on earth are you shooting at, Mulligan? You couldn't hit
a whole barn at that distance."

But all the same he was seriously worried. He knew well that at the
utmost there were no more than fifty rounds per man with the troopers,
and that rapid firing would soon reduce this to next to nothing. The
indications were that once hemmed in to the timber they would need every
shot to stand off the Cheyennes until relief could come, and before
galloping off to secure the timbered island in rear of their position
and so form a partially protected "corral" for the horses, he had
cautioned Dana and Hunter to be most sparing in their fire,--to allow no
shot unless the Indians charged.

The foe, on the contrary, were flush with ammunition. Mr. ----'s
cartridges were abundant among them, and from east, south, and west the
bullets were whizzing overhead, ripping up little grass tufts from the
prairie and raising a dust wherever they struck. The mounted skirmishers
sheered off into the timber quite early, as they were being shot at from
three sides, sprang from their horses and took to the trees, but before
they could do so several casualties had occurred. Six horses were lying
dead out on the prairie, others were wounded and bleeding, but worse
than that, two old Arizona sergeants, veterans of a dozen fights, and
five of the men were severely wounded. Ray's efforts to keep down the
return fire were futile. As long as the men had cartridges and he was
not about, they would fire. Just as Wayne the second time rode out to
the front he found Dana slowly dismounting.

"Are you hit?" he asked.

Dana nodded, pressed his hand to his side, and saying nothing, walked up
to a neighboring cottonwood and leaned against it, looking rather pale.

"Damn the luck!" growled Wayne. "This won't do. I must get the whole
crowd under cover."

"You get under yourself," grinned Dana. "That hat of yours looks like a
sieve now. Yi-ip! There goes your horse." And forgetting his own pain,
he strove to aid the captain, whose horse had suddenly plunged forward,
and was now rolling and kicking in the agony of death.

"I'm all right, Dana. Poor old Ned! he's carried me many a mile. Here,
sergeant, help the lieutenant back to the doctor. Go, Dana! I'll get the
men where they belong. We're all right, once we get in the timber."

And so, little by little, slowly and steadily the skirmishers fell back
to the shelter of the trees. There in big semicircle they were
distributed, each in a little, hastily constructed rifle-pit or shelter
of his own, and by nine o'clock this bright July morning the first phase
of the combat was at an end, and there was time to "take account of
stock."

Dana was shot through the side by a Henry or Winchester bullet, and was
lying under the bank faint, thirsty, but plucky. Sergeant Gwinn and two
of the men were dead, and eight men now needed the care of the surgeon;
three of them were senseless, probably mortally hurt. At least fifteen
horses were killed or rendered useless; the others were "corralled"
under the bank, where, in a deep bend, they were safe except from
long-range fire. Ray's men on the island had improved their advantage by
seizing defensible positions on the north bank, and, as against two
hundred and fifty Indians, with two days' rations left, with abundant
water to be had by digging in the sand, with pluck and spirit left for
anything, they were not badly off, provided the Indians were not heavily
reinforced and provided their ammunition held out.

The Cheyennes now resorted to other tactics. Leaving but few warriors
scurrying about on the open prairie, both north and south, they gathered
in force in the timber up- and down-stream and began their stealthy
approaches, keeping up all the time a sharp fire upon Wayne's position.
Every now and then would come a frantic cry from some stricken horse as
a random bullet took effect, but few struck among the men. The surgeon
and the wounded were well sheltered in a concave hollow of the bank.

There was fortunately little wind. With a gale blowing either up- or
down-stream, the Indians could have fired the timber and soon driven
them out. This was well understood on both sides. But the besieged knew
as well that other methods would be resorted to, and speedily they were
developed. The rattling fire that had been kept up ever since the first
assault had died away to an occasional shot, when suddenly from the
down-stream side there came a volley, a chorus of frantic yells, and
then a pandemonium of shots, shouts, howls, and screeches, answered by
the soldiers with their carbines and the billingsgate of some
irrepressible humorist. A savage attack had begun on Hunter's men. Even
as Wayne and Ray, bending low to avoid the storm, went scurrying through
the trees to his assistance, followed by some half a dozen of the "old
hands," there came from up-stream just such another assault, and in ten
seconds every able man in the command was hotly engaged.

"For God's sake, captain, don't let them waste their fire!" shouted Ray.
"I'll go back to the other front and hold them there."

"All right! I understand, Ray. You watch the same thing over there,"
answered Wayne, who at another time would have resented any suggestions,
but had seen the value of Ray's words a dozen times that day. "Damn it!
men. Fire slow. Don't throw away a shot. _Let_ them come closer; that's
what we want," he shouted to the soldiers, who, lying behind logs or
kneeling among the trees, were driving their missiles through the
timber, where the smoke-wreaths told of the otherwise invisible foe. Out
on the prairie, too, the mounted warriors went careering about, dashing
at full speed towards the woods, as though determined to charge, but
invariably veering off to right or left as they came within three
hundred yards. Of course, there was no direction from which the bullets
did not come whizzing into the timber, and men were more likely to be
hit in the back than elsewhere,--one of the many disheartening features
of such warfare. Almost every moment somebody _was_ hit, though at the
time it could not be seen or known, as all were too busy with what was
in their front to look around. Once in a while, too, some lucky shot
would send an Indian pony to his knees out on the prairie, or a warrior
would drop and be borne off by a ducking, dodging trio of his fellows.
Then there would be a shout of triumph from the timber, answering yells
of rage and defiance from the foe; but finally, after nearly an hour of
such savage work, the Cheyennes seemed to give it up. Then came another
respite, another "taking of stock."

One of the scouts, one who had refused to try and ride through to the
regiment, was shot dead, and lay on his face among the trees. So, too,
were two more of the men, while six were wounded, and Wayne himself had
a flesh wound in the thigh. The hot sun of noonday was pouring down, and
matters looked ugly.

"Do you know how much ammunition we have left?" asked Mr. Ray, in a low
tone, of the commanding officer about an hour later.

"No," said Wayne, looking anxiously in his face.

"Not twelve rounds to the man."



CHAPTER XIV.

RAY'S RIDE FOR LIFE


Darkness has settled down in the shadowy Wyoming valley. By the light of
a tiny fire under the bank some twenty forms can be seen stretched upon
the sand,--they are wounded soldiers. A little distance away are nine
others, shrouded in blankets: they are the dead. Huddled in confused and
cowering group are a few score horses, many of them sprawled upon the
sand motionless; others occasionally struggle to rise or plunge about in
their misery. Crouching among the timber, vigilant but weary, dispersed
in big, irregular circle around the beleaguered bivouac, some sixty
soldiers are still on the active list. All around them, vigilant and
vengeful, lurk the Cheyennes. Every now and then the bark as of a coyote
is heard,--a yelping, querulous cry,--and it is answered far across the
valley or down the stream. There is no moon; the darkness is intense,
though the starlight is clear, and the air so still that the galloping
hoofs of the Cheyenne ponies far out on the prairie sound close at hand.

"That's what makes it hard," says Ray, who is bending over the prostrate
form of Captain Wayne. "If it were storming or blowing, or something to
deaden the hoof-beats, I could make it easier; but it's the only
chance."

The only chance of what?

When the sun went down upon Wayne's timber citadel, and the final
account of stock was taken for the day, it was found that with
one-fourth of the command, men and horses, killed and wounded there were
left not more than three hundred cartridges, all told, to enable some
sixty men to hold out until relief could come against an enemy
encircling them on every side, and who had only to send over to the
neighboring reservation--forty miles away--and get all the cartridges
they wanted. Mr. ---- would let their friends have them to kill buffalo,
though Mr. ---- and their friends knew there wasn't a buffalo left
within four hundred miles.

They _could_ cut through, of course, and race up the valley to find the
--th, but they would have to leave the wounded and the dismounted
behind,--to death by torture,--so that ended the matter. Only one thing
remained. In some way--by some means--word must be carried to the
regiment. The chances were ten to one against the couriers slipping out.
Up and down the valley, out on the prairie on both sides of the stream,
the Cheyennes kept vigilant watch. They had their hated enemies in a
death-grip, and only waited the coming of other warriors and more
ammunition to finish them--as the Sioux had finished Custer. _They_
knew, though the besieged did not, that, the very evening before, the
--th had marched away westward, and were far from their comrades. All
they had to do was to prevent any one's escaping to give warning of the
condition of things in Wayne's command. All, therefore, were on the
alert, and of this there was constant indication. The man or men who
made the attempt would have to run the gauntlet. The one remaining scout
who had been employed for such work refused the attempt as simply
madness. He had lived too long among the Indians to dare it, yet Wayne
and Ray and Dana and Hunter, and the whole command, for that matter,
knew that some one _must_ try it. Who was it to be?

There was no long discussion. Wayne called the sulking scout a damned
coward, which consoled him somewhat, but didn't help matters. Ray had
been around the rifle-pits taking observations. Presently he returned,
leading Dandy up near the fire,--the one sheltered light that was
permitted.

"Looks fine as silk, don't he?" he said, smoothing his pet's glossy neck
and shoulder, for Ray's groom had no article of religion which took
precedence over the duty he owed the lieutenant's horse, and no sooner
was the sun down than he had been grooming him as though still in
garrison. "Give him all the oats you can steal, Hogan; some of the men
must have a hatful left."

Wayne looked up startled.

"Ray, I can't let you go!"

"There's no helping it. Some one _must_ go, and who can you send?"

Even there the captain noted the grammatical eccentricity. What was
surprising was that even there he made no comment thereon. He was
silent. Ray had spoken truth. There was no one whom he could order to
risk death in breaking his way out since the scout had said 'twas
useless. There were brave men there who would gladly try it had they any
skill in such matters, but that was lacking. "If any man in the command
could 'make it,' that man was Ray." He was cool, daring, keen; he was
their best and lightest rider, and no one so well know the country or
better knew the Cheyennes. Wayne even wished that Ray might volunteer.
There was only this about it,--the men would lose much of their grit
with him away. They swore by him, and felt safe when he was there to
lead or encourage. But the matter was settled by Ray himself. He was
already stripping for the race.

"Get those shoes off," he said to the farrier, who came at his bidding,
and Dandy wonderingly looked up from the gunny-sack of oats in which he
had buried his nozzle. "What on earth could that blacksmith mean by
tugging out his shoe-nails?" was his reflection, though, like the
philosopher he was, he gave more thought to his oats,--an unaccustomed
luxury just then.

There seemed nothing to be said by anybody. Wayne rose painfully to his
feet. Hunter stood in silence by, and a few men grouped themselves
around the little knot of officers. Ray had taken off his belt and was
poking out the carbine-cartridges from the loops,--there were not over
ten. Then he drew the revolver, carefully examined the chambers to see
that all were filled; motioned with his hand to those on the ground,
saying, quietly, "Pick those up. Y'all may need every one of 'em." The
Blue Grass dialect seemed cropping out the stronger for his
preoccupation. "Got any spare Colts?" he continued, turning to Wayne. "I
only want another round." These he stowed as he got them in the smaller
loops on the right side of his belt. Then he bent forward to examine
Dandy's hoofs again.

"Smooth them off as well as you can. Get me a little of that sticky mud
there, one of you men. There! ram that into every hole and smooth off
the surface. Make it look just as much like a pony's as you know how.
They can't tell Dandy's tracks from their own then, don't you see?"

Three or four pairs of hands worked assiduously to do his bidding.
Still, there was no talking. No one had anything he felt like saying
just then.

"Who's got the time?" he asked.

Wayne looked at his watch, bending down over the fire.

"Just nine fifteen."

"All right. I must be off in ten minutes. The moon will be up at
eleven."

Dandy had finished the last of his oats by this time and was gazing
contentedly about him. Ever since quite early in the day he had been in
hiding down there under the bank. He had received only one trifling
clip, though for half an hour at least he had been springing around
where the bullets flew thickest. He was even pining for his customary
gallop over the springy turf, and wondering why it had been denied him
that day.

"Only a blanket and surcingle," said Ray, to his orderly, who was coming
up with the heavy saddle and bags. "We're riding to win to-night, Dandy
and I, and must travel light."

He flung aside his scouting hat, knotted the silk handkerchief he took
from his throat so as to confine the dark hair that came tumbling almost
into his eyes, buckled the holster-belt tightly round his waist, looked
doubtfully an instant at his spurs, but decided to keep them on. Then he
turned to Wayne.

"A word with you, captain."

The others fell back a short distance, and for a moment the two stood
alone speaking in low tones. All else was silent except the feverish
moan of some poor fellow lying sorely wounded in the hollow, or the
occasional pawing and stir among the horses. In the dim light of the
little fire the others stood watching them. They saw that Wayne was
talking earnestly, and presently extended his hand, and they heard Ray
somewhat impatiently, say, "Never mind that now," and noted that at
first he did not take the hand; but finally they came back to the group
and Ray spoke:

"Now, fellows, just listen a minute. I've got to break out on the south
side. I know it better. Of course there are no end of Indians out there,
but most of the crowd are in the timber above and below. There will be
plenty on the watch, and it isn't possible that I can gallop out through
them without being heard. Dandy and I have got to sneak for it until
we're spotted, or clear of them, then away we go. I hope to work well
out towards the bluffs before they catch a glimpse of me, then lie flat
and go for all I'm worth to where we left the regiment. Then you bet it
won't be long before the old crowd will be coming down just a humping.
I'll have 'em here by six o'clock, if, indeed, I don't find them coming
ahead to-night. Just you keep up your grit, and we'll do our level best,
Dandy and I; won't we, old boy? Now I want to see Dana a minute and the
other wounded fellows." And he went and bent down over them saying a
cheery word to each; and rough, suffering men held out feeble hands to
take a parting grip, and looked up into his brave young face. He had
long known how the rank and file regarded him, but had been disposed to
laugh it off. To-night as he stopped to say a cheering word to the
Wounded, and looked down at some pale, bearded face that had stood at
his shoulder in more than one tight place in the old Apache days in
Arizona, and caught the same look of faith and trust in him, something
like a quiver hovered for a minute about his lips, and his own brave
eyes grew moist. They knew he was daring death to save them, but that
was a view of the case that did not seem to occur to him at all. At last
he came to Dana lying there a little apart. The news that Ray was going
to "ride for them" had been whispered all through the bivouac by this
time, and Dana turned and took Ray's hand in both his own.

"God speed you, old boy! If you make it all safe, get word to mother
that I didn't do so badly in my first square tussel, will you?"

"If I make it, you'll be writing it yourself this time to-morrow night.
Even if I don't make it, don't you worry, lad. The colonel and Stannard
ain't the fellows to let us shift for ourselves with the country full of
Cheyennes. They'll be down here in two days, anyhow. Good-by, Dana; keep
your grip and we'll larrup 'em yet."

Then he turned back to Wayne, Hunter, and the doctor.

"One thing occurs to me, Hunter. You and six or eight men take your
carbines and go up-stream with a dozen horses until you come to the
rifle-pits. Be all ready. If I get clear through you won't hear any row,
but if they sight or hear me before I get through, then, of course,
there will be the biggest kind of an excitement, and you'll hear the
shooting. The moment it begins give a yell; fire your guns; go whooping
up the stream with the horses as though the whole crowd were trying to
cut out that way, _but get right back_. The excitement will distract
them and help me. Now, good-by, and good luck to you, crowd."

"Ray, will you have a nip before you try it? You must be nearly used up
after this day's work." And Wayne held out his flask to him.

"No. I had some hot coffee just ten minutes ago, and I feel like a
four-year-old. I'm riding new colors; didn't you know it? By Jove!" he
added, suddenly, "this is my first run under the Preakness blue." Even
there and then he thought too quickly to speak her name. "Now, then,
some of you crawl out to the south edge of the timber with me, and lie
flat on the prairie and keep me in sight as long as you can." He took
one more look at his revolver. "I'm drawing to a bob-tail. If I fail,
I'll bluff; if I fill, I'll knock spots out of any threes in the
Cheyenne outfit."

Three minutes more and the watchers at the edge of the timber have seen
him, leading Dandy by the bridle, slowly, stealthily, creeping out into
the darkness; a moment the forms of man and horse are outlined against
the stars: then, are swallowed up in the night. Hunter and the sergeants
with him grasp their carbines and lie prone upon the turf, watching,
waiting.

In the bivouac is the stillness of death. Ten soldiers--carbine in
hand--mounted on their unsaddled steeds are waiting in the darkness at
the upper rifle-pits for Hunter's signal. If he shout, every man is to
yell and break for the front. Otherwise, all is to remain quiet. Back at
the watch-fire under the bank Wayne is squatting, watch in one hand,
pistol in the other. Near by lie the wounded, still as their comrades
just beyond,--the dead. All around among the trees and in the sand-pits
up- and down-stream, fourscore men are listening to the beating of their
own hearts. In the distance, once in a while, is heard the yelp of
coyote or the neigh of Indian pony. In the distance, too, are the gleams
of Indian fires, but they are far beyond the positions occupied by the
besieging warriors. Darkness shrouds them. Far aloft the stars are
twinkling through the cool and breezeless air. With wind, or storm, or
tempest, the gallant fellow whom all hearts are following would have
something to favor, something to aid; but in this almost cruel stillness
nothing under God can help him,--nothing but darkness and his own brave
spirit.

"If I get through this scrape in safety," mutters Wayne between his set
teeth, "the --th shall never hear the last of this work of Ray's."

"If I get through this night," mutters Ray to himself, far out on the
prairie now, where he can hear tramping hoofs and guttural voices, "it
will be the best run ever made for the Sanford blue, though I do make
it."

Nearly five minutes have passed, and the silence has been unbroken by
shot or shout. The suspense is becoming unbearable in the bivouac, where
every man is listening, hardly daring to draw breath. At last Hunter,
rising to his knees, which are all a tremble with excitement, mutters to
Sergeant Roach, who is still crouching beside him,--

"By Heaven! I believe he'll slip through without being seen."

Hardly has he spoken when far, far out to the southwest two bright
flashes leap through the darkness. Before the report can reach them
there comes another, not so brilliant. Then, the ringing bang, bang of
two rifles, the answering crack of a revolver.

"Quick, men. _Go!_" yells Hunter, and darts headlong through the timber
back to the stream. There is a sudden burst of shots and yells and
soldier cheers; a mighty crash and sputter and thunder of hoofs up the
stream-bed; a foot dash, yelling like demons, of the men at the west end
in support of the mounted charge in the bed of the stream. For a minute
or two the welkin rings with shouts, shots (mainly those of the startled
Indians), then there is as sudden a rush back to cover, without a man or
horse hurt or missing. In the excitement and darkness the Cheyennes
could only fire wild, but now the night air resounds with taunts and
yells and triumphant war-whoops. For full five minutes there is a
jubilee over the belief that they have penned in the white soldiers
after their dash for liberty. Then, little by little, the yells and
taunts subside. Something has happened to create discussion in the
Cheyenne camps, for the crouching soldiers can hear the liveliest kind
of a pow-wow far up-stream. What does it mean? Has Ray slipped through,
or--have they caught him?

Despite pain and weakness, Wayne hobbles out to where Sergeant Roach is
still watching and asks for tidings.

"I can't be sure, captain; one thing's certain, the lieutenant rode like
a gale. I could follow the shots a full half-mile up the valley, where
they seemed to grow thicker, and then stop all of a sudden in the midst
of the row that was made down here. They've either given it up and have
a big party out in chase, or else they've got him. God knows which. If
they've got him, there'll be a scalp-dance over there in a few minutes,
curse them!" And the sergeant choked.

Wayne watched some ten minutes without avail. Nothing further was seen
or heard that night to indicate what had happened to Ray except once.
Far up the valley he saw a couple of flashes among the bluffs, so did
Roach, and that gave him hope that Dandy had carried his master in
safety that far at least.

He crept back to the bank and cheered the wounded with the news of what
he had seen. Then another word came in ere long. An old sergeant had
crawled out to the front, and could hear something of the shouting and
talking of the Indians. He could understand few words only, though he
had lived among the Cheyennes nearly five years. They can barely
understand one another in the dark, and use incessant gesticulation to
interpret their own speech; but the sergeant gathered that they were
upbraiding somebody for not guarding a _coulée_, and inferred that some
one had slipped past their pickets or they wouldn't be making such a
row.

That the Cheyennes did not propose to let the besieged derive much
comfort from their hopes was soon apparent. Out from the timber up the
stream came sonorous voices shouting taunt and challenge, intermingled
with the vilest expletives they had picked up from their cowboy
neighbors, and all the frontier slang in the Cheyenne vocabulary.

"Hullo! sogers; come out some more times. We no shoot. Stay there: we
come plenty quick. Hullo! white chief, come fight fair; soger heap
'fraid! Come, have scalp-dance plenty quick. Catch white soldier; eat
him heart bime by."

"Ah, go to your grandmother, the ould witch in hell, ye
musthard-sthriped convict!" sings out some irrepressible Paddy in reply,
and Wayne, who is disposed to serious thoughts, would order silence, but
it occurs to him that Mulligan's crude sallies have a tendency to keep
the men lively.

"I can't believe they've got him," he whispers to the doctor. "If they
had they would soon recognize him as an officer and come bawling out
their triumph at bagging a chief. His watch, his shoes, his spurs, his
underclothing, would all betray that he was an officer, though he hasn't
a vestige of uniform. Pray God he is safe!"

Will you follow Ray and see? Curiosity is what lures the fleetest deer
to death, and a more dangerous path than that which Ray has taken one
rarely follows. Will you try it, reader?--just you and I? Come on, then.
We'll see what our Kentucky boy "got in the draw," as he would put it.

Ray's footfall is soft as a kitten's as he creeps out upon the prairie;
Dandy stepping gingerly after him, wondering but obedient. For over a
hundred yards he goes, until both up- and down-stream he can almost see
the faint fires of the Indians in the timber. Farther out he can hear
hoof-beats and voices, so he edges along westward until he comes
suddenly to a depression, a little winding "cooley" across the prairie,
through which in the early spring the snows are carried off from some
ravine among the bluffs. Into this he noiselessly feels his way and
Dandy follows. He creeps along to his left and finds that its general
course is from the southwest. He knows well that the best way to watch
for objects in the darkness is to lie flat on low ground so that
everything approaching may be thrown against the sky. His plainscraft
tells him that by keeping in the water-course he will be less apt to be
seen, but will surely come across some lurking Indians. That he
expects. The thing is to get as far through them as possible before
being seen or heard, then mount and away. After another two minutes'
creeping he peers over the western bank. Now the fires up-stream can be
seen in the timber, and dim, shadowy forms pass and repass. Then close
at hand come voices and hoof-beats. Dandy pricks up his ears and wants
to neigh, but Ray grips his nostrils like a vice, and Dandy desists. At
rapid lope, within twenty yards, a party of half a dozen warriors go
bounding past on their way down the valley, and no sooner have they
crossed the gulley than he rises and rapidly pushes on up the dry sandy
bed. Thank heaven! there are no stones. A minute more and he is crawling
again, for the hoof-beats no longer drown the faint sound of Dandy's
movements. A few seconds more and right in front of him, not a stone's
throw away, he hears the deep tones of Indian voices in conversation.
Whoever they may be they are in the "cooley" and watching the prairie.
They can see nothing of him, nor he of them. Pass them in the
ten-foot-wide ravine he cannot. He must go back a short distance, make a
sweep to the east so as not to go between those watchers and the guiding
fires, then trust to luck. Turning stealthily he brings Dandy around,
leads back down the ravine for some thirty yards, then turns to his
horse, pats him gently one minute, "Do your prettiest for your colors,
my boy," he whispers; springs lightly, noiselessly to his back, and at
cautious walk comes up on the level prairie, with the timber behind him
three hundred yards away. Southward he can see the dim outline of the
bluffs. Westward--once that little _arroya_ is crossed, he knows the
prairie to be level and unimpeded, fit for a race; but he needs to make
a _détour_ to pass the Indians guarding it, get way beyond them, cross
it to the west far behind them, and then look out for stray parties.
Dandy ambles lightly along, eager for fun and little appreciating the
danger. Ray bends down on his neck, intent with eye and ear. He feels
that he has got well out east of the Indian picket unchallenged, when
suddenly voices and hoofs come bounding up the valley from below. He
must cross their front, reach the ravine before them, and strike the
prairie beyond. "Go, Dandy!" he mutters with gentle pressure of leg, and
the sorrel bounds lightly away, circling southwestward under the guiding
rein. Another minute and he is at the _arroya_ and cautiously
descending, then scrambling up the west bank, and then from the darkness
comes savage challenge, a sputter of pony hoofs. Ray bends low and gives
Dandy one vigorous prod with the spur, and with muttered prayer and
clinched teeth and fists he leaps into the wildest race for his life.

Bang! bang! go two shots close behind him. Crack! goes his pistol at a
dusky form closing in on his right. Then come yells, shots, the uproar
of hoofs, the distant cheer and charge at camp, a breathless dash for
and close along under the bluffs where his form is best concealed, a
whirl to the left into the first ravine that shows itself, and despite
shots and shouts and nimble ponies and vengeful foes, the Sanford colors
are riding far to the front, and all the racers of the reservations
cannot overhaul them.



CHAPTER XV.

RESCUE AT DAWN.


The short July night wears rapidly away in the high latitudes of the
Northwest. It is barely dark at nine, and in six hours

    "Morn, in the white wake of the morning star,
    Comes furrowing all the Orient into gold."

Yet the night wears wearily, watchfully away in the bivouac down among
the cottonwoods south of the Black Hills. Exhausted with the excitement
and fatigue of the day, some few men sleep fitfully at times, and other
few doze once in a while among the watchers. All the livelong night
there is jubilee among the Indians above and below. They keep up their
howlings and war-dances in prospective triumph, for, so far as they can
learn, they have done no more damage to the soldiers than the killing of
a few horses and the wounding of some half a dozen men. Their own loss
has been greater than that, and there is mourning for some of the braves
slain in the combat of the day. They know that escape is impossible to
the soldiers. They feel that with another day they can wear out the
besieged; tempt them into firing off their ammunition, and, if they can
only keep off their friends,--the regiment,--they have them sure.

All the same it is pleasing to Indian ideas of humor to keep up a
delusion among the besieged of having captured their messenger. _We_
know Ray is safely off, but Wayne and his men have no such comfort, for,
for hours the Indians shout their taunts of "Catch white soger; eat 'um
heart," and in their deep anxieties many of the men seem ready to
believe it. To tell the truth, Wayne has hard work keeping up the pluck
and spirits of some of the men, and towards morning the sufferings of
the wounded are more than he can bear. Every little while the roystering
Indians send a rattling fusillade in among the timbers, but do no great
damage beyond making people uncomfortable. Some of them crawl close to
the lines of sentries, but find nothing to encourage further inspection
or advance. But Dana begs to be lifted in his blanket and carried some
distance up-stream, where he can lie on the sand and get away from the
sound of others' suffering, and Wayne and Hunter, with two or three men,
bear him thither, and there, under the starlight and the waning moon,
they lie at full length and softly talk over the situation. There is no
disguising the truth. Their condition is most precarious: hemmed in on
every side; ammunition almost gone, thanks to the reckless extravagance
of the men in twelve hours' fighting, their only hope lies in Ray's
reaching the --th that night and "routing out" the whole command for a
dash to the rescue. They never dreamed, poor fellows, that Ray would
never find the --th where they left it. All hope would have died had
they known their comrades had gone.

Yet that very circumstance stands at this moment in their favor. The
Cheyennes had learned with huge delight that the strange soldiers had
marched off westward, apparently abandoning that watch near the
reservations, and leaving it safe for them to scurry forth with bag and
baggage, with women and children, on their rush for freedom--and Sitting
Bull.

Sighting this little detachment of soldiers venturing on down the valley
instead of hurrying back, they had signalled all over the country
calling in war-parties to their aid, and formulated their scheme to
ambuscade and "corral" it at the narrows of the valley; but Ray's
vigilance and plainscraft had defeated that scheme; though they had good
chances yet, if they only knew where the regiment had gone. Late the
previous evening it had disappeared behind a prominent headland far up a
valley farther to the south, and probably had there gone into camp for
the night. Late _this_ night they get the news that gives rise to vast
speculation and some genuine anxiety. Runners come in who say that
instead of camping there, the White Chief rode all night; turned
northward soon as it was dark; crossed this very valley far above them
at dawn, and where he went from there they couldn't say. They dare not
follow. Was it possible the White Chief was going to beat them at their
own tactics? Could it be that he was going to head them off? Attack them
in the early morning far to the northwest? Lying on the ground, the
officers heard many hoof-beats dying away in the distance, and wondered
what it might mean. It meant that some fifty of their foemen had
galloped away to look for their families and the rest of the band, and
warn them of the new danger. It was more than certain that no help could
come to the soldiers in the valley; but they must guard their people
against this mysterious move. At daybreak those left behind would resume
the effort to dislodge the soldiers, and then there would be a revel.

And daybreak comes all too soon. Far to the east the stars are paling,
and a grayish veil rises slowly from the horizon. One by one the
night-lamps in the heavens lose their sparkle and radiance, as the
filament of the dawn shrouds and stifles them. Far down the valley
tumbling outlines of ridge and height are carved out in sharper relief
against the lightening sky. There is a stir in the leaves o'erhead and
the soft rustle of the morning breeze. Presently the pallid veil at the
east takes on a purplish blush, that is changing every instant to a
ruddier hue. Faces are beginning to be dimly visible in the groups of
defenders, pinched and drawn and cold in the nipping air, and Wayne
notes with a half sob how blue poor Dana's lips are. The boy's thoughts
are far away. Is he wandering? Is it fever already?

His eyes are closed, and he whispered to himself but a moment ago.
Hunter is taking a cat-nap. Wayne is too anxious, too unhappy to sleep,
and his wound is stiff and painful. A veteran first sergeant comes
creeping up to them for orders, and they are brief enough:

"Don't let the men waste a shot. It's our only hope of holding out until
help can come. They'll be on us again soon as it is fairly light."

"Captain," whispers Dana, "have you been awake all the time?"

"Yes, lad. Why?"

"Have you heard nothing,--no signal?"

"Nothing; not a sound. Why do you ask?"

"I'm afraid I've been only dreaming; yet I thought, I surely thought a
while ago I heard a trumpet-call,--far away--far out on the prairie."

"Which way, Dana?"

"Off to the southwest. I didn't like to speak of it, but I thought I
heard it twice."

"If Ray got through all right that's where the --th should be coming
from. It may be, Dana. It may be, for they'd lose no time, though Ray
thought six would be the earliest hour at which he could fetch them even
at a trot. It's only about three now, or a little after. I'll put men on
watch and have them listen. Go and bring the trumpeter to me," he said,
to one of the men.

The light grows broader every moment. Already forms can be dimly
distinguished up and down the stream-bed, and mounted Indians darting
about out on the prairie. A sergeant comes up to the group of officers
with quiet salute:

"Those fellows up-stream are getting ready, captain. Several of them
mounted a few minutes ago and rode away rapidly towards the southwest. I
saw others out on the prairie heading over to the bluffs. They seemed
excited-like, and looked to be in full fighting trim."

Dana's eyes light with eager hope.

"Captain, they heard what I did. Some of our fellows _are_ off there,
taking short cut across country to find us, and are signalling with
their trumpets. Let us go farther out,--to the prairie. I'm sure I heard
it, and we can answer."

Almost broad daylight now, though it is long before sun-up, but in very
short time Wayne, Dana, and the trumpeter are crouching just at the edge
of the timber, listening, listening, while a prayer goes up with every
heart-beat.

At last Dana's weakness tells upon him. He sinks down at the bottom of a
tree exhausted, but his ears are still alert. Suddenly he springs again
to his knee. "There! for God's sake listen. What is that?"

And far, far out to the southwest, far beyond the line of bluffs, there
rises upon the still morning air soft, clear, floating, and oh! sweeter
than the harmonies of seraphs, the quick, joyous notes of officer's
call. Oh, heaven! was ever reveille so blessed?

"Up with you, Rheinhart! Answer them! Blow your whole soul into it, but
make 'em hear!" shouts Wayne; and the burly young Prussian rolls over on
his back, braces his copper clarion at his lips, and rouses the echoes
of the valley with the ringing, jubilant, pealing reply. None of the
dolorous business of Roland at Roncesvalles about Rheinhart's
performance this time! It is like the bugle-horn of Roderick vich Alpine
Dhu,--

    "One blast were worth a thousand men."

From rifle-pit and stunted log, from shore to shore, the timber leaps
into life and rings with the triumphant cheers of the besieged.

"Down with you, you idiots! back to your holes!" yell the officers, none
too soon, for with vengeful howls every Indian in the valley seems at
the instant to open fire, and once more the little command is encircled
by the cordon of savage sharpshooters. Holding their own fire except
where some rabid young foeman too daringly exposes himself, the men wait
and listen. Little by little the fury of the attack draws away, and only
scattering shots annoy them. They can see, though, that already many
Indians are mounting and scurrying off to the north side of the valley,
though plenty remain in the timber to keep vigilant watch over their
every move. Hunter begs permission to mount and move out with twenty men
to guide the rescuers, but there is no ammunition to warrant it. All men
are needed just where they are. Scattering shots keep coming in; the
yells of the Indians still continue; the trumpeter raises a lusty blast
from time to time, but officers and men are again all eagerly listening.

"They're coming! they're coming!" is next the cry, for distant shots are
heard, then the thunder of hoofs, the shouts and yells of excited
Indians; then warrior after warrior comes darting back over the bluffs
at the south, springing from his pony at the crest, as though for one
more shot at rapidly-advancing foe; more shots and yells; a
trumpet-blare, and then,--then ringing like clarion over the turmoil of
the fight,--echoing far across the still valley, the sound of a glorious
voice shouting the well-known words of command, "Left--front--into
line--_gallop_!" And Dana can hold in no longer. Almost sobbing, he
cries aloud,--

"Jack Truscott, by all that's glorious! I'd know the voice among a
million!"

Who in the --th would not? Who in the old regiment had not leaped at its
summons time and again? Who that was there will ever forget the
scene,--the welcome those wellnigh hopeless fellows give it now? Dana's
men break from their cover, and cheering madly, go dashing through the
timber towards their persecutors of the day before. Hunter's skirmishers
push eastward through the trees for one more crack at the besiegers.
Others--cheering too, yet spell-bound--cling to the spot, and go wild
with joy as the long blue line comes flashing into view across the
bluffs from the south, the just rising sun flaming at their crests and
tinting the wild war-bonnets of the foe, who go tumbling and scurrying
away before them; and their old adjutant comes thundering down the
slopes with ninety splendid troopers at his heels, sweeping the valley
of their late humiliation,--riding home to the rescue.

Fired by the sight, some of Wayne's men seize their saddles and throw
them on their excited steeds, but before they can mount Truscott's men
are whirling up and down the valley, driving the few remaining warriors
to the other side, and leaving some wounded ponies and two bedizened
braves prone upon the prairies. Quickly the leader comes darting through
the timber with hearty, yet laughing, greeting for Wayne, and a wave of
the hand to the cheering group. There is no time for compliments now.
Out go the skirmishers across the river bottom, through the trees, and
spinning away across the valley northward, whirling the Cheyennes before
them until they are driven to the bluffs. Then, as the "halt" is
sounded, and the vigilant line forms big semicircle to ward off further
attack, and the little pack-mules with their escort come ambling briskly
in from the south, Jack Truscott comes quietly back, lining his
broad-brimmed scouting-hat and wiping the sweat from his brow; and as
they throng about him--officers and men--almost the first question asked
is,--

"And where is Ray?"

"Safe, but badly wounded."

And then little by little the story was told. But for Ray no rescue
could have come. The regiment was miles away across country. Truscott's
squadron had reached their late camp the previous evening to find them
gone. There was a stockade there, where, with underground defences and
stout palings, a little company of infantry stood guard over a lot of
ammunition and supplies. They found there the sick and two wounded of
the regiment, a doctor and some scouts who had backed out of going, and
they also found a letter to Truscott from the colonel commanding,
telling him that Wayne ought to be somewhere west of him up the next
valley, to push on and join him, and then together they would be strong
enough to ride through the Cheyenne trails and find the regiment.
Fearing that Wayne would get too far up the valley, Truscott decided to
make a night march due north and strike it some distance up-stream. From
four P.M. until eleven they had rested, then had coffee, fed the horses,
and started. Somewhere about one o'clock through the dim light of the
waning moon they caught sight of a mounted man rapidly nearing them from
the east, and heard the whinny of a horse. That was enough to prove
'twas no Indian. Who could it be? One or two flankers galloped to meet
him, and the next thing a sergeant came rushing to Truscott at the head
of column.

"My God! captain, it's Loot'nant Ray, an' he's most dead."

In an instant Truscott had halted the command and was at the side of his
old friend, whom the men had lowered, weak and faint, to the ground. The
surgeon came, administered stimulant, examined and rebound his wound; a
bullet had torn through the right thigh, and he had bled fearfully, but
all he seemed to think of was the errand on which he came. In few words
he told of Wayne's position, pointed out the shortest way, and bade them
be off at once. Three men were left with him, one galloped back to the
station for an ambulance and the hospital attendant there, and with his
faint blessing and "good luck to you, fellows!" Ray had sent them at
lively lope bound for the valley and the rescue. There were men that
July morning who hid their heads to hide their tears as Truscott quietly
told of Ray's heroism and suffering, his narrow escape, his imminent
dangers, all met and borne that they might live. There were others who
cared not if their tears were seen. There was no one there who did not
vow that it would go hard with him if ever man ventured to malign Billy
Ray in his presence; but there was no one there who dreamed that even
while daring death to save them the man whose praise was on every lip
stood bitterly in need of friends, that blackest calumny, that lowest
intrigue, had conspired to pull him down.

It was a week before the four companies rejoined the --th, and the
reunited regiment pushed northwestward towards the Big Horn Mountains;
but by that time Ray with other wounded was being carefully wheeled
back to Russell, where the news of his heroic exploit had preceded him,
and where widely different feelings had thereby been excited. One
household heard it as it will never be forgotten. Mrs. Truscott and Miss
Sanford were just seating themselves at breakfast one bright morning,
when Mrs. Stannard came rushing in all aglow with mingled excitement and
emotion.

"Hurrah for the Sanford colors!" she cried. "Read that! I cannot,--I
cannot!" And throwing them a long despatch, she astonished her next-door
neighbors by fairly bursting into tears.

It was with difficulty that the ladies could recover composure in time
for the inevitable visit that they knew must come from Mrs. Whaling, and
_did_ come at ten o'clock.



CHAPTER XVI.

HOW WE HEARD THE NEWS.


Some strange things had been happening at Russell. Among others the
midnight serenade at Mrs. Truscott's had been repeated. Miss Sanford and
Mrs. Truscott both heard it this time, and when Mrs. Truscott would have
gone to the window to peep and see who it was who sang so delightfully,
Miss Sanford restrained her, quietly saying that this was his second
visit, and she knew it to be Sergeant Wolf. Mrs. Turner and other
ladies, eagerly and naturally curious to find out who it was that
serenaded one house in the garrison twice, and similarly honored no
others, had plied Mrs. Truscott with questions. It was agreed that they
should tell Mrs. Stannard and seek her advice, but avoid all talk with
others. Such resolutions are all very well, but rather impracticable in
view of the indomitable energy with which the sex will pursue a train of
inquiry. It was delightfully romantic, said the ladies, delightfully
sensational some of them thought, and their theory was that some one
must be paying his devotions in this way to Miss Sanford, which would
account for his total obliviousness to the charms of others--married and
single. Mr. Gleason, when first questioned, had assumed that air of
conscious negation, of confirmatory disclaimer, which is calculated to
impress the hearer with the belief that, despite denial, he was
deserving the soft impeachment. Gleason would gladly have assumed the
responsibility. For a whole day he was the hero, to many feminine minds,
of the serenades, and the recipient of a dozen warm invitations to come
and sing for them that evening; but before nightfall one theory received
a shock which was followed in an hour by another. The first was when
Mrs. Whaling placidly asserted that she knew all about the serenades.
That while the supposed unknown had honored Miss Sanford's window twice,
it was getting to be an old story at the colonel's, as the troubadour
had appeared under her Cecilia's window almost every night for--oh, she
didn't know how long. Cecilia had blushingly confessed that morning, and
she, Mrs. Whaling, had frequently heard his tinkling guitar and sweet
tenor at odd times. Now, among the infantry ladies it was an older story
that fair Cecilia had a way of arrogating to herself attentions never
intended for her, and of having a fertility of invention which enabled
her at a moment's notice to discount any story of devotions to another
girl with exuberant descriptions of others more intense of which she was
the prior object. Any statement of her sainted child was promptly backed
by her adoring mother, and, well, there was disbelief, not loud but
deep, of this statement among the infantry ladies. As for "ours,"--Mrs.
Stannard listened in silence but with glistening eyes; Mrs. Truscott and
Miss Sanford with evident relief; Mrs. Turner and Mrs. Wilkins with
exclamatory interest.

The second shock came when a party of ladies, Miss Cecilia Whaling being
of the number, alluded to Mr. Gleason as the probable Manrico, and this
for the purpose of "drawing out" Mrs. Turner. "Nonsense!" said Mrs.
Turner. "Mr. Gleason has no more voice than a frog. He thinks he can
sing, but--you just ought to hear him."

"Why, but, Mrs. _Turner_," said one of the fair advocates, eager to
sustain the theory she advanced, "Mr. Gleason as much as admitted that
he was the man."

"He? of course he would! Mr. Gleason imagines there is no accomplishment
he does not possess. If you need conviction ask him to sing."

Ah, me! And this was the same lady who so vehemently stood up for
Gleason in the days when he was her devotee--before she discovered that
poker had attractions for him before which her own could but "pale their
ineffectual fires. _Tantæne animis coelestibus iræ?_"

If it wasn't Gleason, then, who was it? That was what the ladies
demanded to know,--Mrs. Turner and Mrs. Wilkins being as determined as
their sisters of the infantry. It was evident all too soon that the
subject annoyed and embarrassed Mrs. Truscott. She colored painfully
when it was mentioned in her presence. This only whetted the zeal and
inquisitiveness of the inquisitors. In one form or other it was
constantly being brought up in her presence, and her every look and
gesture was narrowly scanned. Mrs. Turner grew wild with curiosity. Here
was a mystery indeed! From Mrs. Stannard she could extract nothing. From
Miss Sanford she received smiling, gracious treatment at all times, but
nothing tangible in the way of information. She almost made up her mind
to be gracious to Mr. Gleason, to be enticing, in fact; but before her
wiles could take effect other developments had rendered that course
impracticable.

Gleason himself, as we have seen, had taken prompt measures to satisfy
himself as to the identity of the serenader. His next step was to
institute inquiries as to just what was meant by these demonstrations on
part of the sergeant. Insidious questions were propounded to Mrs.
Stannard, Mrs. Truscott, and Miss Sanford, only to mystify him the more.
They would say nothing to enlighten him; but he plainly saw that each
one of the three was conscious that Wolf was the midnight visitor, and
that two of the three were in possession of knowledge with regard to the
mysterious soldier which he could not fathom. He took to studying Wolf;
sent for him frequently; had long talks with him ostensibly as to his
duties with recruits, but began to "draw him out" as to his past. All he
could learn was that he had come to this country determined to enlist,
had served a few months with Truscott at the Point, and had secured a
transfer because he wanted active service. He declined to tell what had
been his connections or his life before coming to our shores, but he was
evidently a man of education and refinement; he was an admirable
horseman, swordsman, and drill-master; he had evidently been trained for
the military profession. Now, how was it that he had so readily acceded
to the detail which kept him on duty at Russell, when, if he so wanted
active service, he could have been sent with the regiment? Gleason's one
interpretation of that was that the sergeant "loved, alas, above his
station." It behooved him now to find out which of the ladies at
Truscott's had inspired this romantic passion. It occurred to him that
the discovery might be made very useful. He was plainly losing ground
there. Invitations to tea and dinner had not been forthcoming since
Truscott's squadron marched away, and his efforts to see Miss Sanford
alone had been frustrated. Having secured the detail which kept him at
the post while the regiment was out roughing it, he relaxed the
assiduity of his attentions to Mrs. Whaling, but kept up his hand with
the old colonel through the medium of pool and billiards, though he lost
less frequently. He was always having confidential chats with the
colonel, and when Captain Buxton came through on his way to catch the
regiment, three days after Ray's departure, Gleason took him to see the
colonel, and the three were closeted for some time together. It worried
Mrs. Stannard, who felt sure there was mischief brewing, and she so
wrote to the major, who tackled Buxton the moment he joined with
questions about Ray, and Buxton was dumb as Sam Weller's drum with a
hole in it. Ray was there and "chipper" as a cricket. Everybody noted
how blithe, buoyant, and energetic he was, but this very trait prevented
Stannard's having more than one talk with him before the separation of
Wayne's command from the regiment. Ray was off on scouts from morning
till night. Stannard frankly told him how worried he had been, and Ray
looked amazed, declaring he had never been more temperate, and that his
accounts were straight as a string. He had played billiards but had not
touched a card.

When told of the allegation that he had been incessantly with Rallston,
and had cut loose from Buxton and Gleason, Ray replied that it was
incomprehensible to him how any man who knew Buxton and Gleason could
blame him for that. He never spoke to Gleason, and as the two were
always together, he had no wish to embarrass their good times. He was
with Rallston, his brother-in-law, who had been most kind, hospitable,
and jolly; but Ray went on to say he found that Rallston tried to be
sharp in palming off some inferior horses upon them, and he had blocked
it. This had caused a "split," so to speak, but nothing of consequence,
as he had immediately started to rejoin. More than this there was no
time to talk of. Ray went with Wayne, Stannard with the --th, and they
saw nothing more of each other for many a long day. Meantime, Gleason
was getting in his work. Stannard had written briefly to his wife to
tell her what Ray had said, but she was a keen judge of character, and
she could not but note the reticence and evident embarrassment of the
young adjutant at Russell--a courteous and high-minded fellow--whenever
she mentioned Ray's name.

Failing in his effort to extract information from Sergeant Wolf, Gleason
changed his methods. He began worrying him, restricting his movements in
various ways, and hampering him with corrections and suggestions. One
day a bandsman, who was excellent as a clarionet- and violin-player,
took his discharge-papers on expiration of term of service, and the
bandmaster appeared at the adjutant's office with Sergeant Wolf to
announce that the sergeant was even a better musician than the
discharged man, and was desirous of giving up his "lance" rank and
entering the band. Colonel Whaling and his adjutant were delighted to
make a temporary transfer to meet the case and to write to Mr. Billings
for regimental sanction. All too late, Gleason heard of and tried to
stop it. It took Wolf out of his control and compelled him to resort to
watching him. He had so palpably given it to be understood that _he_ was
the sweet singer who had entranced the garrison in his midnight
serenades that Gleason now felt he could not go to the adjutant and tell
him that Wolf was the man, and that he must pen him up at night. Indeed,
he rather wanted to have more of the serenading. He sniffed a scandal,
and in his resentment at Mrs. Truscott's evident avoidance of him and
Miss Sanford's serene indifference, he was beginning to feel that he
could welcome anything that would besmirch their names or cloud their
domestic peace. From his soldier servant he learned that Wolf spent
hours in writing letters, most of which he burned or tore up; that he
held himself aloof from the bandsmen, and was trying to get a little
room to himself. Every night when he was officer of the day, and
occasionally when he was not, Gleason patrolled that back fence in
search of Wolf, and one night he was rewarded. He sprang suddenly from
his hiding-place, and the soldier turned and ran like a deer, distancing
Gleason in no time; but in his flight he had dropped a letter. Gleason
could hardly believe his eyes when he saw it lying there upon the
ground. It bore no superscription, but in three minutes the lieutenant
had rushed to his quarters, locked the doors, and shut himself up with
his prize. The family next door was startled by the shout of triumph and
delight with which he read the last lines. He almost kissed the letter
in his ecstasy. He hardly slept that night from excitement, and it was
the very next morning that Russell was electrified by the telegraphic
news that the --th had had sharp fighting; that the main body of the
regiment, early in the morning three days previous, had met and driven
back to the reservation a large force of Cheyennes seeking to join
Sitting Bull; that Captain Wayne's squadron had been surrounded and cut
off by others of the same tribe, and rescued by Truscott's squadron at
the same instant that the fight was going on at the War Bonnet; that
Wayne's people would undoubtedly have been massacred to a man--as their
ammunition was spent--but for the heroism of Ray, who had run the
gauntlet through the Cheyennes all alone in the darkness, found
Truscott's squadron going rapidly away in another direction, turned him
to the rescue just in the nick of time, and now, weak and wounded, was
being sent in to Russell; that there had been several men killed, quite
a number wounded, and that among these latter were Blake, Wayne, and
Dana; and that Blake, too, would be sent to Russell. Further
particulars came every hour or two. Every report had something
additional to say of Ray's valor, and though he ground his teeth in rage
at the thought of Ray's temporary exaltation, Gleason was philosopher
enough to know that no man was long a hero in garrison life, and so took
advantage of the excitement to go and besiege the ladies with
congratulations. How could they exclude him at such a time? Grace was in
an ecstasy of pride and joy over her Jack's splendid charge, and Marion
Sanford, who gloried in deeds of valor, sat wondering if it were really
true that she knew the man whose name was on every lip, gallant, daring
Ray,--that--that even then, as Truscott wired them, he never forgot he
was riding for her colors.

But it was delicious to hear Gleason: "I cannot rejoice too much,
ladies, that it was the troop _I_ so long commanded that made the
decisive charge. They have fulfilled my highest expectations," was an
oft repeated remark. And when Mrs. Whaling came the second time to
dispense tearful felicitations, she found him ready to say amen to her
pious suggestions that they should unite in praise and prayer to the
Throne of Mercy.

The man was indeed

            "A rogue in grain,
    Veneered with sanctimonious theory."

They--Grace and Marion--had early fled to their rooms and knelt in
overwhelming gratitude to thank the God they worshipped for the mercy
vouchsafed to those so near to them. He--the two-faced villain--held in
his pocket at that moment the letter with which he meant to crush the
woman who had dared to hold him aloof.

As yet, however, he had no intention of immediately using it. For the
time being, the general rejoicing among the ladies made it possible for
even a shirk like Gleason to be among them a good deal. They could talk
of nothing but how splendid it was to be with the regiment, and how
admirably this or that officer had behaved, and one would suppose that
such conversation would have been galling to an able-bodied listener;
but that pachydermatous quality, to which allusion has been made, stood
Gleason in good stead. He smiled serenely at all their shafts, and spoke
of the deeds of the regiment quite as though he had been an active
participant. He hung around Truscott's quarters a good deal, bringing
all manner of trivial items of news from time to time, and even
manufacturing them that he might have an excuse to see the ladies. He
was so constantly there on pretext after pretext that he overdid the
matter,--annoyed both the ladies by his persistency and his covert
allusions to Wolf and occasional flings at Ray. They begged Mrs.
Stannard to devise means to rid them of him at last; and one afternoon
when he appeared at the door and walked past the servant into the hall,
as was his custom, the maid had twice to repeat,--

"The ladies beg to be excused," before he would hear it.

"Say to Mrs. Truscott, with my compliments, that I have some further
news of the regiment," he said, in a voice he knew would penetrate the
rooms on the second floor, and it did; but Mrs. Stannard was there. He
had already called and spent an hour that very morning, and the ladies
had determined to check it.

"Mrs. Truscott's compliments," said the maid, smilingly, as she came
tripping down the stairs. "The ladies are lying down, and would he
please leave word. If it was anything important, of course Mrs. Truscott
would come."

"Oh, no," said Gleason, loudly; "say I'll call this evening after
retreat."

But when he came they were all on the piazza, Mrs. Stannard, too, and he
knew that he could not be too careful what tidings or rumors he
manufactured in her presence. Again, on the following morning, he
presented himself with similar plea. This time the ladies begged to be
excused.

"Will you say to Miss Sanford that I would greatly like to see her a few
minutes?" he persisted. And then Miss Sanford came to head of the
stairs,--no further.

"What is it, Mr. Gleason? I cannot come down," she said, very civilly,
but uncompromising for all that.

"Er--I hoped you felt like--er--taking a walk or something."

"Thanks, Mr. Gleason. I am too busy to-day."

"Well, shall we say to-morrow, then?" he persevered.

"To-morrow I go riding with Mrs. Stannard."

"Do you? What time? Perhaps I can arrange to take a gallop at the same
hour. You've never ridden with me yet." (Reproachfully.)

"You will have to ask Mrs. Stannard. Now, Mr. Gleason, I must go back to
my desk. Good-morning." And she vanished, sweet and smiling, and he
"went off mad," swearing mad.

That very afternoon an ambulance arrived from Laramie with Ray. Oh, what
a jubilee they had! and how those women fluttered around him as he sat
in a low reclining-chair on the piazza of the quarters made ready for
him! A young assistant surgeon was with him, whom Ray cajoled and
bullied alternately; called him such military pet names as "Pills,"
"Squills," and "Sawbones" whenever he had occasion to address him;
laughed him out of all his feeble protests against "exciting himself,"
and bade him reserve his ministrations for Blake, who would be in on the
morrow. The evening he came, after he had been shaved and bathed and
rebandaged, and had his hair trimmed, and had donned a very swell
brand-new fatigue uniform, in which he looked remarkably natty and well
despite a slight pallor, Ray had insisted on being trundled up the row
in a wheeled chair, and there at Mrs. Stannard's they had a little
rejoicing of their own,--Ray and the young surgeon being surrounded by
the ladies of the --th for an hour, when Mrs. Wilkins had to go off to
her brood, Mrs. Turner to visit some infantry friends, and then, awhile
longer, Miss Sanford sat and listened to the eager talk of Mrs. Stannard
and Grace with the dark-eyed cavalryman, and those dark eyes of his
sought hers every other minute. They tried to get him to talk of his
ride. Even Grace, declaring that he must, and turning laughingly to her
friend, exclaimed,--"Come, Maidie, add your plea. You have a right to
know how your colors went;" and Miss Sanford's face flamed with its
sudden blush, but she spoke no word. Mrs. Stannard, smiling and happy,
but seeing everything as usual, noted that Ray, too, had flushed
underneath the deep tan of his frontier complexion, but he came to the
rescue blithely as ever.

"Ah, Miss Sanford, it would have been easy enough if I had only had
Monarchist; though Dandy did nobly, bless him!"

It was a blissful evening, and all too short, for the doctor simply
ended it by wheeling Ray home at nine o'clock and putting him to bed.
For two days more he was incessantly up the row in his wheeled chair.
Twice Gleason saw him _tête-à-tête_ with Miss Sanford on the piazza, and
the garrison ladies were slyly twitting him with his prospects of being
cut out. The whole garrison by this time saw that he and Ray were not on
speaking terms. Blake, too, had arrived, a little cross and crabbed for
him, as his wounds were painful, consisting mainly of bruises where his
wounded horse had fallen and rolled with him. But he could limp about
and swear, and distort the poetry of the old masters and be savage and
cynical. He hated Gleason, ridiculed him in public, and hailed him as a
military Malvolio.

"See how he jets 'neath his (anything but) advancèd plumes!" he spouted,
as Gleason came gallanting some of the garrison ladies down the line,
desperately hoping to make Miss Sanford jealous. Gleason couldn't for
the life of him explain what Blake meant, but he knew there was sarcasm
in it, and hated him all the same. It would be but a few days before
both the wounded officers would be able to perform light duty. There
came a telegraphic inquiry as to that from way up at Fort Fetterman. The
colonel wanted to know, and old Whaling was pleased to send the
response. But it was a blow to Gleason. Within forty-eight hours it
brought other telegraphic orders from division headquarters to send
Lieutenant Gleason at once to Fort Fetterman, to join his regiment at
the earliest possible moment.

There was visible rejoicing in the garrison. Gleason had a vehement
interview with the post commander and galloped off to town, where he
spent much time telegraphing and awaiting replies. Then, to wear off the
tedium of the intervening hours, he resorted to several haunts well
known to the inhabitants of those days, and did more or less betting on
uncertain games, and much more wrestling with an insidious enemy. He was
crazy drunk when lifted from the hack at his quarters late that night;
and his orders were to take stage for Fetterman at three P.M. the
following day. Captain Webb, returning from his Kansas court, would
reach Cheyenne at noon and go by same conveyance. It was arranged that
the two officers should be in readiness at the fort, and the coach would
drive through and pick them up.



CHAPTER XVII.

A COWARD'S DEED.


Mr. Ray was hobbling about his room blithe as a lark. He had slept
soundly, awaked refreshed, enjoyed his breakfast and the music of the
band at guard-mounting; was rejoicing in the arrival of Dandy, who had
been sent down from Laramie, and was now in a little paddock in the
back-yard of the quarters he and Blake occupied in company. He had spent
an hour delightfully at Mrs. Truscott's, where the ladies were out
taking the morning air, and finally had come home to write to "the
mother" at Lexington, who, with all her pride in her boy's achievements,
was still vastly worried. She had written to the commanding officer, in
fact, and begged particulars from him, as her son was so averse to
writing. The colonel had shown the letter to Gleason, who happened, as
usual, to be on hand, and Gleason had remarked, "Well! That's what I
always told you. You'll get to know him after a while." Ray had written
a joyous letter to her and a few jolly lines to sister Nell, whose last
letter had perplexed him somewhat, and then, his work finished, he had
risen, and was limping around with the aid of a stick singing lustily
the old darkey camp-meeting lines,--

    "Oh, de elder's on de road, mos' done trabbelin',
    De elder's on de road, mos' done trabbelin',
    De elder's on de road, mos' done er trabbelin';
    I'se gwine to carry my soul to de Lawd,"

when the door opened, and in came Blake.

"What ho! Mercutio. _Your_ bosom's lord sits lightly on his throne,
anyhow! What you been drinking, Billy? Getting shot seems to agree with
you. Faith! lad, I've had a joyous morn, chaffing Gleason and
supervising his packing. What a damned sneak that fellow is, anyhow!" he
broke off, in sudden disgust.

"What's he been doing now?"

"Oh!--I can't tell you; just hinting and insinuating as usual. He's no
end grumpy at being sent off; seemed to think he had the inside track
with the Jersey bluebell. (Look out, William, or you'll be moth to that
candle next. She's the winningest thing I ever saw,--winning as four
aces, i' faith!) Gad! Did you hear the K. O. W.'s[A] speech about her?
Hullo! There they go now. She and Mrs. Stannard driving to town.
Wouldn't wonder if they were going just to get rid of having to say
good-by to Gleason. Come, Billy; let's limp over to the store and have a
cup of sack."

[Footnote A: Army _argot_ for commanding officer's wife.]

"B'lieve not, Blakie, I've--well, let up on it, so to speak."

"_What?_ Billy? Oh, come now, that's too--why, angels and ministers of
grace! Ray, is it love? delirious, delicious, delusive love, again?
Sweet William! Billy Doux! bless my throbbing heart! Odds boddikins!
man,--nay, think,--

    ''Tis best to freeze on to the old love
    Till you're solid as wheat with the new.'

Don't throw off on Hebe when Shebe, maybe, only fooling thee. Peace, say
you? Nay, then, I mean no harm, sweet Will. Here's me hand on't. But
for me, no dalliance with Venus,--

    'Her and her blind boy's scandalled company
    I have forsworn.'

You have my blessing, Billy, but--

    'Dost thou think because thou art virtuous
    There shall be no more cakes and ale?'

Avaunt! I'll hie me to metheglin and Muldoon's." And off he went,
leaving Ray half vexed, half shaken with laughter.

It must have been one o'clock when, looking up the row as he sat basking
in the sunshine, he saw Gleason come out of Captain Truscott's quarters
and rapidly nearing him along the walk. He had been idly looking over a
newspaper and thinking intently over matters which he was beginning to
find vastly interesting; but something in Gleason's appearance changed
Mr. Ray's expression from that of the mingled contempt and indifference
with which he generally met him into one of more active interest. The
big and bulky lieutenant lurched unmistakably as he walked; his face was
flushed, his eyes red. He was muttering angrily to himself, and shot a
quick but far from intelligent glance at Ray as he passed.

"Now, what on earth could have prompted him to go to Truscott's looking
like that?" thought Ray. "I wonder if Mrs. Truscott saw him. She did not
go driving."

Presently there came a little knot of ladies down the row. They stopped
to speak to Ray, and he rose, answering with smiling welcome, and they
on the sidewalk and he, leaning against one of the pillars of the low
wooden portico, were in the midst of a lively chat when his own door
opened and there came from within his quarters Mrs. Truscott's soldier
servant, an old cavalryman whose infirmities had made him glad, long
since, to exchange the functions of a trooper for those of general
messenger, bootblack, and scullion on better pay and rations. He had
come in from the rear. He held out a note.

"Mrs. Truscott said I was to find you at once, sir."

"Pardon me, ladies, I will see what this is," he said, opening it
leisurely with pleasant anticipations of an invitation for tea. He read
two lines: the color left his face. Amaze, consternation, distress, were
all pictured there in an instant.

"Excuse me! I must go to Mrs. Truscott at once," he said, and went
limping eagerly, rapidly up the walk.

"Why, what can she want?" asked one of the astonished ladies.

"I cannot imagine. Don't you think we--some of us ought to go and see if
anything is the matter?"

"Nonsense! It is nothing where we would be of any service. What makes me
wonder is what she can want of Mr. Ray; what made _him_ look so
startled?" (A pause.)

"Didn't Mrs. Turner say he was very attentive to her in Arizona, and
that she threw him over for Captain Truscott?" (Tentatively.)

"It wasn't that at _all!_" promptly interrupted another, with the
positive conviction of womankind. "Mrs. Wilkins told me all about it,
and I _know_. It was another girl Mr. Ray was in love with, and--no, it
was Mrs.--somebody--Tanner, whose husband was killed, and Mrs. Truscott
_did_ break an engagement with somebody----"

"I didn't know about _that_. What I say is that Mr. Ray was desperately
in love with Mrs. Truscott, because----"

And by this time all four were talking at once, and the thread of
conversation became involved.

But Ray had hurried on. What he read had indeed startled him.

     "Come to me the moment you get this. I am in fearful trouble.

                    "G. P. T."

He knocked at the door, and she herself opened it and led him into the
parlor. She was pale as death, her eyes distended with misery, every
feature quivering, every nerve trembling with fright and violent
emotion. She began madly walking up and down the little room wringing
her hands, shivering, gasping for breath.

"In heaven's name, what has happened?"

"Oh! I cannot tell you! I cannot tell you! It is too fearful! Oh, Mr.
Ray! Mr. Ray!"

"But you must tell me, Mrs. Truscott. Try and control yourself. Is
anything wrong with Jack?"

"Oh, no--no!"

"Good God! Has there been an accident? Has anything happened to Miss
Sanford?"

"No--no--no! It's only me!" she answered, hysterically inaccurate in her
wild wretchedness. "I'll tell you.--It is that awful man, Mr. Gleason.
He has been here and----"

Ray's face set like stone. The words came through clinched teeth now. He
seized her hand--released it as suddenly.

"Tell me instantly. There's no time to lose. He goes at three."

And then at last, half sobbing, half raging with indignation, she
managed to tell her story.

Gleason had come in half an hour before, and walking at once into the
parlor, had sent up word that he wished to see her. She asked to be
excused, but he called up that it was a matter of the utmost importance,
and she came down. He closed the parlor door, stood between her and
escape, and then proceeded to accuse her of slights and wrongs to him,
and of interfering with his rights as a gentleman to pay his addresses
to Miss Sanford,--of prejudicing her against him. He accused her husband
of treating him with disdain, and then--she saw he had been drinking
heavily--he with wild triumph told her she was in his power; he had long
suspected her. She strove to check him and to call her servants (for a
wonder they weren't at the keyhole), but she was powerless against him.
Then he went on to denounce her as a faithless wife, and to accuse her
of a vile correspondence with a soldier,--an enlisted man, a sergeant
formerly of her husband's troop. He drew a letter from his pocket, and
with sneering emphasis read it aloud. It was an ardent love-letter from
Wolf, in which he raved of his love for her, spoke of other letters he
had written, and reminded her of his happiness in past meetings, and
begged to be told when he could see her alone. She was horror-stricken;
indignantly denied any knowledge of him whatever. He simply sneered, and
told her he meant to take that letter "to crush her husband with" the
first time he asserted any authority over him, and to hold as a menace
over her. Then she implored him as an officer, as a gentleman, to give
it to her, but he only added sneering insult.

Ray could hardly wait till she had finished. At first he blazed with
wrath, then that odd preternatural coolness and _sang-froid_ seemed to
steal over him. He looked at his watch--One thirty: time enough--then
asked a quiet question or two. Had any one heard? Did any one else know?
Not a soul. Whom could she tell? Whom could she call but him,--Mrs.
Stannard and Marion being away?

"Don't worry a particle. I'll have him here on his knees if need be. You
say Wolf was the signature. Do you know any----Why! does he mean that
good-looking German?"

And to his amaze she was blushing painfully.

"Yes, Mr. Ray, and he was with us at the Point, and always coming to
borrow books of Jack, but indeed he never wrote me, nor I----"

"Hush! Who but a blackguard would think it? Just sit here quietly ten
minutes or so. You shall have that letter. If any one comes, I think it
would be best to keep quiet about this until later."

With that he went hobbling down the row. There were the ladies and they
accosted him to know if anything were wrong,--if they had not better go
to Mrs. Truscott? et cætera, et cætera; but he answered with
unaccustomed brilliancy and mendacity that he had a scare for nothing
because he could not read her fine Italian hand. She was only getting
some things ready to send to Captain Truscott by the stage to Fetterman.
All the same he slipped into his room, got his revolver, gave a quiet
twirl to the cylinder to see that all was working smoothly, and the next
minute, without knocking, banged into the front room of Gleason's
quarters, finding that worthy sluicing his head and face with cold water
at the washstand.

"Who's that?" he shouted, turning half round to find Ray standing less
than ten feet away with a cocked six-shooter gleaming in his hand. There
was dead silence a moment, then Ray's placid tones were heard,--

"Sit down, Gleason."

Gleason stood glaring at him an instant, a ghastly pallor stealing over
his face, his rickety legs trembling beneath him.

"Do you hear? _Sit down!_"

And though the words were slow, deliberate, clean-cut, there was a
hissing prolongation of the one sibillant that gave the impression of
the 'scape-valve of some pent-up power that bore a ton to the square
inch. There was a blaze, a glitter, in the dark, snapping eyes; there
was a pitiless, contemptuous, murderous set to the lips and jaw; a
fearful significance in the slowly-raising pistol hand and the pointing
finger of the other. Limp as a wet rag, cowering like a lashed cur,
terrified into speechlessness, Gleason dropped into the indicated
chair.

"If you attempt to move except at my bidding I'll shoot you like a dog.
I want that letter."

"What letter?" he whimpered, in his effort to dodge.

"The letter you were blackguard enough to steal and coward enough to
threaten Mrs. Truscott with. Where is it?"

"Ray, I swear I meant no harm! It was all a--a joke. I didn't dream
she'd take it so seriously. I picked it up in her yard, and meant to
give it----"

"Shut up! Where is it?"

"I--I haven't got it now."

"You lie! Bring it out, or I'll----" And again the rising pistol hand
with dread suggestiveness supplied the ellipsis.

Gleason began fumbling in the pocket of his waistcoat. It was evident
that he was on the verge of maudlin tears; he shook and trembled and
began protesting.

"Bah!" said Ray. "The idea of showing a pistol to such a whelp of
cowardice! Hand me the letter!" And with an impatient step forward, he
stood towering over the cringing, shrinking, pitiful object in the
chair. The nerveless hands presently drew forth a letter from an inner
pocket. This Ray quickly seized; glanced hurriedly over it, stowed it in
his blouse, then walked to the door.

Fancying him going, Gleason's drunken wits began to rally. He half rose,
and with a face distorted with rage, shook his fist, and his high,
reedy, querulous tenor could have been heard all over the house.

"You think you've downed me, but, by God! you'll pay for this! You'll
see if in one month's time you don't bemoan every insult you put upon
me, and if she don't wish----"

"_Silence!_ you whelp, you drivelling cur! Don't you dare utter her
name! Just what I'll do about this infamous business I don't know--yet.
A woman's name is too sacred to be dragged into court, even to rid the
service of such a foul blot as you; but, now mark me: by the God of
heaven, if you ever dare bring up this matter again to a single soul,
I'll kill you as I would a mad dog."

And with one long look of concentrated wrath, contempt, and menace, Ray
turned his back upon his abject enemy and left him. Gleason's orderly
entering the room a minute after was told to hand him a tumbler and the
whiskey-bottle, and with shaking hand the big subaltern tossed off a
bumper, while the man went on strapping and roping his trunks and
field-kit. Half an hour afterwards, half sobered and partially restored,
he was able to say a brief word of farewell to the post commander,--a
venomous word.

Meantime, stopping at his quarters a moment to return his revolver and
wash his hands, Ray went up the row to Truscott's. He had not time to
knock. Grace was waiting for his coming with an intensity of eagerness
and anxiety, and the moment she heard his step flew to the door and
admitted him, leading, as before, the way to the parlor.

Mrs. Turner had, meantime, been apprised by some of her infantry friends
that Mrs. Truscott had sent a note to Mr. Ray, and also that there must
be something queer going on. Mr. Ray had been much agitated at first and
had hurried thither, and heaven only knows the variety of conjectures
propounded. By the time Ray was seen coming up the row again there were
four ladies on Mrs. Turner's piazza, who were vehemently interested in
his next move. They watched his going to Truscott's; but, of course,
watching was perfectly justifiable in view of their anxiety about her.

"Did you see?" said Mrs. Turner. "He didn't even knock. She was waiting
to let him in."

It was by no means an unfrequent thing for any one of the ladies of the
garrison to receive a visit from some old and tried friend of hers and
her husband's while the latter was in the field. Mrs. Turner never
thought anything of having officers call day or evening, though, as a
rule, there was a sentiment against it, and the majority of the
ladies--especially the elders--thought it wrong for the young matrons to
receive the visits of young officers at any time when the head of the
house was far away. Now that there were only four young officers in
garrison and more than a dozen ladies, the feeling had strengthened to
the extent of considerable talk. It was therefore the unanimous view of
the ladies on Mrs. Turner's piazza that in Mrs. Truscott's receiving two
visits from Mr. Ray in one morning, under circumstances provokingly
mysterious, there was something indecorous, to say the least, and unless
they knew the why and the wherefore, it was their intention to so
declare. "Indeed!" said Mrs. Turner, "I think Mrs. Truscott ought to be
spoken to."

Utterly oblivious of this most proper and virtuous espionage, Ray had
returned to Mrs. Truscott. She looked at him with imploring eyes as they
entered the parlor.

"There is the letter," he said; "do you want it or shall I burn it?"

She shrank back as though recoiling from a loathsome touch.

"Oh, no, no! Burn it! Here is a match," she cried, springing to the
mantel, and then her overcharged heart gave way. She threw herself upon
the sofa, burying her face in her hands, sobbing like a child with
relief and exhaustion. Ray touched the match to the paper; had just
fairly started the flame, when laughing voices and quick footsteps were
heard on the piazza. The door flew open, and all in a burst of sunshine
and balmy air, Marion Sanford, saying, "Oh, come right in. You haven't a
moment to spare, and she'll be so glad to see you!" whisked into the
room followed by Captain Webb.

Tableau!



CHAPTER XVIII.

DESERTION.


In that species of mental athletics known as jumping at conclusions Mrs.
Turner was an expert. That she always hit the mark is something a regard
for veracity will not permit us to assert. Indeed, it was not often that
her intellectual subtlety enabled her to extract from outward
appearances the true inwardness of the various matters that entered the
orbit of her observations. All the same she was a born jumper, and,
like the Allen revolver immortalized by Mark Twain, if she didn't always
get what she went for she fetched something. Mrs. Turner could fetch a
conclusion from everything she saw, and was happy in her facility. Time
and again her patient lord had ventured to point a moral from her
repeated mistakes of judgment, and to suggest less precipitancy in the
future; but to no good purpose. Mrs. Turner's faith in the justice of
her prognostications was sublime, though not unusual. It has been within
the compass of our experience to meet and know undaunted women who, day
after day, could, with equal positiveness, announce their theories as
incontrovertible facts, or flatly contradict the assertions of those
whose very position enabled them to be well informed. When Mrs. Turner
was confronted with the proof of her error, and gently upbraided by the
placid captain for being so positive in her affirmation or denial, that
pretty matron was wont to shrug her lovely shoulders, and petulantly set
aside the subject with the comprehensive excuse, "Oh, well! I didn't
know."

In vain had Turner pointed out to her that the fact was self-evident,
that in view of that very fact she should have been less confident in
the discussion and should be more guarded in the future: his efforts
were crowned with small success. Mrs. Turner's beliefs were only too apt
on all occasions to be heralded by her as undeniable facts.

She saw Miss Sanford and Captain Webb enter the Truscotts' soon after
Ray. She saw Captain Webb come out almost immediately and go thence to
the Stannards', next door, while Ray soon appeared and walked off
homeward. She saw Mrs. Stannard come out with Webb, and while the
latter turned to come and say good-by to her, Mrs. Stannard had gone at
once into the Truscotts'.

"Is Mrs. Truscott ill?" she immediately asked.

"Well--a--she seemed to be. She was evidently a good deal cut up about
something," said Webb, who was slow of speech and not quick of
intellect.

"Well, what do you think it was? What was she doing? Tell me, captain.
I'm so worried about her, she has been so unlike herself since Mr.
Truscott went away."

"Oh,--ah!--she was very pale and very--a--well, tearful, you know. Been
crying, I suppose," and Webb shifted uncomfortably. He couldn't get over
that picture exactly,--Mrs. Truscott springing up from the sofa all
tears; Ray standing there burning a letter, all confusion. Still, he
believed it something susceptible of explanation, and did not care to
talk about it. But that Laramie stage would soon be along, and Mrs.
Turner determined to make the best of her opportunities. Ray had never
been one of her satellites, and she never forgave too little admiration,
though it would be manifestly unfair to assert that she would have
forgiven too much. She knew that he had been quite devoted to Mrs.
Truscott in the days that succeeded the troublous times at Sandy, though
the days were very brief, and now it was her impulsive theory that Mrs.
Truscott's odd behavior and Ray's presence at the house were symptoms of
a revival of that suspected flame. She was trying to draw Webb out when
Gleason, looking black as a thunder-cloud and immensely melodramatic,
came in to say good-by to her as she stood on the piazza. The stage
came cracking in at the front gate at the moment and stopped below at
Gleason's quarters, where the orderly began stowing in their light
luggage.

"Have you said good-by to Miss Sanford and Mrs. Truscott?" she asked,
with mischievous interest.

"Er--no. I understand Mrs. Truscott is not well. I saw her this morning
a moment, and promised to come round later, but I think it best not to
disturb them."

The stage lumbered up to the front, and as it came Mrs. Stannard
reappeared and hurried up the walk. Her usually placid face showed
evidence of deep emotion and barely repressed excitement.

"Captain Webb, will you say to the major that I will have a long letter
to go to him by the very next mail, and that I hope it will reach him
without delay." She looked squarely at Gleason with her kind blue eyes
blazing, and never so much as recognized him by a nod. "I must return to
Mrs. Truscott, who is far from well, but tell Captain Truscott not to be
alarmed about her. Good-by, Captain Webb. Come back to us safe and
sound."

Another moment and the two officers were borne away, and Mrs. Turner
went down to the Truscotts' determined to find out what was the trouble,
but came away dissatisfied. There was some mystery, and she could not
solve it. What did it portend that Mrs. Stannard should have cut Mr.
Gleason dead?

Later that afternoon, just before sunset, there was a pretty picture in
front of Truscott's quarters. It had been a lovely day, at the very end
of July, but the air was cool and bracing, and many of the ladies,
seated on the long row of piazzas, or strolling up and down the
gravelled walk, had found it necessary to wear their shawls or wraps.
The band was playing sweetly in the circular stand on the parade, and a
dozen little children were romping about the few patches of green turf
or splashing the water in the narrow _acequias_. The newly-planted
sprigs of trees looked like so many tent-poles stuck up on the edge of
the diamond so far as verdure was concerned, and the dingy brown of the
barracks on the southern side had little that could attract the eye. But
far beyond, across the creek valley, lay the rolling expanse of open
prairie; far beyond that, those glistening, gleaming battlements of
eternal snow standing against the Colorado skies. Only three or four
officers could be seen along the row--only half a dozen soldiers in all
the great garrison. The recruits were all in at supper. The officers and
trained men were all far away to the north. To the delight of the
children Mr. Ray's orderly came up the road leading Dandy, and after
they had crowded around and petted and lauded him while a new halter was
being put on, and his glistening coat touched up for the third time
since his supper of oats, Dandy was slowly led on up the row, stopping
every few rods to be patted and admired by the ladies, and at last
reached Truscott's house, where Ray went and knocked softly, and Miss
Sanford appeared. Together they walked to the gate, and there they
stood. Ray expatiating on the many good points of his pet and comrade,
Miss Sanford stroking the sorrel's arching neck and velvet nozzle, and
looking volumes of adulation into his intelligent eyes. Dandy pawed and
pricked up his ears, and seemed proud and conscious as any human, and
would have purred like a kitten had he only known how, so soft was the
touch of her caressing hand, so sweet was the praise of her gentle
voice. Ray stood and watched her with delight in his eyes.

"Oh, you beauty! Oh, you dear, dear fellow! how I would prize you if you
were mine! Do you dream what a hero you are, I wonder?"

Both her white hands were holding his glossy head now, and Dandy stood
there looking into her animated face as though he loved every feature in
it,--or was it Ray? Both of them could hardly keep their eyes off her an
instant. She was a puzzle to Dandy. She was an angel to his master.

"He was hit twice, was he not?" she asked; and when he showed her the
scars, she mourned over them like a mother over a baby's bumped
forehead.

"I declare, Mr. Ray is growing positively handsome!" said Mrs. Stannard,
looking out of the window at the pretty group. "How delighted he is that
Miss Sanford should make so much of Dandy!" she added, turning to Mrs.
Truscott, who lay there very white and weary looking.

Grace smiled. "I must creep up to the window and see," she said; and for
a moment they gazed in silence. He was bending down over her, so bright
and brave and gallant, that the next thing the two ladies looked
suddenly into each other's face, smiling suggestively.

"Just what I was thinking!" said Mrs. Stannard, laughing; and there
seemed no need to ask what the simultaneous thought could be. Then they
looked out again. "Oh!" said Mrs. Truscott, impatiently, "I wish she
would keep away!" for down came Mrs. Turner, all smiles and white
muslin, to join them. That woman could never understand that she could
be _de trop_, was Mrs. Stannard's reflection, but it was characteristic
of her that she gave the (possibly) disproportioned thought no
utterance. Ray lifted his cap with his customary grace and courtesy, but
looked only moderately rejoiced at the coming of even so bewitching an
addition to Dandy's circle of admirers. Possibly some years of
experience at poker had given him such admirable control of all facial
expression as to enable him to disguise the annoyance he really felt.
Ray couldn't bear "humbug" in any form, and when horses were the
subjects of discussion he was fiercely intolerant of the wise looks and
book-inspired remarks of the would-be authorities in the regiment. To
his cavalry nature the horse had an affiliation that was simply strong
as a friendship. Nothing could shake Ray's conviction in the reasoning
powers, the love, loyalty, gratitude, and devotion of the animal that
from his babyhood he had looked upon as a companion,--almost as a
confidant. He had little faith in Mrs. Turner's voluble admiration of
Dandy. To use his Blue Grass vernacular, he "didn't take any stock (he
called it stawk) in that sort of gush." He knew that there was only one
four-legged domestic animal of which Mrs. Turner was more desperately
afraid, and that was a cow. She made a ninny of herself when she went
out to drive, and the mere pricking up of the horses' ears was to her
mind premonitory symptom of a runaway, and excuse for immediate demand
to be set down on the open prairie and allowed to walk home. As for
riding, she couldn't be induced to try. To her a horse was a thing that
kicked or bit or showed the whites of his eyes and set his ears back and
switched his tail and gave other evidences of depraved moral nature, and
she would no more touch or approach one than she would a wild-cat,
except when in so doing, with an admiring audience, she could become the
central figure in an effective tableau. Ray wished her in Jericho, as
she stood at arm's length and touched Dandy with the tips of her dainty
fingers and began to speak of him as "it." Equine sex was a matter
beyond Mrs. Turner's consideration, and with eminent discretion she
compromised on "it" as a safe descriptive.

Then old Whaling came along with his better half, and the lady stopped
to see the now celebrated sorrel, and when Ray cordially addressed his
post commander with the natural question, "What do you think of him,
colonel?" he was genuinely surprised at the embarrassed, lifeless
response. The colonel looked away as he replied,--

"Very pretty, very pretty, Mr. Ray," and then walked on as though he
desired to keep aloof, and Mrs. Whaling, announcing that she was going
to see poor Mrs. Muldoon, who was living outside the gate, moved on
after her husband with hardly a glance for Ray.

Something strange in the colonel's manner, something constrained and
distant in that of the adjutant, had occurred to him once or twice
before, but he had given little thought to it. Now he felt that it could
no longer be overlooked. Even Mrs. Turner, who knew that in the regiment
from the colonel down almost everybody had a cordial word for Ray, and
that now he was the idol of the hour,--even Mrs. Turner looked after the
colonel in amaze and then quickly at Ray. A light flashed over her busy
intellect. This was further confirmation of her theory. The colonel,
too, had heard of Ray's devotions to Mrs. Truscott and was offended
thereat.

But now the sunset call was sounding, the band marched away, and Ray and
his fair companion stood watching Dandy, who was being led back to his
paddock. A deep flush was on her cheek. She, too, had noted the
colonel's cold and distant manner to Ray. She saw that he was stung by
it, but was trying to give no sign so long as they were together. She
had learned many things since her return from town. She and Mrs.
Stannard knew all about the terrible affair of the morning, and fully
understood Ray's presence at the house and Mrs. Truscott's agitation.
They had recalled many of Gleason's bitter sneers and insinuations
against Ray, and all three felt that, unknown to him, some covert
influence was at work here at the post to do him injury, and that his
loyal services this day in Mrs. Truscott's behalf had but intensified
the hatred against him. It was agreed among them that not one word
should be breathed of the affair, except what Mrs. Stannard should write
to the major. Mrs. Truscott was sure that Jack would shoot Mr. Gleason
on sight the moment he was informed, and Mrs. Stannard thought it quite
probable. Miss Sanford was silent in this discussion, but all agreed
that Ray must be warned that there was some plot against him. It was
mysteriously whispered among the ladies about the garrison. Knowing
this, and knowing that she could not well be the one to tell him, Marion
Sanford, with her whole heart in her beautiful eyes, stood there by his
side as the sun went down. She liked him for his frank, manly ways; she
honored him for his loyalty; she respected him for the lack of certain
traits which every one had been so careful to ascribe to him as
habitual. She gloried in the daring, the self-sacrifice, the heroism of
his conduct in the recent events on the campaign. She felt personal
gratitude--deep and earnest--for his invaluable service to Grace--to
them all--this day; and just because she could not give utterance to him
of any one of these emotions, was it to be wondered at that, as he
turned towards her again and caught the earnest look in her swimming
eyes, Ray's heart gave one great bound?

"I want you to ride him some day, Miss Sanford. I cannot yet. Will you?"
And his voice was low, and there was an odd tremor in it for Ray.

"Ride Dandy?" she said, after an instant's pause, "Mr. Ray. If he were
my horse, after what he has done,--after such a deed,--do you think I
would let any one use him?"

"That would rule me out, Miss Sanford," he answered, smiling.

"You?" She had clasped her hands. She was looking down nervously at the
tip of her little boot. Her eyes were half suffused, her face flushing,
then growing suddenly hot and cold by turns. She knew his eyes were
glowing upon her. She knew there was no earthly excuse for such absurd
sensations. She knew that it was highly unconventional to experience
any such difficulty of expression where acquaintance had been so brief;
but was there, after all, anything unwomanly in letting him see that she
was proud of him,--of his friendship, his daring? Had not every other
woman gushed over him and called him splendid and some of them "lovely,"
while she had never yet dared speak of it at all? He had simply laughed
off their adulation; but he was not laughing now. She never saw such
intensity in his face. Why! this very silence was dangerous,
distracting. If she--she cared for him she could not be more nervous and
shy. With sudden effort she looked up in his face.

"You? Why, Mr. Ray, I never think of one without the other. How could I
tell you," she broke forth impulsively, "how simply splendid I thought
you--both?"

And now, with flaming cheeks, she turned and ran into the house, leaving
him all astir with delight at the gate.

And yet when he called that evening to inquire after Mrs. Truscott, and
Marion, with Mrs. Stannard, received him in the parlor, she was all
animation, self-possession, and mistress of the situation again. Even
when Mrs. Stannard found means to leave them alone, Ray could find no
pretext for diverting the talk into the delicious channel in which it
flowed at sunset. Perhaps, after all, it was only the glow of departing
day, like the throes of the dying dolphin lending hectic radiance to his
colors, that so dazzlingly, bewilderingly, beautifully tinged the
current of her words, and gave him glimpses of a heaven of hope his
wildest dream had never pictured.

But Mr. Ray had still a stern duty for that night. Having disposed of
Gleason during the afternoon, he had sent for the soldier Wolf, but was
told he would be on pass until tattoo. Until he had sifted the matter to
the bottom he would not know how to proceed with regard to Gleason.
Charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, court-martial
and publicity, were not to be thought of as involving her name in such a
scandal. After what she had said of Wolf, his first theory--that it was
all a forgery of Gleason's--was abandoned. He must see Wolf, obtain from
him any similar letter he might have, clearly point out to him the
madness of his conduct, and satisfy himself whether indeed Wolf might
not be insane. Immediately after tattoo, therefore, he had again
despatched his orderly for the bandsman, and in two minutes the latter
appeared, knocked, and stood, cap in hand, within the door. Ray turned
up the lamp and coolly surveyed his man. The two stood a moment
confronting each other in silence. Wolf was very pale, and beads of
sweat were starting on his brow, but the blue eyes never flinched. He
had never served a day under the lieutenant's command, but he knew him
well, as all soldiers know the various officers of their regiments: the
verdict is rarely at fault. He knew there was no trifling with the man
before him; he felt that no slight pretext had called him to his
presence, and the instant he set eyes on him he knew his secret was in
his hands.

"Wolf," said Ray, "have you written any letters to Mrs. Truscott since
the one you left in her yard last week?" The question reads harshly. It
was spoken calmly, without a vestige of menace or sneer; yet the
soldier's hands clinched, as though in fierce convulsion. His forehead
seemed to wrinkle into one mass of corrugations; he bowed his ghastly
face in an agony of shame.

"I ask in no anger. Let me tell you briefly what has happened. I have no
word to add to the reproach you feel. That letter fell into the hands of
a scoundrel. He took it to Mrs. Truscott this day, and threatened her
with full exposure; accused her, in fact, of corresponding with you
because you mentioned other letters."

"Oh, my God! my God! Kill me, Herr Lieutenant, kill me!" was the
soldier's gasping cry, and before Ray could do aught to stay him he had
plunged forward on his face, and lay writhing on the painted floor,
tearing wildly at his hair, calling down curses on himself, on his mad
love, on the hand that penned the fatal letter, on the hound who had
carried it to that innocent,--that angel. Then on his knees, with
outstretched arms, he looked up at Ray, who stood utterly astounded at
his paroxysm of misery and despair. "His name, lieutenant. I implore,--I
demand. I _demand_ his name! Sir, I am not unworthy to ask it. I was a
gentleman in my country. I am a gentleman! How know you this? Where is
he that has done this so foul wrong?"

"Far away by this time. Be calm now. I want the truth in this matter."

"Far away?" He sprang to his feet. "It is that devil; it is that dog
Gleason! He spied upon me. It was he who found the letter. Ach Gott!
Where--when did he dare threaten that--that angel? Where is the
letter?"

"The letter is all right. He had to give it up. It was this morning he
threatened her, and she is prostrate now."

For all answer he burst into a mad passion of tears. Never had Ray
witnessed such self-abasement. Never had he seen such awful remorse. It
was an hour, nearly, before he could calm him sufficiently to extract
from him his story, and it amounted practically to this:

He had killed an opponent in a duel over cards in Dresden. There was
nothing for it but to leave instantly and to seek safety in America. His
rank was that of rittmeister in the hussars, and he had nothing to do
but enlist in the cavalry. He was penniless and starving when he reached
Truscott's quarters, and her face, bending over him as he rallied from
his swoon, had haunted him day and night with its beauty, its sympathy
and tenderness. She became the idol, the goddess of his life; he watched
her day and night in his mad infatuation; he dreamed of her as his own;
he wrote letter after letter to her as the sole means of giving vent to
the wild, passionate love which had turned his brain; he destroyed them
one after another; he never by word, or look, or deed, so far as he
knew, let her see aught of his hopeless love. He never thought to let
one of these letters fall from his hands. Yet, whenever he was alone he
wrote. He had sung under her window because in his country everybody
sang and played, and it was no unusual attention for any gentleman to
pay the compliment of a personal serenade. Still he had avoided, as he
thought, all recognition until the night he found Gleason creeping upon
him. At mention of that name his paroxysms broke forth afresh. Never,
never could he forgive himself for the fearful misery he had caused her.
Never, never would he forgive the hound who had so basely dealt with
her. "He shall wipe out his foul crime in his heart's blood," he swore,
and Ray had to order silence. He gave Ray his word that never again
would he be tempted to write a line; he implored him to ask for him her
forgiveness. Never again would he cross her path. His grief broke forth
afresh every few moments, and he was weak as a child. Ray became really
alarmed about him, and going into the dining-room where he and Blake
were accustomed to take their bachelor sustenance, he rummaged around in
the dark for some brandy. Of late he had given up all use of stimulants,
and Blake was down at the store. It was some minutes before he found the
decanter, but when he returned the room was empty. Wolf had gone.

The next morning there was a ripple of excitement at the adjutant's
office. A horse was missing from the band stables, and a musician from
the band barracks. At retreat that evening it was definitely settled
that Sergeant Wolf had deserted.



CHAPTER XIX.

IN CLOSE ARREST.


To use his own language, life had suddenly become vested with new charms
for Mr. Blake. He had found his conversational affinity. "For years,"
said he, "I have been like Pyramus, peeking and scratching at a wall for
Thisbe,--only my Thisbe was never there." But Pyramus Blake had found
his mate, he swore, and with huge delight he began devoting hours to
chat with Mrs. Whaling.

She was old enough to be his mother, though she thought the fact was
known to but few. She was as prosaic as he was fanciful, though it was
her aim to appear at ease in all literary topics. She knew little or
nothing of music or the languages, but it was her implicit conviction
that those by whom she was surrounded knew less; and she chiefly erred
in assuming to know that of which they frankly confessed their
ignorance. Aside from a consummate facility for blundering in French,
Mrs. Whaling possessed illimitable powers of distortion of her
mother-tongue, and this it was that so fascinated and enraptured Blake
on short acquaintance. He rushed in one morning to tell Mrs. Stannard
that nothing but jealousy could have prompted her and the other ladies
in concealing from him Mrs. Whaling's phenomenal gifts in this line, and
proclaiming her the sweetest sensation of his maturer years. If we have
failed thus far in pointing out some of the lingual peculiarities which
had won for this estimable lady the title of Mrs. Malaprop, it was
through the confidence we felt that so soon as she began to talk for
herself our efforts would be rendered unnecessary. Overweening interest
in other ladies has kept her somewhat in the background, a fact that
detracts at once from all hope of ever establishing the record of being
faithfully historic, since all who knew Mrs. Whaling are aware that
nobody could ever keep her in the background in any assemblage wherein
she was permitted to speak for herself. Perhaps it was therein that lay
one of her direst misfortunes, but she knew it not, poor lady, and like
too many of the rest of us, could never realize what was and what was
not best for her at the time. Will the day ever come when the author of
this will not realize in mournful retrospect what an ass he made of
himself the twelvemonth previous? Mrs. Whaling had never studied French,
but French was the language of courts and courtesy, and it sounded well,
she was convinced, to introduce an occasional phrase or quotation in her
daily conversation, and what she meant when she used a big word in her
own language was (as in the case of honest Mr. Ballou) a secret between
herself and her Maker.

Mr. Blake had hobbled over to pay his respects soon after his arrival,
and was noticed shaking his head and muttering to himself in perplexity
at odd hours of the day thereafter. The next morning he was seen to
explode, as Mrs. Whaling gravely announced among a circle of her friends
that she considered Miss Sanford to be the most _soi-disant_ creature
she had ever met, and went on to explain for the benefit of those to
whom her French was an impenetrable mystery,--"fascinating, or, as _they
say_, seductive." But when she soon thereafter referred to the general's
magnanimity in not remanding to the guard-house an inebriated soldier,
who had dropped and broken a valuable lamp, because "he knew it was only
a _lapsus linguæ_," Blake became her slave, and hovered about her from
morn till night in hopes of further revelations. He was getting lots of
fun out of life just now despite his aches and pains, and was being
chaffed extensively for replacing so readily the absent and lamented
Gleason,--the one thing that seemed to mar his happiness.

Mrs. Truscott had been ailing for two or three days, and the ladies were
wont to stop at her door each morning to make inquiries and suggestions.
Mrs. Stannard had virtually moved in next door, and was with her at all
times. Mr. Ray was a frequent visitor, despite the fact that Mrs.
Truscott was unable to see him (though he always asked for her), and the
garrison was arriving at the not unjustifiable inference that other
attractions might draw him thither. He was still too lame to walk or
ride, had no duties to perform, and much time to devote to calling; but
beyond leaving his card at the commanding officer's and paying a
courteous visit to Mrs. Turner and Mrs. Wilkins, he made no garrison
calls at all, for the hours he spent with Mrs. Stannard and Miss Sanford
could hardly be so termed. He had been at the post a week, and the
adjutant and quartermaster of the little command had as yet failed to
drop in and welcome him as is customary. They had called on Blake when
Ray was "up the row," but had not left their cards or inquired for his
comrade. Blake thought it simply a piece of forgetfulness. Perhaps they
had asked and he had forgotten; but Ray thought otherwise, and still,
oddly enough, did not seem to care. He was happy in his day, and life
had a new, strange, sweet interest for him that, despite his past
ephemeral flames for one belle after another, was seriously influencing
his life and character.

Blake wrote to his chums in the regiment that Billy Ray wasn't half the
fun he used to be. "Never knew a fellow lose all his old self so quick.
He has gone back on potations and poker, and it hasn't improved him a
whit." There was another thing Blake growled at: Ray was mixed up in
some garrison mystery, and wouldn't tell him anything about it. He had
"pumped him," so to speak, because Mrs. Turner kept nagging him for
information, and Ray had only colored and stumbled painfully, and
finally burst forth with, "See here, Blake; something _has_ happened
that I accidentally got mixed up in, but it's a thing a man can't tell
of, so don't ask me;" and Blake could only surmise. Then, too, there was
that desertion of Wolf's,--Ray knew something about it,--and then the
colonel had asked him--Blake--a point-blank question about Ray's habits
which amazed him and set him to thinking. Then no mail was received from
the regiment for four days, and they were all anxious; and so this
bright August morning quite a party had gathered in front of Truscott's,
for a little batch of letters had just arrived, and they were discussing
contents and comparing notes. When Mrs. Stannard came down-stairs,
blithe and breezy as ever, the ladies began their natural inquiries for
Mrs. Truscott. She had enjoyed a good night's rest, at times at least,
but had a severe nervous headache this morning. This had prompted Mrs.
Turner to remark that nervous headaches were such trying things; she
could never control them except by liberal use of bromides. Mrs. Wilkins
was of opinion that if ever she had one she'd cut her head off before
she'd use the likes--such stuff as that; lapsing very nearly into the
vernacular of her early days; and Mrs. Whaling calmly announced that
nothing ever did her so much good as a warm embryocation, whereat there
was suppressed sensation on part of the ladies and convulsive throes by
Mr. Blake. Ray and Miss Sanford, absorbed in converse on the weather,
were standing apart at the door-way and heard nothing of it.

Guard-mounting was over; the band had just finished its morning
programme of music and was going away, when a sudden exclamation from
Mrs. Turner called all eyes to the form of the young post adjutant
coming up the row.

"Why! What's Mr. Warner in full uniform for,--what can it mean?"

Full uniform had not been worn at the post for any duty since the
command left for the front; guard-mounting was in "undress," as only
half a dozen men were put on duty each day, and the military reader can
readily understand the sensation in the group as the white plumes of the
young adjutant were seen. There is only one duty which, in the absence
of courts-martial and dress-parades or the like, will account for an
adjutant's appearing in full uniform at such an hour, and he was coming
straight toward them.

Conversation ceased at once in the group at the gate. Ray and Miss
Sanford, standing at the door-way, were still absorbed in their chat,
and saw and heard nothing of what was coming. Mrs. Stannard turned pale
and trembled so that all could see it. Blake looked, as he afterwards
said, "six ways for Sunday;" then, as the officer neared him, with
attempted jocularity sang out,--

    "'The king has come to marshal us in all his armor drest,
    And he has donned his snow-white plume to put us in arrest.'

Who's your victim, Warner?" and then stopped short as Warner brushed by,
saying, in savage whisper,--

"Shut up! man, and get Ray away from this crowd quick. I want _him_."

Blake simply stared. Mrs. Stannard turned quickly and almost ran into
the house. Mrs. Whaling lifted her eyes heavenward, as though imploring
Divine mercy on the doomed one; Mrs. Turner flushed, and looked
wonderingly from one to the other; Mrs. Wilkins dropped her parasol and
picked it up pretty much as though it were a shillelah and she meant to
use it as such, and then the group began to break up. Ray, glancing over
his shoulder to inquire the cause of the sudden cessation of talk,
caught sight of the snowy plume dancing on up the walk, of Blake
standing in petrified and indignant silence, and then of Mrs. Stannard's
face,--her eyes filling with tears. He recalled instantly her recent
questions and half-uttered warnings, and something told him the blow had
come. He gave one quick look at Miss Sanford; their eyes met, and hers,
too, were full of trouble and something she could not express.

"Excuse me, but I want to inquire what this means," he said, and,
bowing quietly, he turned to the gate where Blake still stood looking
after Warner, who had halted farther up the row.

"It's you, Billy boy; and damn me if I don't believe the world is mad!"

Ray stalked up the line fast as his halting gait would admit.
Wonderment, indignation, bitterness, were in his heart, but he choked it
all down, and his eyes were fixed full upon the staff-officer, who,
seeing him alone, came rapidly back to meet him. Something of the old
reckless, dauntless manner reasserted itself as they reached speaking
distance. The adjutant was toying nervously with his sword-knot. Despite
all Gleason's insinuations, despite official papers that had been going
to and fro, he felt it impossible to believe the allegations against Mr.
Ray, and his unbelief was never so pronounced as at this moment when
they came together. He had never seen it done before, but
instinctively--by an impulse he could not restrain--he raised his hand
in salute as he spoke the brief official words,--

"Mr. Ray, you are hereby placed in close arrest, by order of Colonel
Whaling."

And Ray, with courteous return of the salute, replied with almost
smiling grace,--

"Very well, Mr. Warner. I presume you will give me prompt information as
to the charges;" and, facing about, went slowly and deliberately to his
quarters.

Mrs. Stannard stood at the door-way until she saw him turn, then, taking
Miss Sanford's hand, drew her within the hall, saying simply, "Come."

"What can it mean, Mrs. Stannard? Surely he will stop and tell us."

"He cannot, Miss Marion. He must go direct to his quarters. I will send
Mr. Blake at once to him. They are going now together. I shall go and
find out all I can. Do not tell Mrs. Truscott."

And without a word Marion Sanford went slowly up the stairs and to her
room. Mrs. Stannard listened until she heard her close the door, then
hastened down the row in pursuit of Mr. Blake. Ray waved his hand to her
as he stepped inside the threshold, and Blake, fuming with fury, came
back to meet her.

"Was there ever such an outrage? It is something of Gleason's doing, of
course, but Ray says he can stand it if G. can, and is disposed to laugh
it off; but there's something else, I'm afraid; have you heard
anything?"

"Nothing but vague rumors, Mr. Blake, but enough to worry me. There is
some deep-laid plot or I'm fearfully mistaken. Gleason would never dare
do it alone. Can't you telegraph to the regiment and have things
stopped?"

"They are far above Fetterman, and can only be reached by courier. Webb
and Gleason went out with small escort last night, so the despatches
say. By Jove! I'll try it. Surely the colonel and Stannard and Wayne
ought to be told. Wayne is still at Laramie, but he would come.
Something must be done to block these lies whatever they are."

"Oh, if Luce were only where we could make him hear! Mr. Blake, _can't_
you find out from Mr. Warner what the trouble is,--what the charges
are?"

"Of course I can. It is some mere local mischief that fellow Gleason has
kicked up. I'll go just as soon as I've seen Billy."

And go he did: and would have gone straight into the old colonel's
office even had that veteran not called him in. And when next Mr. Blake
appeared upon the walk, the light had gone out of his face. He went
slowly, reluctantly, wretchedly, back down the row. He could not bear to
carry the news to Ray, yet he had promised, and in his hand was a copy
of the charges and specifications preferred against his friend. So far
from being a mere local matter the arrest was ordered from division
headquarters, the court was already selected, and the time fixed for its
meeting. Long before sunset the whole garrison knew--and with what
additions and exaggerations who can say?--that Lieutenant Ray was to be
tried by court-martial for offences that reflected on the honor of the
whole regiment, and that accepting bribes and large sums of money from
prominent contractors while on the horse board, gambling with them and
misappropriating public funds, were the main allegations. The charges
were signed by a prominent staff-officer, and Gleason's name only
appeared incidentally as a witness; so did that of Rallston, Ray's
brother-in-law; but there were several others. Blake laid the bulky
paper before his friend with this word,--

"Before you say aye or nay to any one of the charges in this batch of
infamy, I want to say to you, Ray, that I'll stake my commission on
their utter falsity."

And he had said practically the same thing to the post commander.

That afternoon Mr. Blake, after a long talk with Ray, knocked at Mrs.
Stannard's door and asked to see her a moment. She came to him in dire
anxiety. Long before this had Mrs. Whaling been in to lament over the
downfall of this unhappy young man, and to expatiate on the gravity of
the charges. On Mrs. Stannard's making prompt and spirited expression of
her utter disbelief in them, the good lady had lifted her eyes in
pathetic appeal to heaven that so mercifully enables us to bear the
tribulations that befall our friends, and groaned, a veritable Stiggins
in skirts. Ah, no; she hoped, she prayed, of course, it might prove
false; but the general--the general said the array of witnesses was
overwhelming, and then his temptations! and his past career! She had
been told he was addicted to the vices of drink and cards in their worst
form. Ah, no; it was futile to hope. She feared the worst. And Mrs.
Stannard was wellnigh ready to bid her begone,--the old croaking raven!
as down in her inmost heart she termed her. She was full of faith and
loyalty, but she was fearfully worried, and Blake's coming was a
godsend.

"How is he?" she asked.

"Astonished, of course; mad, not a little; but as full of pluck as ever.
What I want to see you about is this. He forbids my telegraphing to have
things stopped. He wants a court, wants to be tried; the quicker the
better; says I can write to Stannard or anybody, but not to think of
stopping proceedings. All he seems to care for is this: he fully
expected to be well enough to travel in two weeks, and then he wanted to
join the regiment as fast as horse could take him. All that is now
impossible. He has not said a word about Gleason, but I have sent a
couple of telegrams from him that will make his brother-in-law smart."

"And have you telegraphed to Fort Fetterman? I'm sure they would have a
chance to send the news."

"Yes, of course I did. What I can't get over is this: that much of this
matter must have been reported through old Whaling here by Gleason, and
it has all been done in the dark. The old rip never gave us a chance to
refute any story that Gleason would tell. Did you hear about Ray's
message to him?"

"No. When--what was it?"

"Instead of asking to see the commanding officer, as the average officer
does when put in arrest for a thing he is innocent of, Ray never
mentioned him. About an hour ago I met the colonel, and he asked me how
Ray was behaving, and was beginning something about not letting him
drink, when I could hold in no longer, and told him flatly that Ray
hadn't taken as many drinks in a month as he had in a day. You ought to
have seen him; he was struck all aback, and stammered something about
his having been led to suppose Ray was doing a good deal of that sort of
thing. I replied that that wasn't the only thing he had been misinformed
about by a jugful, and he looked as though he'd like to put me in arrest
too--the old slab; he would, too, if he had the grit of his wife; but he
didn't. He sent Warner down just a moment ago to say that if Mr. Ray
desired to speak to him about the matter he would see him this evening,
as 'he desired to go to town on the morrow.' Ray begged Warner to sit
down, offered him a toddy or a glass of wine, and, finally, as though it
had suddenly occurred to him, exclaimed, 'Oh! Do _I_ want to see the
colonel? Why, really, Mr. Warner, I know of nothing that--well, _you_
might say this, you know: it isn't at all necessary that _I_ should see
him, and I do not send this as a message; but, as the colonel appears to
have furnished much of the information on these charges without
reference to me, I shall probably answer them in the same way,--without
reference to him.' Gad! I never saw Ray more placidly polite, and he's
always most full of fight at such times."

But even with such "an old slab" as Whaling anything more impolitic than
the conduct of these two cavalry subalterns could hardly have been
imagined. Warner never told the colonel what Ray said; but, of course,
had to say that Ray expressed no desire to see him. By the following
morning the colonel was chafing over it a great deal, and over the
indignation expressed around the post at Ray's arrest. He concluded that
he wanted to see the young man himself, and an opportunity unexpectedly
occurred. Sergeant Wolf's recent desertion was still a source of much
subdued excitement, and efforts had been made to capture him. It had
begun to leak around the garrison that he had been sent for the night of
his departure by Lieutenant Ray, and did not return to the band barracks
until eleven o'clock, "when he acted queer." The post quartermaster was
much exercised about the theft of one of the best horses from the band
stable, as he had become responsible for them in the absence of Mr.
Billings. Possibly Ray could throw some light on the matter, and, to
that officer's surprise, he was sent for at guard-mounting. His first
idea was that his remarks to Warner had been carried to the colonel, and
that he was to be overhauled for them. His head was perhaps a trifle
higher than usual, therefore, when he entered the office. The first
question sent the blood surging to his forehead, and he almost staggered
with surprise.

"Mr. Ray," said the colonel, abruptly, "do you know anything of the
causes of Wolf's desertion?"

It was a moment before he could reply. Know? Of course he knew; but it
was a thing to be sacredly guarded. He _could_ not tell of that
interview without betraying _her_, without bringing Grace Truscott's
name into the very snare that Gleason had laid for it. The colonel saw
his hesitation, and wheeled around in his chair; Mr. Warner looked up in
surprise.

"I say, do you know anything of Wolf's desertion,--of its causes, of
where he has probably gone?" repeated the colonel, sharply.

"I do not know where he has gone, sir; I have formed an opinion as to
the cause of his desertion."

"And what is it, Mr. Ray?"

"If it concerned me, I would answer unhesitatingly, Colonel Whaling. As
it is, I cannot."

"What possible reason can there be for silence, sir? I do not
understand."

"I cannot explain it now, sir. Let me simply assure you that I never saw
him until within the last few days, that I had an interview with him the
night of his desertion, and that he has had some trouble of a personal
and private nature. Other than that I can give no account of him."

"This is most extraordinary, Mr. Ray. How came you to know anything of
his private history, sir?"

"I decline to say, sir."

"By heavens, Mr. Ray! Do you realize that in addition to the other
charges against you, you are laying yourself open to those of abetting
desertion?"

"Possibly, sir. If so, I can meet them before the proper tribunal."

"You may go, sir. Stop! one moment: I have telegraphed to Sidney, to
Denver, and to Laramie City to be on the lookout for him. I demand to
know whether you have an idea where he has gone; _that_ you can answer!"

"I have not, colonel."

"Do you think of any place I have not mentioned where he would be apt to
go?"

Ray turned whiter now, but his eyes were unflinching.

"I do; but it is only conjecture."

"What place, sir?"

"Fort Fetterman."

"Fort Fetterman? That's simply absurd! He would be recognized there with
his horse and surely arrested."

"Very well, sir; then I know of no other."

"And you still refuse to tell what your interview was about?"

"I shall always refuse that, sir." And therewith Mr. Ray was remanded to
his quarters. Verily there was some reason for Blake's outburst when he
came in after hearing Warner's brief description of the official
interview which Mrs. Whaling had given in lurid exaggeration to the
garrison.

    "Why, hell is empty, and all the devils are here."



CHAPTER XX.

A CORNERED RAT.


Far away to the northwest this night, close under the shoulders of the
Big Horn Mountains, a regiment of cavalry has gone into bivouac after a
day's march through blistering sun-glare and alkali. Hour after hour,
with strained, aching eyes, they have been watching the
gradually-nearing dome of Cloud Peak, still glistening white though this
is August. Around the blunt elbow of the mountains, two days' march away
to the north, they expect to find the Gray Fox and all his men eagerly
awaiting their coming. A courier from the front has brought them tidings
that the Indians are in force all over the country west of the Cheetish
group. Another courier has galloped after them from Fetterman, leaving
there last night, and he brings strange news.

During the long, dusty, burning day Captain Webb and Mr. Gleason have
joined the command and reported for duty. To the disgust of the young
second lieutenant commanding Wayne's troop in his absence, the colonel
directs Mr. Gleason, the senior lieutenant now for duty, to assume
command of it for the campaign. Captain Truscott has no objections. He
prefers not to have Mr. Gleason with his own troop, and Stannard is glad
to get him out of his battalion. Very few men are glad to see Gleason,
though nearly all the officers go to him for letters and news. They
bring a small packet of mail, and on the way Gleason has made himself
very interesting to Webb, and has easily gathered from that
simple-minded gentleman that there was an awkward tableau at Truscott's
when he went there to say good-by. "Confidentially," Gleason had let him
understand that he had seen only one of many symptoms that had given
much food for talk at Russell; that to his, Gleason's, bitter regret he
feared Mrs. Truscott had not been as discreet as she should with a
fellow like Ray, who was--well--had Webb heard anything of that horse
board business, etc.? It was so easy,--it _is_ so easy,--more's the
pity, to say so very much in saying very little, when the good name of
man or woman is at stake. Long before they got to the regiment Webb was
convinced that he had seen very much more than he really did at Russell,
and he had heard a volume of gossip that, after all, he could not have
asserted was told him by Gleason, yet had been most deftly suggested.
Gleason was deep. He knew that they brought with them the mail of the
last stage reaching Fetterman for three days. Further news would not be
apt to come by letter for a week, by which time the regiment would
probably be hotly engaged, and he himself called back by telegraphic
order as an important witness before the court. This latter probability
he mentioned to no one. He meant to be grievously surprised and
disgusted when the orders came recalling him, and until then his cards
had to be carefully played. None of the ladies at Russell who knew him
at all had intrusted him with letters. All theirs had gone by mail or by
Captain Webb, but when the mail was opened at Fetterman, Gleason
promptly offered to carry forward anything there might be for the
officers of his regiment, and on the way this was carefully assorted. He
had met Stannard and Truscott with beaming cordiality, saying, "Ah! you
well knew I would not come without letters from _your_ better halves,"
and fumbling in inner pockets as though they had been stored there ever
since leaving Russell.

It was not until late that afternoon that Major Stannard received from
Webb the message sent by his good wife, and he was pondering in his mind
what it could mean, when at sunset Truscott strolled over from his troop
to see him. Gleason by this time was being very sociable with the
colonel and Mr. Billings.

"Have you anything from Mrs. Stannard later than the letter you spoke of
this afternoon, major?" asked the captain, whose face was somewhat
anxious.

"Why, yes, Truscott; Webb brought me a message that he said Mrs.
Stannard gave him at the last moment, to the effect that she would have
a long letter for me by next mail, and to be sure and get it. It seems a
little odd."

"My last is a pencilled note from Mrs. Truscott, written but a few
moments before the stage started. She says she sends it out to Fetterman
by the driver, and I suppose our old 'striker' easily got him to take
it; but she speaks of being far from well, nervous, etc., and that Mrs.
Stannard is such a blessing to her,--so constantly with her. I wish
there were something more definite. She writes three pages for the
purpose of telling me not to be anxious, and the very nervousness and
tremulous style give me some cause for worry."

"Why, in my letter Mrs. Stannard speaks of Mrs. Truscott as being so
bright and well, and of their having such good times together, and being
so charmed with Miss Sanford. It hardly seems there could have been so
sudden a change in one day."

But there had been, as we know, and a change as sudden was coming to the
current of events in the harmonious --th. Just after dark a courier on
jaded horse came riding in from the south. He brought telegraphic
despatches to the colonel and one to Major Stannard. The latter read his
by the light of his camp-lantern, gave a long whistle of amaze and
disgust, and sung out for Truscott as he rolled from under his blankets.
The trumpets were just sounding tattoo, and Stannard and other officers
had turned in early, preparatory to the start at four in the morning.
While waiting for Truscott's coming, the major could see that at the
colonel's tent there was also excitement and a gathering of several
officers. He had not long to wait. Truscott joined him in a few moments.

"I called you here because it was where we could talk unobserved. What
do you say to that?" And he handed him the despatch.

Truscott read without a word, and then stood there a moment earnestly
thinking, his lips firmly set, a dark shadow settling on life forehead.
The message was as follows:

     "Ray arrested. Horse board charges cooked up here by Gleason.
     Court ordered from Chicago. All staff or infantry officers.
     Make Gleason name authorities before regiment.

                    "BLAKE."

Stannard had thrust his head forward and his hands into his
breeches-pockets.

"Now, isn't that simply damnable?" he asked.

"You do not believe Ray guilty, do you?" was Truscott's response.

"No, I don't," though there was hesitating accent on the don't. Stannard
hated to be thought unprepared for any trait in a fellow-man--good or
bad. "What can the charges be? Ray told me he had neither gambled nor
drank."

"Something has been received at the colonel's. Billings was there
opening and reading despatches when you called me." And Truscott nodded
thither.

"Come on. I'm going to see this thing through now," said Stannard, and
together they walked to headquarters.

The colonel, wrapped in his overcoat, was sitting up at the head of his
camp-bed noting with a pencil a few memoranda, while Billings was
reading aloud in a low voice some long despatches. Outside the tent were
grouped half a dozen officers, waiting for such news as the colonel
might give. Beyond them were the scattered and smouldering fires, the
rude shelter-tents of the men, the white tops of the army wagons; beyond
these the dark outlines of the massive hills; above them all the
brilliant, placid stars; around them the hush of nature, broken only by
the drowsing swish and plash of rapid, running waters, the stir of the
night wind in the scattered trees, the stamp and snort of some startled
troop-horse, the distant challenge of the night sentries. Something
important had come, and the group looked eagerly at Stannard and
Truscott as they approached.

"Have you heard anything?" was the question.

"I've got a despatch," said Stannard, gruffly; "but I want to see the
colonel before I speak of it." Then the colonel's voice was heard,--

"That you, Stannard? Come in here."

And the major passed into the tent. Presently he came out, took Truscott
by the arm and led him away.

"No use talking to him to-night. He has nothing but the official
despatches, and they look ugly for Ray. There are other things that
occupy him now, but what we want is to see Gleason right off. He is
ordered to return at once, and goes back in the morning. Come."

Over in the second battalion a sentry pointed out Gleason's tent.
Stannard scratched and rattled at the flap. No answer. "Gleason!" he
called. No reply. "He's shamming sleep, by gad!" growled the major,
between his teeth. "It's only fifteen minutes since Billings told him he
was to start back at daybreak. He wants to avoid us, and has his flaps
all tied inside. I'll have him out or bring his damned tent down about
his ears." And it was plain that Stannard was getting excited. An
officer came through the gloom. It was Captain Webb.

"Isn't this Gleason's tent?" called the major.

"Certainly. I left him there not half an hour ago," replied the captain.
"Wake him up. He's got to go back in the morning."

"Yes, sir. And that's just what I want to see him about. Hullo! you
there! _Gleason!_"

There came from within a snort, as of one suddenly awakened, a sleepy
yawn, an imbecile "Oh--ah--er--who is it?"

"It's me,--Stannard; and I want you," was the reply, all the more
forcible for being ungrammatic.

"Oh! One minute, major, and I'll be with you," called the inmate, as
though overcome with sudden access of joy, and presently he appeared,
half dressed.

"See here, Gleason, Captain Truscott and I have come to inquire what you
know of the charges against Mr. Ray. You are to go back at once, I'm
told, as witness against him. There won't be a soul there of his
regiment or his friends, for we know well you're not one, to speak for
him. By thunder! what have you against him?"

"I do not think this a matter on which I should speak at all, Major
Stannard, except to proper authority. The court will hear the evidence
in due season."

"Well, I mean to hear something _now_, Mr. Gleason, or, by the eternal!
I'll wake up the whole command to put the question. What you make one
believe is, that you are seeking to ruin Ray by getting him at a
disadvantage with all his friends away. Captain Truscott, what do you
say?"

And then Truscott spoke. As usual, he was master of himself and showed
no vestige of temper.

"The matter is very simple, Mr. Gleason. You are believed to be the
accuser of Mr. Ray at a moment when it is certain the regiment is going
to be so far away that its officers cannot be present at the court,--may
not even be able to communicate with it. If you decline to indicate what
you know to Major Stannard and me, who are his friends, the immediate
protest of the regiment against your conduct must go to headquarters
with the request that the court be held until we can appear before it.
More than that, in two days we will reach the general commanding the
department. Do you fancy he will permit Mr. Ray, of all others, to be
brought to trial without a friend to appear for him?"

Gleason saw he was cornered. What he hoped, what he expected, was to
make his escape and get back before any one learned of the charges. That
hope was frustrated. In his wrath and perplexity he resorted to the
invariable device of the cowardly and the low. He must divert their
sympathy for Ray into distrust of him, and before he had fully
considered his words they were spoken,--crafty, insidious, and
calumniatory.

"Captain Truscott, _you_ have spoken without threatening me, and I'll
answer you. All this time I've been striving _not_ to see, not to know
Mr. Ray's offences; but I was on the horse board. You were not. Ask
Captain Buxton to-morrow who and what Ray's associates were; but let me
say to you right here that I can no longer submit to seeing you
deceived. You call Ray your friend. No man can be a worse friend than he
who sets a whole garrison talking about an absent comrade's wife and the
notes she writes him, and who is discovered alone with her,--she in
tears, he burning a letter. Webb witnessed it. Ask him."

The last words were spoken with utmost haste, with upraised hand, with
trembling lips, for both Truscott and Stannard almost savagely sprang
towards him as though to cram the words down his throat. For an instant
Truscott stood glaring at him, not daring to speak until he could resume
his self-command; but in that instant poor, perturbed Webb broke into
speech.

"Oh, come now, Gleason, that's all an outrageous way of putting it, you
know. Of course I saw there was some little trouble. Mrs. Truscott had
written to Ray because she was all upset about something; she was
crying, you know, and Ray might have just happened in----"

"Never mind, Webb. Don't speak a word; of course it is all easily
explained. No man on earth is more welcome at my home than Ray, and my
wife is one of his warmest friends. What I have to say is to you," said
Truscott, turning fully upon his subaltern. "If I needed one further
proof to assure me that you were the lowest and most intriguing
scoundrel that walks the earth, you have given it this night. Gentlemen,
you are witness to my words." And with that he walked away.

"And _I_ say, Mr. Gleason, that if ever I lose a chance of showing you
up in your true colors before this regiment, may the Lord forgive me!
We're booked for the campaign now; but if you don't appear before that
court with credentials that would damn even an Indian agent it won't be
the fault of the --th Cavalry: and I mean to start about it to-night."

And he did. Old Stannard had a stormy interview with the colonel
forthwith, and stirred up Bucketts, the quartermaster, and Raymond and
Turner and Merrill among the captains, and even thought of rousing
Canker, but concluded not to; and they raked out their pencils, and when
the escort started back next morning with Mr. Gleason, the sergeant was
intrusted with a batch of letters to various staff-officers setting
forth in unequivocal terms Gleason's reputation as opposed to Ray's
brilliant and gallant, if somewhat reckless, record. Even the colonel,
inspired by Stannard's fiery eloquence, sent a few lines to the general
commanding the division, expressing the desire in the regiment that
there should be a suspension of proceedings against Ray until they could
get in from the campaign. Even Billings turned to at Stannard's urging,
and wrote personally to Ray and to the officer who was named as
judge-advocate of the court, and everybody felt glad to be rid of
Gleason as he rode homeward in gloomy silence. Everybody felt that he
would be powerless for harm, little dreaming how ineffectual those
letters would be as far as the present case against Ray was concerned;
little dreaming how his going was but the means of coiling still more
closely the folds of suspicion and dishonor around the gallant comrade
whom all so gloried in for his summer's work; little dreaming of the
days of doubt and darkness and tragedy that were to envelop those they
left behind at Russell; little dreaming that from them and from friends
at home there was coming utter isolation,--that before them lay days and
weeks of toil and danger and privation, of stirring fight, of drooping
spirits, of hunger, weakness, ay, starvation, wounds, and lonely death;
little dreaming that when next they reached a point where news from home
could come to them one-half their gallant horses would be gone, broken
down, starved, or shot to death; many of their own number would have
fallen by the way, and that of the bold, warlike array that rode
buoyantly in among the welcoming comrades in the camp of the Gray Fox,
only a gaunt, haggard, tattered, unkempt shadow would remain, when,
eight long weeks thereafter, there came to them the next sad news of
Ray.



CHAPTER XXI.

RAY'S TROUBLES.


"Here we are, Billy! Whoop! What did I tell you? Official communications
disrupt bad grammar. The chief sends back your letter. Wants it changed
again, I suppose. It's the old, old story,--

    'You can and you can't,
    You will and you won't;
    You'll be damned if you do,
    You'll be damned if you don't.'"

Ray took the paper with a hand that was hot and flushed. For a week he
had been in close confinement, and that and a complication of annoyances
and worries had combined to make him fretful; then some grave anxieties
were added to his troubles; and then, his quick, impetuous nature had
done the rest. He had no cool-headed adviser in Blake, who had taken up
the fight with him, and now he was involved in an official tussle with
the post authorities that added greatly to his fevered condition. He was
sore in body, for the wound in his thigh was now beginning to trouble
him again. He was sore at heart, for, except the impolitic Blake, he did
not seem to have a friend in the world. There had come one or two kind
little notes from the ladies "up the row," as they called the
Stannard-Truscott household when they did not care to be more explicit;
but these had ceased, and what was worse, in his days of worry and
trouble and heartsickness, Ray had sought comfort in an old solace, that
had done no great harm when he was living his vigorous out-of-door life,
but was playing the mischief with his judgment and general condition now
that he was penned up in the narrow limits of his quarters. Very, very
anxious had Mrs. Stannard's face become; very wistful and anxious, too,
was Miss Sanford's; and very sympathetic was Mrs. Truscott's. The first
few days of his arrest they used to stroll down the line, and make it a
point to go there and chat with him on his piazza; and this exasperated
old Whaling, who was indignant that the cavalry ladies should make a
martyr of their regimental culprit. The third day of his arrest, they
were all seated there on the piazza, while Ray sat at his open window,
and Hogan, his orderly, had led Dandy around to the front, and the
pretty sorrel--the light of his master's eyes until eclipsed by one
before which even Dandy's paled its ineffectual fire--was cropping the
juicy herbage in the little grass plat in front of the piazza and being
fed with loaf-sugar by delicate hands. Blake was sprawled over the
railing, limp and long-legged, chatting with Mrs. Truscott. Miss Sanford
was seated nearer the window, where Ray's eager eyes seemed to chain
her, and Mrs. Stannard was doing most of the talk, for they seemed
strangely silent. It was a pleasant picture of loyalty and _esprit de
corps_, thought Mr. Warner, as he came down from the office; but to old
Whaling, coming home crabbed from the store, where his post
quartermaster had beaten him several games of pool, it was a galling
sight. The ladies bowed in quiet, modified courtesy,--there was no
cordiality whatever in it. Blake straightened up and saluted his
superior in a purely perfunctory style that had nothing of deference and
little of respect in it, and the colonel and his quartermaster both
raised their caps in evident embarrassment. They looked back at Dandy
after they had passed on a few rods, and Blake muttered,--

"Now, Billy boy, they'll be sending you a note to keep your horse out of
your front yard hereafter." But Blake had undershot the mark.

That evening there came bad news. Rallston had been named as one of the
principal witnesses, and Ray had telegraphed and written to his sister
at Omaha asking where he was. His letter explained the situation he was
in, and, though he would say nothing to accuse her husband, he told her
that one of the allegations was that he had accepted five hundred
dollars from him as a bribe to induce him to "pass" certain horses. The
facts were these: Rallston had been among the first to welcome him to
Kansas City, had taken him to his own rooms, had been most cordial and
kind, had brought all manner of loving inquiries from sister Nell, and
an invitation from her to visit them at Omaha before his return. Ray did
not and would not drink anything beyond a little wine at dinner, nor
could he be induced to touch a card at play, though every evening some
of Rallston's friends were there playing poker, and Ray was a laughing
and interested spectator. In the course of two or three days Rallston
had grown very confidential, and had finally, most gracefully, told Ray
that he had disliked to mention it until he felt he knew him well, but
that Nelly had told him her brother had some outstanding debts; he owed
money to several different parties and it worried him; they were dunning
him all at the same time, and he could only meet their claims
successively. "Now," said Rallston, "why not let me be your banker? Let
me hand you the amount you owe these fellows. Pay 'em off at once, and
then you're a free man. You can repay me when you choose, and if you
never do, why, it's all right--it's Nell's present to you. I've got
several thousand dollars in the bank this moment that I've no use for;"
and Ray had thanked him from the bottom of his heart and accepted. Later
there began to grow a breach. Rallston had quickly seen how keen an eye
Ray had for defects in horseflesh, and had striven to get him to accept
some horses he knew to be "off color." Ray had firmly refused. Then,
later, he asked Ray to sign an I. O. U. for the five hundred dollars,
which was done, and the next thing he noticed Rallston was consorting
with Gleason; and when the board adjourned there was no Rallston to say
good-by. Ray went to Omaha and saw his sister, who was rejoiced to hear
how generously her husband had behaved, but Ray was a trifle worried
then at her repeated questions about him, though Nell was brave and
buoyant as ever. She was living at the hotel until his return, and he
did not return up to the time Ray left for the regiment. Ray had written
to him and received no reply. Now he had written to her asking where he
was, and then she broke down and told him. She had not seen her husband
for a month, and had only an occasional line. She needed money at that
moment and knew not where to find him. She thanked God they had no
children.

This was one letter to cause Ray bitter anxiety. Another came that he
read with infinite surprise, turned over the enclosure in his hand, rose
and looked through his bureau-drawer, and then, with a long whistle of
consternation and perplexity, shoved the note and enclosure into his
pocket.

All that night he was restless and feverish. The next morning brought a
new trouble. Once let a fellow get in arrest and all the buzzing
contents of Pandora's box will be turned loose upon his unlucky head. He
had risen late, could eat no breakfast, and his wound was troubling him.
There came a knock at the door, and the orderly with the commanding
officer's compliments,--"Was that horse of the lieutenant's private or
public property?"

"Why, public, of course," said Ray; "but say to the colonel that each
officer of the --th Cavalry has been allowed to use one horse for
campaign purposes to be considered as his own."

Blake had gone off somewhere. It was too early for the ladies. Ray
fretted and worried, wondering what this new move could portend, when he
heard a row in the back-yard; and in came Hogan, full of fight and
wrath.

"There's a doughboy sergeant out there, sir, as says he's ordered to
take Dandy to the quartermaster's stables, an' I told him to go to
blazes, an' whin he shtepped by me an' into the paddock an' began
untyin' him, I told him he had a right to shpake to you furrst, an' he
said he'd slap me into the gyard-house if I gave him any lip, and I
turned the kay on him, sir, an' here it is. I locked 'em both in, sir.
Shure they couldn't take the lootenant's horse without his knowin' it,
sir."

Ray took the key and hobbled out to his back door, simply telling Hogan
to come with him. He was thunderstruck at the idea of their taking Dandy
from him. He never thought of that as a possibility--Dandy, who seemed
after that wild night-ride to be part of himself.

"Go and open the door, and tell the sergeant to come here," said Ray.

But the instant the sergeant was released, he rushed out with fury in
his eye, fell upon Hogan, seized him by the collar, and, with rage in
every word and expletive, ordered him to go with him to the guard-house,
swearing he'd teach him to resist an officer in the discharge of his
duty. Hogan clinched his fist and looked first as though he would knock
the sergeant into the next yard, which he was physically able to do, but
discipline prevailed; he lifted neither hand nor voice, but simply
looked appealingly at his own officer as the sergeant marched him past.
Ray called to the irate infantryman to hold on a moment, he would
explain; but Ray was in arrest and could give no orders. The sergeant
knew that for the time being he was virtually the superior. He simply
did not choose to hear the lieutenant, but went on with his prisoner
across the parade, lodged him in the guard-house, then went to the
quartermaster's and reported that he had been violently resisted by
private Hogan, locked up by him in the paddock with the horse, and that
as soon as he could get out he had "arrested private Hogan and confined
him by your order, sir," the customary formula in such cases made and
provided.

Meantime, Dandy, finding himself untied and the stable-door open, had
ventured forth from the paddock while his master had hurried through the
house to again fruitlessly call to the sergeant from the front door, and
as the sorrel sniffed the mountain breeze and felt the glow of the
sunshine on his glistening coat, all his love for a wild gallop had
possessed him; he trotted out on the triangle in rear of the houses,
looked triumphantly about him a second or two with his head high in air,
his nostrils quivering, and his eyes dilating, then with a joyous snort
and two or three exuberant plunges, with streaming mane and tail he tore
away northward, and went careering over the prairie. Miss Sanford,
seated near her window in an arm-chair--and a revery, heard the thunder
of hoofs, and ran to see what it meant. She stood some minutes watching
Dandy racing riderless over the springy turf before she knew that Grace,
too, was by her side gazing from the same window. If Billy Ray could
have seen those two faces when Marion turned to her friend--the quick,
hot flush on one, the speaking eyes of both--he would never have done
what he _did_ do,--turn back to his room with a bitter imprecation on
his lips, with anger and desolation in his heart, and, raising his hands
in almost tragic gesture of impotent wrath as he glared around at the
walls of his undeserved prison, he heartily damned the fates that had
consigned him to the unsympathizing limits of an infantry garrison; he
heartily included the colonel and quartermaster in his sweeping
anathema; and then--oh, Ray! Ray! it was so weak, so pitifully weak!--he
dragged forth the old demijohn, filled and drank a bumper of rye, hurled
the goblet into flinders against the door, and threw himself upon his
bed in an ecstasy of pent-up wrath and misery, just as Blake came
tearing in to tell of Dandy's escapade. Yes, it was wofully weak, but as
wofully human.

That the breach between the post authorities and the cavalry officers
was widened by the day's occurrences goes without saying. Blake went and
asked for Hogan's release on the ground that as a cavalryman he had done
perfectly right in refusing to let the horse go until he had seen his
own officer, but the colonel properly replied that that by no means
justified or explained his locking up the sergeant, and in plain
language said that Hogan should be tried forthwith. Blake then urged
that Dandy, being a regimental horse, should be returned to Mr. Ray, as
the colonel well knew the circumstances that had endeared them to each
other; but the colonel replied that an officer in arrest had no use for
a horse, and that Mr. Ray had no right to a public animal anyway. Again
had the colonel law and right on his side. Then Blake declared that the
whole regiment would resent such an action, and the colonel was
punishing Ray before he was even tried; and the colonel, who was meek as
Moses in the presence of his wife, and who preferred peace to war when
there was any chance of becoming personally involved, but knew his
strategical strength in this contest and was prepared to use it, most
properly, pointedly, and justifiably told Mr. Blake that unless he, too,
desired to figure as the accused before a court-martial for
insubordinate conduct, he would mend his ways forthwith; meantime, to
leave the office. And Blake went.

If Blake had been wise as Gleason he would have cultivated Mrs.
Whaling's society instead of dropping her, as he did in this critical
state of affairs. When the good lady called to see the ladies of the
cavalry the next morning, she referred with poignant sorrow to the fact
that those two misguided young men were drowning their sorrows in the
flowing bowl. Mrs. Stannard ventured a disclaimer, but Mrs. Whaling had
her information straight from the quartermaster, and was not to be
downed. Mrs. Stannard wrote a few earnest words to Mr. Ray, making no
mention of what she had just heard, but begging him not to lose heart at
having to part with Dandy, and saying they would all be down to see him
the next afternoon, and he must be sure and be ready to welcome them.
Ray and Blake _had_ been drinking confusion to the doughboys together
during the evening, and the former was very feverish and excitable when
the letter came. He knew well that somebody had already been telling her
of his weakness, and it only angered him. He wrote no answer until later
in the day; but when he did, it was to say that while he would be glad
to see them to-morrow as suggested, he could not but feel disappointed
that they had not come this very afternoon. But as they had not come, he
and Blake proceeded to get into more mischief.

It almost broke Ray's heart when that morning Dandy was led past his
window, and presently he saw the post quartermaster, a bulky youth of
some forty summers, climb on his back, get a rein in each hand, and
with knees well hunched up and elbows braced, settle himself according
to his ideas of equestrianism in the big padded saddle. As Dandy felt a
trifle fresh, and chafed under the weight of the heavy rider and heavy
dragoon bit, he switched his tail and tossed his head, being instantly
rewarded by a fierce jerk on the huge curb and a shout of "whoa there!"
that stung him into amazed and suffering revolt and drove poor Ray
almost distracted. Dandy's mouth was tender as a woman's. Ray rode him
with the veriest feather touch on the rein, and to see his pet tortured
by such ignorance was more than he could stand. He flew to the door, and
shouted,--

"For God's sake, man, don't use that curb! He'll go all right if you
give him his head." But the infantryman only glared, probably did not
hear, he was so busy trying to keep his seat; and paying no attention to
Ray, went alternately jerking and kicking up the row, while Dandy,
startled, amazed, tortured, and high-strung, backed and plunged and
tugged at the bit. A mother who sees her child abused by some ruffian of
a big boy knows what Ray suffered from that scene. Only to such, and to
the trooper who loves the horse who has borne him through charge after
charge, who has been his comrade on campaign after campaign, shared
wounds and danger and hunger and thirst with him, will Ray's next move
be conceivable; he threw himself upon his bed, buried his face in his
arms, and broke down utterly.

He and Blake concocted between them later in the day a letter to the
colonel expressive of their views as to Dandy's rights; but the letter
was so pointed a protest against their seizing a regimental horse for
quasi-quartermaster's purposes, and so deep a sarcasm on infantry
horsemanship, that it came back with a stinging reprimand. Even Warner
felt it a slur. Then Blake tried another: setting forth that as neither
the commanding officer nor the quartermaster had been in saddle since
the war of the Rebellion,--if they had then, the latter being a
promotion from the ranks,--they could not be expected to know what they,
as cavalrymen, were required to know, that a horse of spirit was not to
be ridden like a cast-iron mule; but luckily for Mr. Blake's chances for
future usefulness the post surgeon dropped in just then, and casting his
eye over the screed, coolly took and tore it up, sent Blake over to the
hospital for the steward, chatted pleasantly with Ray while he dressed
the wounded thigh, pointed significantly to the demijohn, saying,
"There's where much of this fever comes from. No more of it, Ray." And
then when Blake came back, took him out and gave him a rasping; told him
that his hot-headedness was only making matters worse for Ray, and that
he must take things quietly. He knew that Ray hadn't been treated right
about the horse, but old Whaling couldn't be expected to have any more
sentiment on such matters than his stolid quartermaster, and by fighting
them he was simply doing harm. In fact, said the doctor, Ray is now in a
very feverish and excitable state, and if this continue I cannot say
what will result. So a more temperate letter was written, and Ray bowed
to the yoke, and meekly signed a civil explanation to the quartermaster
of the horse's character and the proper way of handling him; but that
worthy had meantime represented to the colonel that Mr. Ray had come to
his door and sworn at him when he mounted that morning, and he would
have no advice; and so by direction of the commanding officer a
communication was sent to Mr. Ray to the effect that as he was no longer
responsible for the care of the horse he would refrain from interference
with or suggestions to the post quartermaster. This was the letter that
Blake had brought in with a flourish; and that morning--all that day
from eight A.M. until late in the afternoon, without water, without his
customary feed, saddled and bridled, poor Dandy stood in the hot sun
tied to a post in front of the quartermaster's house, in full view of
Ray's front windows. The quartermaster was too stiff and chafed after
yesterday's experiences to attempt to mount to-day, but he could worry
the horse and madden Ray by keeping him tied there switching the flies
from his scarred flanks, and wistfully neighing and pricking up his ears
every time any one approached along the walk.

Blake had gone to town early in the morning after giving that letter to
Ray. Hogan was in the guard-house a prisoner. Ray was penned to the
limits of his house in arrest. He could only see and hear the suffering
of his pet and not relieve him. Late in the day he called to a soldier
going by and offered him a dollar to go to the horse and tie him to a
post ten yards nearer where there was a little shade. The soldier untied
and was leading him away while Dandy tripped gratefully after, when the
quartermaster's Hibernian accents were heard thundering an order to
"come back wid dthat harrse." The soldier saluted and said Mr. Ray had
asked him just to move him into the shade, and the officer damned the
man for not knowing better. Then Ray came to the door and asked the
soldier to take Dandy a bucket of water, and as the man carried it and
the horse pawed and whinnied at the welcome sight, the quartermaster
appeared on his piazza, and shouted in wrath to the soldier not to
interfere again or he'd "have him in the lock-up." And poor Dandy, like
an equine Tantalus, was robbed of the needed fluid. Ray could bear no
more. He kept one foot inside the door-way as his arrest demanded, but
leaning far out, with blazing eyes and clinching fist he hurled his
challenge at the quartermaster in a voice that rang along the row like
the "to arms" of the trumpets.

"You cowardly brute! I'll horsewhip you before the whole garrison the
moment I'm free!" The surgeon heard it and came hurrying to him. Mrs.
Turner heard it and feared poor Mr. Ray must have been taking too much.
The colonel heard it far up the row and incorporated it in the
additional charge and specifications he was drawing up against Mr. Ray;
but the ladies "up the row" were busy dressing to come down according to
promise and see him, and they did not hear. Ah, no! Nine out of ten of
those who read this may say it was all improbable, impossible, or, if
true, that there was nothing but drink to explain poor Ray's frantic
outburst; but ask any cavalryman who deserves the name, and we will rest
the defence with him.

The ladies came as Mrs. Stannard had promised, and with anxious face
the doctor met them at the gate. Mr. Ray was in no condition to see any
one.

That night Mrs. Stannard returned with the doctor to his bedside. Ray
was delirious, in a raging fever.



CHAPTER XXII.

A SHOT AT MIDNIGHT.


While, as has been said, no further news of affairs at Russell reached
the regiment before they plunged into the thick of the campaign and were
soon cut off from all communication, there were still three or four days
in which the officers could talk over matters and write their letters to
be sent back from the intrenched camp at Goose Creek by the first party
that was numerically strong enough to undertake the journey. The colonel
had been furnished a brief synopsis of the charges against Ray, and
Stannard swore with a mighty oath when he read them that from beginning
to end the whole thing was made up by Gleason and that other scoundrel,
Rallston. The officers came together, and Stannard told what he knew of
Rallston's shadowy record in the past, and one by one Gleason's hints,
sneers, and slurs about Ray were dragged to light and exploded. There
were men sitting around the colonel's tent, a hardy, bushwhacking set of
frontiersmen they all looked, who for very shame wished themselves
away. Canker's cheeks burned as he recalled how often he had permitted
Gleason to defame Ray. Crane and Wilkins hung their heads and tugged at
their stubby beards, and looked uncomfortable, for the whole tenor of
talk was an enthusiastic and vehement vote of confidence in the
Kentuckian. Knowing him to be hot-headed and rash, there was great
anxiety about him, and one impulsive fellow suggested that they all sign
a letter to him expressing their belief in his innocence and their
confidence in his cause. This would not do, said the colonel; it was
tantamount to insubordination. Individually they were at liberty to
write, but it must not be done as a regiment; and so it resulted that
only two or three wrote to him, and one of these was Canker.

Stannard was not fully satisfied. It was agreed that at the very first
opportunity they should have another general talk, and the officers had
then gone to their various tents to send what might be the last messages
home. They were to march over against the Rosebud at dawn, and it was
only a few miles' gallop across the divide where Custer and his gallant
men lay at their shallow graves, most of them by this time disinterred
by prowling wolves or vengeful Indians.

Truscott, too, had written to Ray, and it was not easy. He had written
to Grace a long letter, and that was harder still. Three days had
elapsed since Gleason's explosive announcement of that strange tableau
at his home. He had disdained to listen to explanation or to further
statement. He would not condescend to ask Webb a single question; but he
had called him aside that morning and said a quiet word.

"Should you ever need a solution of what may have seemed a mystery to
you, Webb, in what you mention having seen,--Mrs. Truscott and my friend
Ray, I mean,--you have simply to remember that the news of that massacre
over yonder has unnerved every woman in the army, and that Mrs. Truscott
is not now in a condition to bear any shock. I had asked Ray to go
regularly to my house."

He was incapable of doubting her. He would not doubt Ray, and yet--and
yet there was something about the matter he did not like. She had
written to him--three pages--that afternoon after it all occurred, and
had mentioned nothing of Ray's being there, nothing of her having been
agitated during his visit, nothing at all of it; and yet such a scene
had occurred. He could account for there being a scene, but he could not
reconcile himself to her utter silence upon the subject.

In his letter to Ray he, of course, said nothing of it. In his letter to
his wife he gently, lovingly, pointed out to her that it was not right
that he should be told by strangers of her being seen sobbing upon the
sofa when alone with Mr. Ray, and that she should make no allusion to a
matter that had struck them as so extraordinary. Could he have taken her
in his strong arms and used just those words in speaking of it with all
the grace of love and trust and tenderness accenting every syllable, she
would never have mistaken the mood in which he wrote; but who that loves
has not marked the wide difference between such words written and
spoken? When the letter came it cut Grace to the heart, and it was the
last letter to reach her in one whole month. The next had to come way
around by the Yellowstone. Was it likely that in that intervening month
she should care to see much of Ray?

All over the Northwest that column went marching and chasing after the
now scattered bands of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull: always on the
trail, always pushing ahead. From the Tongue to the Rosebud; then over
to the Powder; then up to the Yellowstone; then, while Miles went across
after the fleeing Uncapapas and their wily old rascal of a leader, the
Gray Fox gave his ragged followers a few days in which to bait their
horses and patch their boots and breeches; then on he led them after the
Ogallallas and Brulés, far across the Little Missouri, over to Heart
River, where rations gave out; then down due south by compass through
flooding rain, heading for the Black Hills, two weeks' march away. It
was summer sunshine when they cut loose from tents and baggage at Goose
Creek, with ten days' rations and the clothes they had on. It was
freezing by night before they saw those tents and wagons again down in
the southern hills, where they came dragging in late in September,
having lived for days on the flesh of their slaughtered horses, and in
all these weeks of marching and suffering and fighting no line had
reached Stannard or Truscott or anybody from the wives at home. There
were sore and anxious hearts among them, but those at home were sorer
still.

It was the second week in August when those last letters came from the
--th to Russell. It was the second week in September before they heard
from them at the bivouac on the Yellowstone. It was the second week in
October before the next news came,--the hurried letters brought down
from the Black Hills, and telling of their homeward coming. It was the
last week in October as they rode--bronzed and bearded and gaunt and
thin, herding in the disarmed bands of Red Cloud--that the orders were
received returning them to winter quarters far down along the Union
Pacific, nearly ten days' march to the south; and meantime--meantime how
very much had happened at Russell.

It was the twelfth day of Mr. Ray's arrest and the sixth of his sharp
illness that Mr. Gleason arrived at the post and went to report to the
commanding officer. Mrs. Truscott and Miss Sanford, seated on their
piazza, saw him alight at his quarters from the stage, and immediately
went in and closed their door. Mrs. Stannard had been with them awhile
the evening previous. Ray was entirely out of danger and was sitting up
again, but very quiet and weak. Gleason, it seems, had taken a
roundabout way on his return, and had stopped two days at Fort Laramie,
from which post he did considerable telegraphing. The mail coming direct
from Fetterman brought those letters (which were sent by the sergeant)
three days ahead of him, and not a lady in the cavalry quarters at
Russell, except perhaps Mrs. Wilkins, would now receive him. Mrs.
Stannard met him on the walk soon after his arrival, and passed him with
a mere inclination of the head and the coldest possible mention of his
name, but she saw he was thin and haggard and very anxious-looking. He
was closeted with the post commander a long time, and came out looking
worse. Old Whaling was swearing mad over a letter from Stannard and one
from the commanding officer of the --th, plainly telling him that if he
had been induced to take steps against Mr. Ray by any representations of
Mr. Gleason, he would find himself heavily involved; and now Gleason
plainly wanted to "crawfish," and to declare that Whaling had used as
facts what he had only suggested as possibilities. Whaling was also
notified that they proposed to ask the department commander to have
proceedings against Ray suspended until the return of the regiment from
the campaign, and meantime here was the young gentleman sick on his
hands at the post, and that blundering, bullet-headed quartermaster of
his had got him involved in another row. Mr. Blake had made an
application to department headquarters for a board of officers to
appraise the value of one public horse, which he, Lieutenant Blake,
desired to purchase; had written to a staff friend at Omaha a graphic
description of Dandy's and Ray's "devotion to each other," and the
decree of divorce which was passed by Colonel Whaling's order. The
quartermaster had meantime had Dandy out in the sun for two more days,
tied to the post, and had been notified by Mr. Blake that if he ever
spoke to him, except in the line of duty, he would kick him, and things
were in almost as eruptive a state at Russell in this blessed month of
August of the centennial year as they had been at old Sandy during the
Pelham _régime_, only--only who could this time say it was a woman at
the bottom of it?

And yet was it not Gleason's unrequited attentions to our heroine that
prompted much of the trouble? Fie on it for a foul suggestion! Is woman
to be held responsible for a row because more than one man falls in love
with her?

And yet again. She who has been so studiously kept in the background all
these dreary chapters has been coming to the fore on her own account. In
plain cavalry language, Miss Sanford has twice taken the bit in her
teeth and bolted. Gleason once discovered, anent the club-room, that she
had a temper. Mrs. Turner was the next to arrive at this conclusion. It
was the day after Mr. Ray's illness began. Mrs. Whaling was paying an
evening visit. Mrs. Turner had dropped in, as she often did where the
ladies were apt to gather, and, despite Mrs. Truscott's polite and
modest expression of her disagreement with Mrs. Whaling's views, that
amiable lady persisted in descanting upon Mr. Ray's intemperate language
and conduct, and repeatedly intimating that it was all due to
intemperate drink. "The general" had said so, and that settled it. Miss
Sanford sat with blazing eyes and cheeks that flushed redder and redder;
she was biting her lip and tapping the carpet with the toe of her
slipper. Mrs. Whaling was called away by some household demand before
she had fairly finished her homily, and then Mrs. Turner, who had
narrowly watched these symptoms, determined to test the depth of Miss
Sanford's views upon the subject,--the revelation might be of interest.

"It does seem a pity that Mr. Ray should have done so much to ruin his
fine record, does it not, Miss Sanford?"

"Ruin it! Mrs. Turner? Pardon me! but you speak of it as though you
believed in his guilt,--as though you thought him culpable. If I were a
lady of the --th, I should glory in the name he had made for it, and be
defending, not abusing him." And, with the mien of a queen of tragedy,
she swished out of the room to cool her fevered cheeks upon the piazza.

"Well!" gasped Mrs. Turner. "If I had supposed she _cared_ for him I
wouldn't have suggested such a thing an instant."

"It is not a question of her 'caring' for him as you say, Mrs. Turner,"
spoke up Mrs. Truscott, with unusual spirit. "He is my husband's warmest
friend. We're all proud of him, all indignant at his treatment, and your
language is simply incomprehensible!"

Just didn't Mrs. Turner tell that interview--with variations--all over
the garrison within twenty-four hours? She had incentive enough; the
ladies flocked to hear it, and one absurd maiden saw fit the next
evening to simper her congratulations to Miss Sanford on "her
engagement"; but by that time Marion had recovered her self-control. She
met Mrs. Turner as though nothing of an unusual nature had occurred. She
laughingly, even sweetly thanked the damsel, and told her she was
engaged to no one.

But in another way she had come out like a heroine. She loved horses, as
has been said. She had wept in secret over Mrs. Stannard's description
of Dandy's seizure, and she was vehement with indignation at the
subsequent treatment of Mr. Ray's pet and comrade. No one ever saw
Marion Sanford so excited about anything before, said Grace; she could
not refrain from going to the door every little while to see if Dandy
were still tied there in front of the quartermaster's, and she would
have gone to that functionary himself and implored him to send the horse
back to the stable, only she could not trust herself to speak. But the
second day she could stand it no longer; she boldly assailed Colonel
Whaling, pointed out to him that for two days poor Dandy had been kept
there in the hot sun, tortured by flies, and begged him to exert his
authority and stop it. It made the quartermaster rabid. He knew somebody
must have been interfering, but that night the colonel told him he must
take better care of the sorrel, who was looking badly already, and
ordered him to be returned to the corral for a day or two. But this very
night, as Dandy was being led away, she heard Blake say to Mrs.
Truscott,--

"I'd give anything to buy him and give him to Ray."

"_Could_ you buy him?" she exclaimed, all flushing eagerness.

"Why, yes, if I had an unmortgaged cent, Miss Sanford," he said, with a
nervous laugh.

She rose, her eyes and cheeks aflame, and stood before them, almost
trembling, while her hands worked nervously,--

"Then _do_ it! Mr. Blake. Don't let him suffer another minute! buy
him--for me, no matter what he costs, and then--you give him to Mr. Ray.
I--I mean every word of it. You can have the money this instant,--the
check at least."

Grace sprang up and threw her arms around her neck. "You darling! How I
wish I could do it!" was all she could say, but Miss Sanford was simply
paying no attention to her. She was waiting to hear from Mr. Blake, who
was too much astounded to speak. That evening it was all settled that
Blake should make immediate application to purchase, and he went home
spouting Shakespeare by the page, perfectly enraptured with this new and
unsuspected trait in Marion, and perfectly satisfied that--it was not
for him.

The paper went in, and, preceded by Blake's personal letter to the
staff-officer, was forwarded to Omaha with an unfavorable endorsement.
The post quartermaster had said that except the band horses there were
none there that were not needed by the quartermaster's service, and
daily in use. All the same the order was promptly issued, and came back
in four days with the detail of Colonel Whaling, the post surgeon, and
Mr. Warner. Gleason was not named,--a singular thing, since he was the
only cavalry officer, except Blake, now for duty at the post, and they
had begun officer of the day work. But the very day the board met Ray
was out on his piazza taking the air with "extended limits," and
rejoicing in the letters that had just come to him from the fellows at
the front (the same mail had brought Mrs. Truscott that letter from Jack
which sent her to her room in misery), and towards evening Mrs. Stannard
came down to see him awhile, and hear his letters and tell him of her
own. Mr. Gleason passed out of his quarters girt with sabre,--he was
officer of the day,--and walked over towards the guard-house across the
parade. Blake had gone "up the row." He wanted to give them a chance for
a quiet talk, for Ray's heart was full of gratitude to the major's noble
wife. She had nursed him like a mother in his delirium and illness; she
had nursed him as she had other fellows when they were down, and they
none of them forgot it. As Blake passed Number 11 and glanced back
towards the rear windows, he saw a sight that, to use the words he often
affected, "gave him pause."

Standing cap in hand at the back of the house was the soldier Hogan, a
flush of mingled delight and surprise on his face, and his mouth
expanded in a grin of embarrassed ecstasy. In front of him was Miss
Sanford, daintily dressed as usual, holding out her hand. She caught
sight of Blake, pressed something into Hogan's hand and sprang quickly
back.

_Can_ she be sending Ray a note? was his first thought. He concluded not
to go in just then, but went on his way. That night Hogan was unusually
conversational around the house. He was plainly exhilarated. He came to
the room where the two officers were seated and stumbled over Mr.
Blake's boots.

"What on earth do you want, Hogan?" asked Ray, looking up from his paper
and pipe.

"I was wanting to clane the lootenant's pistol, sir, an' it isn't in the
holster."

"You needn't clean it to-night," said Ray, coloring. "I want it."

"What the dickens do you want it for to-night?" said Blake. "Let him
have it; it hasn't been cleaned for a month."

"Never mind, Hogan, not to-night."

"Could I be gone for a couple of hours, sir, if there's nothing else the
lootenant wants?"

"Oh, yes, go ahead; I shall not need you until morning."

"Would the lootenant take care of this for me?" said Hogan, holding out
two twenty-dollar bills. "I might lose it if I tuk too much."

"Don't take too much, then, you sinner. Where did you get this money,
sir?"

"Shure the lootenant mustn't blow on me," said Hogan, with rapture in
his eyes and a glibness born of poteen on his tongue, "but that
court-martial was the makin' of me fortune, sir. Shure not only did the
lootenant an' Misther Blake give me a fine charactther and ten dollars
to boot, but the moment do I get out of the gyard-house Mrs. Thruscott
sends Flanigan for me, an' when I get there shure it's the young leddy
as wants to see me. 'You're a good soldier, Mr. Hogan,' says she, 'and
you're true to Dandy, you are.' 'Faix I am, ma'am,' says I, 'an' long
life to him and the man that rides him,' says I. 'Shure it's he's the
soldier, ma'am, and the boss rider of the regiment too.' 'I know it, Mr.
Hogan,' says she, all a-blushin' like, 'an' I'm proud of ye for bein' so
thrue to him in his throuble,' says she. 'Faix, an' the men would
murther me, miss, if I wasn't,' says I; and so they would, begorra! and
thin says she, 'Now how much did they punish you on that court?' says
she. 'Tin dollars blind an' sivin days on the--in the gyard-house,
ma'am,' says I; an' says she, 'Here's twinty for the tin they robbed ye
of, and five for every day they kep' ye from yer masther an' Dandy.'
An', begorra, lootenant, she ran in the house before iver I could shpake
another wurrud."

"Go it, Mickey Free!" shouted Blake, roaring with laughter. Ray had
grown redder and redder as the Irishman told his tale, and at last,
laughing to cover his confusion, bade him begone.

That night was still and beautiful. Too excited by the events of the
day to think of sleep, Marion Sanford was awake long after midnight.
There was no moon, but the skies were cloudless, and a summer breeze
played with the curtains of her open window. Far down by the stables she
heard the call of the sentry at half-past twelve o'clock. A few minutes
later there was a sharp, sudden report, as of a pistol, somewhere down
the row; then as she sprang to the window she heard a stifled cry; then
all was silence again--unless--was it fancy? She felt, rather than
heard, a running footfall. Excited, startled, she hastily threw on a
wrapper and shawl and ran in to Grace, who was sleeping quietly as
before. Looking out on the parade, she could hear men running rapidly
over from the guard-house. Something terrible had happened she now felt
sure. Then a man was heard speeding up the walk towards the commanding
officer's. She could see him as he darted by, and listened intently. He
banged at the colonel's door, and then presently more men came hurrying
by. Still she did not like to call; she feared to awaken or shock Grace.
But in another minute, as a member of the guard ran by, Mrs. Stannard's
clear voice floated out on the night air,--

"What is the matter, corporal?"

"Lieutenant Gleason's murdered, ma'am; shot dead in his room."

"Good heavens! Who _could_ have done it?"

"I don't--leastwise, ma'am, they--they say 'twas Lieutenant Ray."



CHAPTER XXIII.

IN CLOSER TOILS.


A coroner's inquest was in session at Russell, and in the benighted
regions of the Eastern States where the functions of that worthy public
officer are mainly exercised in connection with the "demnition moist"
remains of the "found drowned," or the attenuated skeletons of the
starved, there can be but faint conception of the divinity which doth
hedge a coroner in a frontier city where people, as a rule, die with
their boots on. Perhaps it was a proper consideration of the relative
importance of the two offices which had induced Mr. Perkins to decline
with thanks the nomination of territorial delegate to Congress, and to
intimate through the columns of _The Blizzard_ that he sought no higher
office at the hands of the people than that in which, to the best of his
humble ability, he had already served two terms. As the emoluments of
the coronership were dependent entirely upon the number of inquests held
during the year, the position in an Ohio town of five thousand
inhabitants would hardly have taken precedence over a seat in the House
of Representatives, but a lively frontier city, the supply centre of all
the stock, mining, and trading enterprises to the north of the
railway,--a town that had been the division terminus since the road was
built, and was the recognized metropolis of the plains,--well, "that
_was_ different, somehow," said Mr. Perkins's friends; and, as his
gleanings had been double those he would have received in
Congress,--that is, in the way of salary,--Mr. Perkins had wisely
decided that so long as "business was brisk" he preferred the exaltation
of holding the most lucrative position in the gift of his
fellow-citizens. His decision had been a disappointment to other
aspirants, for not only pecuniarily was the office of first importance,
but, in the very nature of his functions, the coroner acquired in the
eyes of all men a mysterious interest and influence beside which the
governor of the Territory, the mayor, and even the chief of the fire
department felt themselves dwarfed into insignificance. For four years
Mr. Perkins had been a busy man. He dispensed far more patronage than
the delegate to Congress, as he was constantly besieged by a class of
impecunious patriots to "put 'em on the next one." A stranger arriving
by train and seeing a man shot down in front of some one of the
gambling-saloons, would have been perplexed to account for the rush of
the crowd in one direction, instead of scattering till the shooting was
over and then concentrating to stare at the victim. It was a race for
the coroner, and a place on the jury was the customary reward of the
winner. Too much precipitancy in some such cases, resulting in the
discovery by Mr. Perkins on arriving at the scene that the corpse was
humorously waiting for him to "set up the drinks," had resulted in the
establishment by him of a system of fines in the event of similar false
alarms; but, as has been said, the coroner had reigned for several years
as the wealthiest, the most envied and admired of the public officials.
He had invested in mines and real estate, had become a money-lender and
capitalist, and for some time considered himself on the high road to
fortune, when the discovery of gold in the Black Hills caused a sudden
hegira thither of nine-tenths of the shooting element, and the summer of
'76 found Mr. Perkins a changed and embittered man.

"Cheyenne ain't what it used to be," he would regretfully say, as entire
weeks would elapse without a fatal termination of a row; "fellers who
used to shoot on sight only sit around and jaw now. It's gettin' slow as
any d----d one-horse town east of the Mississippi." And in the general
gloom of the situation Mr. Perkins had more than once regretted that he
had not gone to Congress.

It was with a thrill of renewed hope, therefore, that he heard the loud
knocking at his door before dawn, and descending, received with
ill-concealed gratification the message of the commanding officer at
Fort Russell that his services were needed there at once. An officer had
been shot to death in his bedroom. It was one thing to air his
importance before an admiring audience of townspeople; but this--this
was something bordering on bliss. For the time being he could sit in
judgment on the words and deeds of those military satraps at the fort.
Perkins had bundled a jury of his chums into carriages and started out
across the prairie before the smoke from the morning gun had fairly died
away. By the time the men had finished breakfast the jury and the
reporters were at their work, and an awe-stricken group stood silently
at the gate of the little brown cottage wherein death had set his seal
during the watches of the night.

It was in the back room of the first floor that the jury had assembled.
There on the narrow bed lay the mortal remains of the officer whose
death-cry had startled the garrison so short a time before. Men and
women had spoken with bated breath, with dread and horror on their
faces, with heavy load at heart,--many had not slept at all,--since the
news flew round the garrison at one o'clock. It was shocking to think of
Mr. Gleason as murdered, but that he should have been murdered in cold
blood, without a word of altercation, and murdered by an officer of his
own regiment,--one so brave, so gifted, so popular as Ray,--was simply
horrible; and yet--who that heard the evidence being given,--slowly,
reluctantly, painfully--before that jury could arrive at any other
conclusion. Even before the jury came sentries with fixed bayonet were
stationed at Ray's bedroom door, and no one was allowed to go in or out
except by order of the commanding officer.

The colonel had not gone to bed since being aroused. The moment the post
surgeon had announced that Gleason was stone dead the body was lifted to
the bed; Lieutenant Warner was placed in charge of the room, with orders
to see that nothing was touched or removed, and the colonel began an
immediate investigation. The sergeant of the guard, who, with one or two
men, had been out searching the rear yards, had handed the colonel on
his arrival a silver-mounted pistol,--Smith & Wesson's, of handsome make
and finish, with every chamber loaded but one. He had picked it up just
by the back gate. On the guard were engraved in monogram the letters W.
P. R., and as the colonel held it up, Private Hogan, who had been
assisting in raising the body to the bed, gave one quick look at it,
exclaimed, "Oh, Holy Mother!" and hurried from the room. He was sternly
called back, and came, white and trembling.

"Do you know that pistol, sir? Whose is it?"

Hogan wrung his hands and looked miserably around.

"Answer at once!"

"It's--it's the lootenant's, sir!"

"What lieutenant?"

"Misther Ray, sir. Oh, God forgive me!" sobbed poor Hogan, and, covering
his face with his hands, he burst into tears.

"Where is Mr. Ray?" demanded the colonel, in a voice that trembled
despite his strong effort at self-control.

"He was here, sir, when I came," said the sergeant of the guard. "He was
kneeling over the body, and told me to hurry out on the prairie,--the
murderer had run that way."

"Mr. Ray is in his quarters, colonel. I took him there just before you
came," said Blake, entering at the moment, and Blake's face was white as
death.

"Who was here besides Mr. Ray?" asked the colonel of the sergeant.

"Not a soul, sir. The body lay there on its face where the blood is on
the floor, and Mr. Ray was kneeling beside it trying to turn it over, I
thought. I was standing in front of the company quarters just over here,
sir, when the shot was fired, and I heard the yell. I ran hard as I
could straight here, and it wasn't half a minute."

"And you saw no one else at all?"

"No one, sir. The lieutenant said the man as did it rushed out on the
prairie between the hospital and the surgeon's, and it was dark, sir,
and no use looking. Coming back, I picked up the pistol right by the
gate."

"Stay here all of you," said the colonel. "Mr. Blake, I want _you_."

And in another moment Blake went silently up the row. The colonel's
orders were that he should guard his comrade until relieved by the
officer of the day with his sentries.

But the coroner's jury had investigated still further. The web of
circumstantial evidence that had enveloped Ray by eight o'clock that
August morning was simply appalling. It summed up about as follows. The
sergeant of the guard had been making the rounds of the ordnance and
commissary storehouses, and heard voices out on the prairie as of men
coming from town; listening, he recognized those of Hogan and Shea, the
latter being Lieutenant Gleason's orderly. They were apparently coming
from the direction of the "house on the hill," as the resort out by the
little prairie lake, previously described, was termed, and as they were
not boisterous at all, though evidently "merry," he had not gone towards
them, but, entering the main gate, he turned to the left to go to the
guard-house, and was opposite the second set of company quarters when he
heard voices at Lieutenant Gleason's, excited but unintelligible, then
the shot, a scream, and he ran full tilt, not more than two hundred
yards, into the house and through the little hall to the back room,
where a light was burning. There lay Lieutenant Gleason on his face with
his head to the back door, which was open, while Lieutenant Ray was
kneeling between the body and the back door. All he said was, "Quick!
the man who did it ran out on the prairie past the doctor's," and the
sergeant had pursued, but returned in a moment or two, having seen
nobody but Hogan and Shea, who came running back with him. Shea went for
the doctor and Hogan to call Lieutenant Blake. The corporal of the guard
then arrived with two men. They sent one for the colonel. Lieutenant Ray
again told them to hunt the murderer, but they found nothing but the
pistol. When they returned the second time the colonel and surgeon were
there, but Mr. Ray was gone.

Shea's testimony was sensational: Hogan had come to him about tattoo,
and proposed that they should go out and have a quiet time at the house
on the hill; he had plenty of money and had already been drinking a
little. Shea went, but fearing Hogan would take too much and get into
more trouble, had persuaded him to start for home about 11.30. They came
across the prairie and were talking pretty loud, heard no pistol-shot,
or cry, saw or heard no one except the sergeant, though they had come
through the gap between the hospital and surgeon's quarters. Shea said
that he had been Mr. Gleason's "striker" (soldier-servant) for two
years; knew his character and habits well, and knew there was trouble
between him and Mr. Ray. Questioned as to particulars, Shea went on to
say that there had been a "terrible row" between them the day Mr.
Gleason started for Fetterman; he didn't know what it was about, but had
overheard some of the language from the back kitchen, and the last thing
Lieutenant Ray had said was, "'If ever you breathe a word of this to a
soul,' or something like that, 'I'll shoot you like a dog.'" He was sure
of the last words, and he thought then he wouldn't like to be in Mr.
Gleason's place. Shea's words produced a marked effect; but no more so
than did Hogan's, whom grief and liquor had made somewhat maudlin. Like
every Irishman in the regiment he thought the world of Ray, and it cut
him to the heart to have to testify against him; but he recognized the
pistol at once as the lieutenant's, and the fact was dragged out of him
that before tattoo the previous evening he had gone to get it and clean
it, and found it was not in the holster. He asked the lieutenant for it
and was refused. "I want it" was what the lieutenant had said.

Mr. Blake, very calm and very white, was brought in next, and faced the
impressive coroner and his jury. He corroborated Hogan's statement as to
Ray's language about the pistol; said that he had gone to bed up-stairs
at eleven o'clock, leaving Ray reading in the room below, and knew
nothing more of the affair until called by Hogan, when he had run to Mr.
Gleason's quarters, and after a moment had taken Ray home and insisted
on his going to bed. The lieutenant was just recovering from a severe
illness, was weak and unstrung, and the affair threatened to bring on a
relapse. There had been an open breach between the two officers for over
two years, and of late, he knew not how, it had widened. The deceased
frequently maligned Lieutenant Ray, and the latter never spoke of him
without aversion. Questioned as to his knowledge of anything that
occurred between them on the day of Gleason's departure, he said he knew
nothing. Ray had refused to talk on the subject. The surgeon had given
the necessary medical testimony as to cause,--a gunshot wound
penetrating the heart and causing almost instant death. The post
commander told of the charges against Lieutenant Ray, and of the fact
that the deceased was a principal witness--indeed, an accuser, and that
seemed all that was necessary. The jury desired to hear what Mr. Ray had
to say, and they questioned the doctor as to his ability to see them.
The surgeon had replied with professional gravity that so far as he was
concerned he thought his patient should not be disturbed, but that the
gentleman himself had insisted that no obstacle should be thrown in
their way if they felt disposed to examine him. Mr. Ray was cool as a
cucumber, though fully aware by this time of the fearful array of
evidence against him. Blake flew back to his bedside as soon as he heard
that the coroner had decided to question him, and with tears in his eyes
implored him to say nothing; but Ray had smiled faintly, and held out a
warning hand,--

"I've never hidden a word or deed of my life, Blake, and what has to be
hidden now is for another's sake--not mine. Time enough for lawyers when
the case comes to trial. A coroner's jury can only express an opinion. I
could not rest easy now without the vindication of a full trial."

And so the coroner and his jury filed solemnly in. Ray's voice was
placid and his eyes steadfast and true. He was courtesy itself to the
members of the jury, and all patience even under the insinuations of the
coroner that made Blake furious. His story was briefly that he had
strolled out to his rear gate to walk up and down in the yard a few
minutes before retiring. (He did not say "To gaze at a certain window up
the row.") Being in arrest he was permitted to go no farther, and just
after the sentry's call of half-past twelve he was startled by hearing
excited voices apparently in the rear room of the quarters two doors
away, then a shot and a scream; he had hurried thither, and at the back
gate of Gleason's quarters a man rushed past him on tiptoe and at full
speed. Ray had caught his arm an instant but was thrown roughly aside,
and the fugitive had fled like a deer through the open space between the
hospital and surgeon's quarters. He himself was weak from recent illness
and unable to pursue, but hurried into the back door of Gleason's
quarters, which was open, through the kitchen, and there, lying on his
face in the back room, was the deceased, dressed in shirt and trousers,
apparently even then dead. The sergeant came almost immediately, and
soon Mr. Blake, who presently reminded him that he was in arrest and had
no right to be in any quarters but his own, and took him home.

Questioned as to enmity with the deceased, he said he had long disliked
him, and that of late the feeling had become intensified. Questioned as
to the affair of the day on which the deceased had left the post, he
admitted there had been a violent scene, and that he had threatened him.
He also admitted that the pistol was his, but that it had _not been in
his possession since the day the deceased left the post_. Questioned as
to the cause of his quarrel and some further matters, he spoke very
quietly, as follows:

"These are matters, gentlemen, that cannot influence your decision. No
statement of mine can well counteract the chain of circumstances in this
case. I cannot tell you where my pistol was, and I must decline to say
one word at present of the cause of my late quarrel with the deceased."
In this he was firm, and what other verdict could they arrive at? The
deceased came to his death by a gunshot wound inflicted with murderous
intent, and, to the best of their belief, by the hand of William P. Ray,
a lieutenant in the --th Regiment of Cavalry, U. S. Army.

When they were gone to their deliberation and Ray was alone with his
friend, he called for a scrap of note-paper, thought earnestly a few
moments, and then rapidly wrote in pencil a few lines.

"Blake," he said, "take this to Mrs. Truscott and give it to her
personally. There will probably be no answer. If you cannot see her, ask
for Miss Sanford."

They were all in the parlor, Mrs. Stannard, Mrs. Truscott, and Miss
Sanford, when he reached the house. Three sadder faces he had never
seen. The first question was as to the verdict of the coroner's jury.
Blake shook his head. "It can only be one thing." Indeed, was not that
what Mrs. Whaling had been there to tell them already, with a simply
maddening array of embellishments?

Mrs. Stannard's blue eyes were red with weeping, and Mrs. Truscott
looked as though she had wept for hours. Indeed, she had been, long
before the shot was fired. Marion Sanford alone was quiet and composed;
her eyes were clear as ever, though deep dark rings had formed beneath
them, and her soft lips were set in constant effort to repress emotion.
Blake briefly told them how calm and brave Ray was, how he had refused
to explain about the pistol, or to give any particulars of his quarrel
with Gleason, merely saying it had been of long standing. There were
many things that he, Blake, must attend to at once, and so, if they
would excuse him, he wished to see Mrs. Truscott a moment, and she
followed him to the piazza falteringly.

"Ray told me to give this note to no one but you, Mrs. Truscott, and I
inferred that he wished you only to see it," said he.

To his surprise, she drew back her hand. Her lips began to quiver, her
eyes to refill. She made no effort to take it. He looked at her
wonderingly.

"Mr. Blake--I--I cannot take it. I cannot explain!" And then, abruptly
turning, she rushed into the house and up the stairs.

Poor Blake stood one moment in dire perplexity and then went back.

"She wouldn't take it, Billy. She said she couldn't; but d--n me if I
can fathom it."

Ray's eyes grew stony. Every vestige of color left his face. He covered
it with his thin white hands, and the man who had braved death and
torture to save his comrades, who had borne uncomplainingly, resolutely,
patiently, the trying ordeal of his examination by a gang of suspicious
men, who had suffered in silence the ignominy of a criminal charge
rather than drag to light a defence that might involve a woman's name,
now quivered and shuddered and turned to the wall with one low moan of
agony, cut to the heart by the fragile hand he would have died to
shield.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE GRASP OF THE LAW.


To a man of Mr. Blake's temperament the next few days were hard to bear.
He was worried half to death, and yet, when Mrs. Turner saw an
opportunity, and with a suggestive glance at his lean legs,
sympathetically inquired "if he wasn't afraid he'd lose _all_ his
flesh," he was fully able to appreciate the feminine dexterity and
malice of the allusion. His quick wit could have suggested a deserved
repartee; but even in his misery Blake would say no wounding word to a
lady of the regiment. He had good reason to take very little comfort in
her, however, as an exponent of the regimental feeling on which the --th
had prided itself. Mrs. Turner was far too voluble on the subject of the
awful disgrace that had been brought on their good name by this fearful
tragedy, and while she hoped and prayed Mr. Ray might be innocent, it
was evident that she was far from believing it a possibility. Just now
her time was taken up with Mrs. Whaling and the infantry officers, for
there was a blockade at number 11. The ladies had twice asked to be
excused when Mrs. Whaling and Mrs. Turner called. Mrs. Truscott was
feeling unable to see any one, said the servant, but Mrs. Stannard was
with her.

But Blake had expected nothing better of Mrs. Turner, and attached
little importance to her opinion. What had stung him to the quick was
the sight of Ray's suffering when that note came back to him refused. He
was amazed at Mrs. Truscott, for to his masculine mind and to Ray's worn
and wearied senses only one construction of her conduct was
apparent,--she believed him guilty, and shrank from his note as she
would from his blood-stained hand. Of that desolate night neither he nor
Ray could ever be brought to speak thereafter. Blake sat for hours by
the bedside of his stricken friend listening in helpless misery and
wrath to the occasional changing of the sentries, and watching, as a
sorrowing mother might watch, Ray's wordless suffering. Most of the
night he lay with his face buried in his arms; but Blake could see by
the clinching hand, the shudders that often shook his frame, the
constant, nervous tapping of his foot beneath the coverlet, that he was
wide awake,--alive to all his sorrows. The doctor had come and
prescribed sedatives, and promised to come again if he did not sleep.
Ray had silently taken the medicine, and for one instant Blake had
caught sight of the face that was now dear to him as any brother's. He
threw himself on his knees and tried to draw the hands away as Ray once
again turned to the wall.

"For God's sake, Billy," he wellnigh sobbed, "don't turn from me so!
There ain't a man in all the --th could believe it of you. What need you
care for what a nervous woman thinks?"

But Ray only pressed his hand a moment, and simply said,--

"I'll come round all right--after a while. Don't worry, old fellow."

But he hadn't "come round." At midnight Blake decided he must have a
drink, and he offered Ray some whiskey, thinking to benefit him in some
way. Ray heard, and said nothing, but put out his hand and gently pushed
it away, shaking his head, and this capped the climax of Blake's
perplexity. At one o'clock, seeing that Ray was still wide awake, he had
decided to go and fetch the doctor. He was fearful of the effect of this
long mental strain, but Ray seemed to divine his thoughts, and in a
voice so soft and patient as to melt Blake's raging into tears, he
begged him not to disturb any one. "I've got you, Blake; what do I want
of a doctor?"

Along towards morning Blake dragged in his buffalo-robes, and spreading
them on the floor by the bedside, soon dropped into a sleep of utter
exhaustion. When he awoke Ray was standing at the window, cleanly
shaved, dressed in his newest and neatest undress uniform, and listening
calmly to Mr. Warner, who, in a voice plainly showing his agitation, was
saying something that brought Blake to his feet with a single bound. A
warrant had been issued as the natural result of the inquest, the
officers of the law had come out from town, and it was the commanding
officer's order that he be turned over to the custody of the civil
authorities.

Blake would have burst into a fury of invective and denunciation, but
Ray's hand restrained him. Still weak from his unhealed wound, from
recent illness, from mental agitation and sleeplessness, Blake thought
he never saw Ray so brave, so strong, as when he made his reply.

"It was my expectation to see the commanding officer this morning, Mr.
Warner, as my dress indicates. Since he remands me to the charge of the
civil authorities, what I had to say to him must be said to them. I
shall be ready as soon as I can change to civilian dress."

And so, with only Blake to help stow away the few books and papers he
desired to lock in his trunk,--for even faithful Hogan had been
forbidden to enter the room,--Ray quietly made his preparations, and in
a few minutes stood arrayed in a business suit that had been made for
him years before, and was decidedly out of fashion. A carriage had
driven to his door, and two heavily-built men were lounging at the gate.
Blake, wild with nervousness and wrath, was making slow progress with
his dressing, and Ray took from him the little hand-bag he was
bunglingly striving to pack.

"I'll do this, Blake. You go on with your dressing. Of course I
understand you mean to go in with me; but now let me say a word. I have
had plenty of time to think, and this is just what I want, what I must
have. Nothing short of a full trial can satisfy me now; and as for being
handed over to the civil authorities,--well, is it any worse than what I
have had to bear _here_?"

"By heaven! but there'll come a day of reckoning for that cold-blooded,
soulless, bowelless, old block in the headquarters office. Just think of
the kicking he'll get when the --th comes home! But, Ray, what I'm
worried about is this,--bail, you know. You can't stay there in jail,
and I don't know any of these local plutocrats----"

"I've thought of all that. You are to ask _no_ one. If I were out on
bail I would have to come back _here_, and in all the world there is no
spot where I have known such misery. I prefer the jail at Cheyenne to
such freedom as this has been at Russell. In a few days my sister will
reach me, and then we'll see. Now hurry, I want to get away before
guard-mounting."

In a few minutes Blake was ready, and Ray told him to call in the
officers. They entered the room, and the first one, as he did so, by an
instinct which he could not himself explain, took off his hat as he
caught sight of Ray standing quietly at the window; his followers,
though evidently unused to such a display, followed suit. The leader
began to read his warrant, but Ray raised his hand and smilingly checked
him.

"Never mind it, my friend; it is all in due form, no doubt. You brought
handcuffs, I suppose?"

And the man was already fumbling in his left pocket for them. Ray went
on in the same quiet tone,--

"You won't need them, so keep them in your pocket. I am glad to go with
you now if you are ready."

And the officer, who, like every man in Cheyenne, had heard all about
the night ride that saved Wayne's command, and respected the "young
feller" that made it, was glad to find an awkward question put out of
his way. He had reddened with embarrassment, but was grateful to Ray for
taking the trouble off his mind. As they left the house, and poor Hogan,
looking over the banisters up-stairs, broke into an Irish wail of grief,
and the corporal of the guard instinctively brought his left hand up to
the shoulder in a salute that made his musket ring, a casual observer
would have said that Mr. Ray was showing his visitors to their
carriage. The door shut with a snap, the horses started with a crack of
the whip, and in another moment the silent quartette were whirled away
through the east gate before anybody "up the row" was fully aware of
what was going on.

Meantime, there had been a night of misery elsewhere in the garrison.
Mrs. Stannard had asked permission of the officer of the day to go to
Ray with the doctor at nine o'clock; the officer of the day said he
would go and see the colonel and let her know. He went, but did not
return. At ten o'clock Mrs. Stannard wrote a note to the colonel, and
that punctilious soldier replied through his adjutant at half-past ten.
He was very sorry, but for several reasons he was compelled to refuse
all applications to see Mr. Ray until the morrow. Mrs. Stannard in her
indignation could hardly find words to thank Mr. Warner for the courtesy
he personally displayed in the matter. She sent a servant to the
corporal of the guard to ask him to say to Mr. Blake that she desired
earnestly to see him a moment; the corporal said he would as soon as he
had posted the next sentry; but he forgot it until long after eleven,
owing to an excitement over in the band quarters, and then Blake thought
it best to wait until morning, and so it happened that one woman whose
heart was full of faith in and sympathy for Ray was balked of her desire
to send him full assurance of her thought for him. She could not sleep,
however, and at midnight walked alone down the row and asked the soldier
at the gate to give this little note for Ray to the sentinel within, but
the man came sadly and respectfully back. The sentry dare not pass it
in: it was against his orders. She looked wistfully at the dim light
showing through the curtains of the front room, but turned wearily away.
A dim light was burning, too, in Mrs. Truscott's room up the row, and
she tapped softly at the door, thinking that, like herself, they might
be still awake; but no answer came, and, at last, she went to her own
lonely quarters. Oh, how she longed for her brave, blunt, outspoken Luce
that night! He could find a way of helping Ray, and would do it despite
all the official trammels that the post commander could devise. She was
sick at heart, but next door lay a woman whose unrest was greater still,
whose trouble seemed more than she could bear. Mrs. Truscott had arrived
at the conclusion before ten o'clock that night that she was the most
miserable woman on the face of the globe.

Jack's letter arriving the day previous was as kind, as well expressed,
and as thoughtful a screed as ever mortal husband penned, but, being
like other husbands, only mortal, he had failed to bring about the exact
effect which was intended. Whether this was his fault or hers could not
be determined entirely by an inspection of a copy of the letter, since
letters may be read with a thousand different inflections, and the most
passionate heart-offering be made to sound like a torrent of sarcasm.
Perhaps it is neither here nor there whose fault it was. Grace read the
letter with burning self-reproach. It was the second time he had had
reason to find fault with her. True, she had acted as she supposed for
the best, and after consultation with Mrs. Stannard. Mrs. Stannard's
letter was to go by the next mail and explain the whole thing to the
major, who, if he deemed advisable, would carry everything to Truscott;
but, as we have seen, that explanatory letter had never reached the
regiment. It, with bags full of other letters, was lying in the wagons
at Goose Creek, while the --th was on the chase away to the Yellowstone,
and Grace had the misery of believing that Jack's last thought of her as
he rode off to battle was that she had had some sentimental scene with
Ray, had been surprised in the midst of it, and had concealed it from
him. She had spent a distracted afternoon, had written Jack page after
page, in which amid tears and kisses she had recorded her determination
never to let another man see her alone an instant, never to receive a
note of any kind from Ray or anybody else, never to _speak_ to a man if
she could help it; she hated them all,--all but one, whom she had
wronged and deceived, and whom she adored and worshipped now, and heaven
only knows what all! She felt comforted somehow when she had slipped
that letter into the box at the adjutant's office late that night, and
had gone so soundly asleep that she might not have known of the murder
until morning but for Marion. And then, that next afternoon,--that
_very_ next afternoon, after she had written all her impulsive,
wifelike, loving promises to Jack, what should come but a note from Ray
to be delivered privately to her. Let any young wife of less than a
year's disenchantment put herself in Mrs. Truscott's place and say what
she would have done. Of course, dear madam, I hear you say, _vous
autres_, "She needn't have made such a fool of herself! She might have
explained or--something!" I quite agree with you. That is what all of
us think who have survived the delirium of the honeymoon, that _mielle
de la lune-acy_ which all of us must encounter as our children do the
measles; but, you see, Mrs. Truscott was not yet through with it, and
what is more, I have heard you remark on several occasions that she was
an awfully weak sort of a heroine and would make Jack wretched yet.
Bless your womanly hearts! I never pretended that she was a Zenobia, or
a Jeanne la Pucelle, or a Susan B. Anthony. She was absurd, if you will,
but she was utterly in love with her husband, as Mrs. Turner said, and
thought far more of him than the rest of mankind put together, which is
more than some of you can say, though I'm bound to admit that she had
better reason than most of you, _placens uxor mea_ frankly included.

She had rushed up-stairs for a fresh burst of tears, and presently
Marion, all love and sympathy, came to see her, and the result of that
interview complicated matters in a way that baffles description. So far
from upholding her course, Miss Sanford had looked first grave, then
frightened, then indignant. In plain words she told her that at such a
time, when the man who had saved her life,--saved her honor,--showed
himself her best friend, her husband's best friend, stood charged with a
foul crime of which she well knew him to be guiltless, and had sent her
a simple note that could have no possible purpose other than to say that
now, at last, he might, to save his own name, have to tell of Gleason's
fiendish conduct towards her--to refuse it, to send it back--"Oh, Grace,
Grace, you _don't_ mean you could have done _that_! Oh, it was
monstrous! it was shameful!"

And Marion Sanford had rushed into her own room, banged--yes, _banged_
the door, locked it, put a chair against it, would have moved the
washstand up against it, but her strength gave out, and she hurled
herself upon the bed in a tempest of passionate tears.

Ah, well! even now--ten years after--it is no easy thing to write or
tell of those days. It was part of our purpose to go around the garrison
and show how other people looked at the matter, but it may be as well to
say that, except Blake, Warner, and the surgeon, every officer thought
Ray guilty. So, too, did most of the men except over in the band
quarters, where there was the excitement that night. It was caused by
the snare drummer, a pugnacious young Celt, who burst in upon his
comrades at eleven o'clock with a loud defiance of "doughboy" justice,
and an oath that he know'd the man as shot Gleason and suspicioned Ray,
and he'd have him at the gallows yet.

Reporters and special correspondents had been at the fort interviewing
everybody who would talk and, after the manner of their kind, making the
dumb speak in a way that would put to the blush the miracles of holy
writ. There seemed but one theory among those in authority,--that Ray
was guilty. This was duly heralded to an eager public, and the evening
extra and the morning journals in columns of detail had prepared all
minds for the culprit's coming. A crowd that blocked the street had
gathered in front of the building in which were located the offices of
the marshal, the sheriff, and other legal magnates, and Ray's pale, sad
face looked out upon a host of curious eyes, in which his own, brave and
unflinching, caught not one gleam of sympathy. Deadwood Dick, a ruffian
who had murdered a soldier for his money, went in through that door-way
a fortnight before amid many shouts of encouragement and the buoyant
reflection that no local jury had yet found a verdict of guilty against
a citizen of Wyoming where the offence committed was against the peace
or property of Uncle Sam. But a jury that would triumphantly acquit the
self-styled "Scourge of Sandy Bottom" on the ground of temporary
insanity would be apt to look less leniently upon one of those swells at
the fort. Had there been a man to raise the _à la lanterne_ of rejoicing
democracy,--had not the murdered man been himself one of the official
class, Blake and his revolver would probably have stood alone between
the accused and lynching. As it was, but for the one faithful comrade of
all who had loved and believed in him, realizing it all, yet calm, sad,
and self-possessed, Ray stood at the bar of justice practically
friendless.

It was early when Mrs. Stannard came down from her room after an almost
sleepless night. First call for guard-mounting was just sounding as she
stepped out on the piazza and noted little knots of men here and there,
all gazing intently towards the east gate, where the dust as of a
recently passing vehicle was settling back to earth. She opened Mrs.
Truscott's door, and saw Marion Sanford slowly descending the stairs,
her face very white and wan. Out in the dining-room could be heard
voluble voices, weeping, and Irish expletives of mingled wrath and
grief,--and then, with eyes dilating with horror, with streaming hair,
with pallid lips and a ghastly look in her white face, Grace Truscott,
clad in a morning wrapper, came rushing through the little parlor into
the hall, gave one glance at her girl friend, and then, stretching forth
her arms, she cried,--

"Oh, Maidie, Maidie! It's all my doing. They--they've ca-carried him off
to jail!"

And then prone upon the stairs she threw herself, burying her face from
sight of all.



CHAPTER XXV.

WHOSE GAUNTLET?


The duty of assorting the papers and caring for the property of the late
officer had devolved upon Lieutenant Warner. Telegrams from relatives in
the distant East had requested that the remains be sent thither by
express for burial, and only a few hours after the accused murderer was
taken into custody the body of the victim of the midnight assassination
had been turned over to the undertaker in town for necessary
preparations. The garrison seemed still paralyzed by the shock, and
except the sentries at the storehouses and stables, there was little
appearance of military duty going on. Guard-mounting was conducted
without music, and the customary drills of the recruits were out of
sight. It was an atmosphere of gloom that pervaded the garrison, and
only one of its ladies had been seen on the promenade for two days. Mrs.
Whaling, like some human fungus, seemed to thrive in the pall-like
depth of the social darkness and depression. She circled from house to
house, and swooped down upon the inmates, flapping and croaking the old
story of woe and foreboding; or, what was welcome in comparison, some
new tale of further entanglement for Ray. Judging from that righteous
lady's conversation, there seemed no doubt that she and the Omnipotent
Judge had settled it between them just when he was to be hanged. She was
one of the first to receive and to enlighten with her views a serious
young man who came from Denver with a letter to the commanding officer,
and brought with him a prominent and rising attorney from Cheyenne.
These gentlemen seemed a trifle disconcerted at the fact that the few
questions they addressed to the colonel were promptly answered by his
wife, and when one of them finally looked at the other and remarked that
it was time to go and examine the premises and the effects, the bearer
of the letter not unnaturally hesitated and coughed dubiously,--he did
not know whether to ask permission of the officer or the lady. They
declined her invitation to have a cup of tea and some luncheon, saying
they had dined in town, and the colonel said he would walk down with
them. Only Mr. Warner had been allowed in the quarters since the
inquest.

They had gone but a few steps along the walk when a hack drove up, and
Mr. Blake, catching sight of them from its interior, shouted to the
driver, sprang out, and, stiffly saluting the commanding officer, handed
the lawyer a batch of telegraphic despatches, and, taking the little man
from Denver to one side, said a few words to him in a whisper, then
turned, and was walking away, when the colonel concluded it time to
assert himself.

"Mr. Blake!" he called.

"Sir," said Blake, facing him but coming no nearer.

"You appear to have been in town, sir. Had you permission to leave the
post?"

"I did not think to ask, sir. As the only friend Mr. Ray appeared to
have in this garrison I went with him to jail."

"You will think, hereafter, and not presume to go without my consent."

"Then I take this opportunity to ask permission, colonel; I desire to
return to my friend this afternoon,--in ten minutes in fact."

"The post regulations, sir, require that such applications should be
made at my office between nine and ten A.M. I am not disposed to
consider them at other times, especially where gentlemen absent
themselves without authority." And he turned majestically away.

"Am I to understand, colonel, that you refuse me permission to return to
Mr. Ray in such an emergency as this?" choked Blake.

"I will consider it, sir. I will take it into--ahem!--consideration when
I have finished other matters. Now, gentlemen, we will proceed." And so,
having established the fact that after all he was the post commander,
and laid the ghost of their lingering doubt, Colonel Whaling led on down
the row with the duly reassured civilians, and Blake, too much saddened
by recent events to feel the wrath that at other times would have
overpowered him, contented himself with glaring after his chief a
moment, ejaculating, "The bloodless old mummy!" and then turning on his
heel, he went to his lonely quarters.

The lawyer read the despatches, handed them to his Denver friend,
pointing significantly to a clause in one of them, and the colonel felt
himself omitted from their confidences. The sentry at the door of the
quarters lately occupied by Mr. Gleason presented arms to the post
commander and looked inquiringly at the civilians. "You may admit these
two gentlemen," he said, "and pass them in and out, but no one else
except the adjutant. Is he here now?"

Mr. Warner's voice from within answered yes, and the party entered. The
adjutant was seated at a table in the front room with a pile of
envelopes and letters before him. He rose as they entered.

"Mr. Warner," said the colonel, "this gentleman is sent here from Denver
under telegraphic request from department headquarters. They failed to
notify me of such intention," he added, in a tone of official grievance,
"but I presume it is all right. He is a member of the Mountain Detective
force, and desires to make full inspection of the premises. I presume
you can confer with him and with Mr.--a--Green."

He lingered a moment as though in expectation of an invitation to
remain, but none came.

Blake meantime had been searching about Ray's room. He ransacked through
an old valise that lay under the camp-bed, tossing diaries, scouting
books, itineraries, rough field maps and sketches out on the floor,
until he came to a package marked "Mem. Receipts." This he glanced
through, gave it a satisfied slap, and stowed it in a portable
writing-desk, replaced in the valise the disturbed items, and then went
on packing some changes of underclothing and linen in Ray's little
trunk. Twice he called for Hogan, but the shouts were unanswered. He
went to the door to summon the hack-driver to take the trunk, and the
man said that a lady had just stepped down to ask if he would come up
there to number eleven when he could find time. Looking thither, he saw
Mrs. Stannard at the open door of Truscott's quarters, and went at once.
Her voice trembled so that she could hardly ask for Ray.

"He is just what those who know him would expect him to be, Mrs.
Stannard, calm and resolute. I never saw a man appear to better
advantage than he did before the officials there in town. I never knew
how much there was in him until to-day. Mr. Green tendered his legal
services and had a short talk with him, and he's out here now; so is a
detective from Denver, and Colonel Rand will get here from department
headquarters to-morrow. Oh, we shan't be without friends, though it did
look mighty like it at first."

"But what about bail, Mr. Blake? How soon can he--will he return here?"

"He desires no bail, Mrs. Stannard; jail is preferable to Fort Russell
so far as his treatment is concerned," he said, indignantly. "You seem
to be the only friend he has."

Mrs. Stannard flushed and lowered her voice.

"Did you explain to him, or rather did he ask why Mrs. Truscott could
not receive his letter?"

"What was there to explain? What was there to ask?" he broke forth in
wrath. "Only one explanation was possible, and of course I would not
speak of it. What could any one think but that she believed him guilty,
and would have no communication with him?"

That was a shot that told. Before Mrs. Stannard could reply there was a
rustle of skirts and a stifled sob within the hall-way, a rush of light
footsteps up the stairs, but the door opened and Marion Sanford
appeared. Blake started to see how white and wan and sad she looked, but
she came straight to him.

"Good-morning, Mr. Blake; we were coming out to see you as you spoke,
Mrs. Truscott and I. We do not wonder that you and Mr. Ray should feel
as you do, but that was all a piteous mistake about that letter last
night." She held forth her soft white hand. "Shake hands, Mr. Blake. It
wasn't at all what you thought; it was a very, very different reason,
and he will forgive when he knows. You brought a note from him last
night. Will you take this to him from me?"

"Let me run in and see Mrs. Truscott a moment," said Mrs. Stannard at
this juncture, and hurried into the hall, leaving them alone on the
piazza.

Blake noted the dark circles under her pleading eyes; he saw plainly the
evidences of anxiety and sorrow; he could not but see that, despite the
resolution of her words and manner, her voice was tremulous, and the
brave eyes that looked unflinchingly into his were filling with tears
she could not repress. He recalled all her enthusiasm in that still
uncompleted purchase of Dandy, in her munificence to Hogan. He knew well
that no matter how he might have misjudged Mrs. Truscott's motives he
had no right or reason, whatever, in letting himself think that this
brave, glorious, loyal girl could have been shaken one instant in her
faith in his friend. Why, even Ray had checked him sternly when, during
the night, he had once burst forth in an impetuous tirade against the
worthlessness of a woman's faith, and now he could have kicked himself
had it been anatomically possible even for his marvellous length and
loose-jointedness of leg. In default thereof he would have dropped on
his knee; but somebody, several somebodies, watched the interesting
interview from a distance. He bowed over the extended hand as a courtier
might over that of a queen; he wished he dare kiss it on the same--on
any basis, but he took it warmly.

"Forgive me for every word, Miss Sanford; but I've been sore tried of
late."

"I would be less apt to forgive you if you did _not_ resent every
suspicion of Mr. Ray. It is too late to undo last night's wretched work,
or the misery it caused us. I have tried to explain it all for Mrs.
Truscott, but what I want now is to know what he needs. Is it money, or
influence, or anything? Tell me truly, Mr. Blake; I want to know all you
can tell me."

"You shall know before I tell another soul. As yet,--forgive me
again,--this will supply his greatest need." And holding up her note, he
turned quickly away.

She was blushing now--crimson,--but there was something she had to know,
and so recalled him.

"Has anything new been discovered,--have any steps been taken towards
finding the murderer?"

"Mr. Green, the lawyer whom we have consulted, has had an interview
with Ray, and he has a clue now of some kind that is being
investigated."

"And you know whom he suspects?"

"He has not told me, Miss Sanford, and--something that occurred recently
in the garrison had set me to asking him questions which he declined to
answer,--another matter entirely,--I saw he had reasons for keeping it
to himself----"

"Mr. Blake, have you still that note he sent last night?"

"No; he burned that this morning."

"Has he said nothing--nothing to indicate whom he suspects?"

"Not to me--as yet. We have had too much to attend to, perhaps, but it
is plainly something he hates to allude to."

"Look! Mr. Blake; they are calling you--down the row. You will come back
and tell us what it is?"

"Yes, and at once."

Warner and Mr. Green were indeed calling him. Among the letters in the
breast-pocket of Gleason's blouse were three signed Rallston. They were
reading them with eager interest when the little detective from Denver
sauntered in from the rear room.

"This--a--gauntlet, lieutenant, was lying with some other things on top
of the bureau. Were you going to pack it in the trunk?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Well, a single right-hand glove won't be of much use to the relatives
of the deceased, especially an old worn one like this. Where's the
mate?"

"I don't remember seeing one."

"Well, you soldiers don't generally keep one glove without the other.
Where was this before you put it with the things?"

"I picked it off the floor near the head of the bed."

"And there wasn't another thereabouts?"

"I saw none."

The detective went back to his work, and the officers with Mr. Green to
the letters. When they had read them through to the end, Blake arose.

"You will admit, Mr. Warner, that I have excellent reason for asking and
expecting permission to rejoin my incarcerated friend now," said he,
with sarcastic emphasis. "If _that_ doesn't knock the court-martial
charges cold as a wedge, what will?"

"I never fully believed Mr. Ray guilty of those charges, Blake, and you
know it. I must see the colonel, of course, and show him these letters."

"Pardon me, Mr. Warner," said the lawyer. "Tell him of them if you see
fit, but as Mr. Ray's legal adviser I do not propose to let such
important evidence for the defence fall into the hands of the
prosecution." (Warner flushed hotly.) "I do not refer to you, my dear
sir, but to your commanding officer, who is understood to have worked up
the case against my client, and will naturally feel chagrined to find
what liars his witnesses were. Human nature, sir; human nature."

"No, Warner, I don't mean you either,--in that case, that is," said
Blake, all excitement over the late discoveries; "but these are _ours_,
and by gad! we mean to hold them. Whoop! _Fiat justitia_, rue it,
Whaling's! Go and tell your distinguished chief that I will be pleased
to know whether he has considered my application yet. Here! Hold on,
Warner. D--n it all, man! I'm unpardonable for mixing you and him up in
the matter. Forgive me, but I'm all unstrung these last few days. If you
fellows only knew Ray as we do there wouldn't have been this trouble."

And they shook hands, and Warner went off to see his chief, and had a
quick conversation with him that brought the blood to the usually
colorless face of the well-preserved veteran. The colonel arose hastily
and said he would go with them. _He_ wanted to see those letters, and he
did, and looked strangely perturbed as they were read to him, and then
Blake again preferred his request for permission to visit town and to
remain all night. The colonel hemmed and hawed. These papers, of course,
had an important bearing on the case as it originally stood before the
court-martial as ordered, but matters had changed materially. "Mr. Ray
is now on trial for his life, you see, and before, he was only on trial
for--a----"

"Only for his honor," put in Blake, at the instant. "Very true, colonel,
only for his honor, and we have a singular fashion in our regiment of
looking upon the one as quite as important as the other."

The colonel was wrathy. He was essentially what is called an office
soldier. He had regulations and papers at his fingers' ends; his whole
army existence had been spent in the preservation of his health and the
cultivation of the peaceful branches of his art. No one ever heard of
his shooting, riding, hunting, or taking a risk of any kind. His habits
were methodical as those of the office clock, and his one dissipation
was the billiard-table. His theory of success was founded on common
sense: Take care of your health, avoid dissipation, shun any and all
danger, volunteer for nothing, do only what you are compelled to do,
shift all possible work on somebody else's shoulders, preserve a purely
negative record, and--you are bound to rise to the highest grades in the
army. It must be admitted that the laws of promotion are admirably
calculated to foster just such a line of argument, and that Whaling's
"head was level." Now, though wrathy at Blake, he saw at once that he
had been egregiously deceived as to the evidence to be given by Rallston
on the pending court; it was better policy to avoid all that might look
like persecution of Ray or Ray's friends; he gave a moment of thought to
the matter, and then said,--

"You may go, Mr. Blake, because I desire you and your regiment to
understand that I have no wish to obtrude my ideas of discipline upon
you at such a time. At any other I would not have overlooked your
misconduct."

"At any other time, sir, it probably would not have occurred," said
Blake, still hotly; but the entrance of the detective put an end to the
talk. He still carried the gauntlet in his hand.

"There is no mate to this in that room. What is more, this glove never
belonged to Lieutenant Gleason; it is four sizes too small for him. What
officer or soldier ever wore one like that?" he asked.

It was a worn and rein-soiled gauntlet, originally of white
wash-leather, finely stitched in silk, and with a cuff or gauntlet
heavily stiffened with leather inside; and this cuff instead of being
joined was slashed from wrist to end on the under side, and three little
buttons and straps were used to fasten it snugly to the arm after being
slipped over the hand. It was utterly unlike any gauntlet in use in the
United States cavalry at the time; it was utterly unlike those for sale
in the stores of Cheyenne. Blake examined it curiously, but could
remember none that resembled it. Leaving the others examining the glove,
he walked up the row.

Mrs. Stannard and Marion both came down. The mere sight of his face
brought eagerness and hope into their eyes. It was to be observed at
this juncture that Mrs. Stannard's arm was around that slender waist.
The symptom has no significance, of course, among school-girls or
womanhood in general, but it meant a good deal where either one of these
women was concerned, and Blake knew it.

"What wouldn't I give if the major were only here!" he exclaimed,
impetuously. "There are three letters from Rallston there with a lot of
others, showing clearly what a conspiracy had been worked up against Ray
by that--by Gleason. The last one was written in Denver only two days
before--only three days ago, and it shows that he had completely gone
back on Gleason, and accuses him of all manner of blackguardly work. He
_had_ some conscience after all, for he swears he never thought Gleason
would use what he told him to get Ray into trouble. He was mad because
Ray wouldn't pass his horses. Oh, it breaks up the whole business! Green
thinks he should be secured at once, and is going to have the detectives
after him the moment we can telegraph. Whew! Excuse me, ladies, but I'm
warm!" And Blake leaned limply against the railing and mopped his brow.

"Mr. Blake, have you eaten a thing to-day?" asked Mrs. Stannard. "Do
come in and let me get you a sandwich and a glass of wine."

"Not a morsel! I want to hurry back to town to hug Billy. I'm only
waiting for Green. He tells me that everything can be arranged so that
Ray shall stay where I left him,--in a comfortable room in the jailor's
home instead of where that old bag of skin and bones thought he'd get
him." And he vengefully shook his fist at the colonel, who was returning
homeward to tell his wife the wonderful tidings of the discoveries in
Gleason's pockets. Mrs. Stannard had not smiled for two entire days, but
Blake's reviving spirits and the welcome news combined to bring back the
sunshine to her tired face. Marion, too, though listening in silence to
what was said, clung closer to her friend, and looked up with
thanksgiving in her eyes. Just then the lawyer and the little detective
came, talking earnestly together, up the row, and, naturally, all three
studied their looks and gestures with eager attention.

"That little Denverite is on a scent," said Blake in a low tone; "he has
been hunting high and low for a mate to a peculiar gauntlet that was
found there. He says Gleason could never have owned it."

"A gauntlet? What was it like?" asked Miss Sanford, with a start.

"Like nothing we wear, that I ever saw. It's old and worn, but was a
handsome glove once."

"Mr. Blake, I--I want to see it! ask him if I may." And she stepped
eagerly forward, her blue eyes dilating, her whole frame tremulous.

Blake sprang from the railing, and was by the detective's side in three
long strides. At the whispered words he spoke both the lawyer and the
detective glanced quickly and keenly at the ladies: the former took off
his hat to them, the latter seemed to hesitate for a moment, then
stepping forward, he courteously bowed, took the gauntlet from an inner
pocket, and handed it to her. The instant she caught sight of it she
shuddered and shrank, though an eager, triumphant light shot into her
eyes; then, as though by an effort, she overcame the horror and
repugnance that had seized her, took it as she might a frog or worm,
between thumb and forefinger, and darted into the house, leaving all but
Mrs. Stannard petrified with amaze. "Never fear," said Mrs. Stannard. "I
know where she has taken it. She will be back in a moment."

Up the stairs she flew and into the front room, where Mrs. Truscott sat
by the window in a low rocking-chair.

"Grace Truscott! Look at this. _Don't_ touch it! Look at those
fastenings--those buttons. Who was the only person you ever saw wear a
glove like that?"

"Sergeant Wolf, Marion. Where--how?"

But she was gone like a flash. Down the stairs again, her feet twinkling
like magic, out in the free air among them all, her heart bounding, her
blue eyes blazing, her color vivid, brilliant.

"Take it!" she cried. "Take it! The man who murdered him, the man who
wore that glove, was Wolf, the deserter."



CHAPTER XXVI.

REVELATIONS.


When Colonel Rand arrived from Omaha the next afternoon, and Blake met
him at the depot, he found that there was less for him to do than he
imagined. He had known Ray well for many years of his army life, had
served with him in Arizona, and was one of his stanchest friends. He was
wild with enthusiasm when Truscott's despatch was received, telling of
Wayne's rescue and Ray's heroic conduct, and he was furious over the
tidings that his gallant friend had been placed in arrest on charges
that had not been investigated at department headquarters, or by anybody
who could represent Ray's interests. Even before the telegrams came in
from the regiment protesting against Ray's trial in their absence, he
had started for Kansas City armed with a copy of the charges and
specifications, had easily determined that the civilians cited as
witnesses were men who really knew little or nothing, but had only a
vague, "hearsay" idea of matters, which vigorous cross-questioning
developed that they had mainly derived from letters or talks of
Gleason's, or had got from Rallston himself, who, said they, was riled
because he couldn't play off a lot of broken-down mustangs for sound
horses on that board. No one could swear that he had seen Ray drink; no
one could swear he had played any game for any stake; no one could
testify to a single act of his that was in the faintest degree
unofficerlike or unbecoming a gentleman. Indeed, even the cads with whom
Gleason consorted seemed to have become inspired with contempt. And Rand
went back to Omaha satisfied that the charges were all conspiracy. But
Rallston had kept out of his way. He could not reach him. No one knew
where he was. Some went so far as to say he was ashamed of having been
mixed up with Gleason in such a low piece of business. Even Mrs.
Rallston at Omaha could tell nothing of her husband's whereabouts, and
was in great distress over the letters from her brother announcing the
trouble in which he was enveloped, all on account of Rallston's
rascality as she felt, though he would not say. Then came the fearful
news that Gleason was murdered by her brother, and the next day she had
sold one of the beautiful solitaires that Rallston had given her in the
days when he was a dashing wooer, and on the same train with Colonel
Rand she hastened to Cheyenne. Blake was presented to her as she
alighted from the cars, and conducted her to the parlor of the hotel,
where in few words he told them of the discovery of Rallston's letters
in the dead man's pockets, and of Wolfs gauntlet in the dead man's room.
The detectives had urged that nothing should be revealed in this last
matter, as every effort was now being made to capture the ex-sergeant,
and that little man from Denver had already a reply from his chief,
saying that Rallston was there and could be produced at any time. Poor
Mrs. Rallston! She winced at the professional technicalities, but wrote
a hurried despatch, care of the Rocky Mountain Detective Agency,
enjoining him to come to them at once; breathing no word of reproach or
blame, but telling him that his letters were now in Ray's hands, and
they felt that he bitterly regretted the part he had taken in connection
with Gleason. He must come and exonerate her brother from the charge of
accepting a bribe, to which he was assigned as the sole witness.

There was a further conference that need not be detailed. Colonel Rand
desired first to see some of the prominent business men whom he knew, as
he proposed to have Ray bailed out instanter no matter what that young
gentleman's wishes might be, and Blake, giving her his arm, escorted
Mrs. Rallston through the bustling streets until they reached the jail.
Even then there was a little knot of hangers-on watching with wolfish
curiosity every comer. The officials touched their hats to Blake and his
veiled companion, and looked admiringly at her tall, graceful form.
Already something was beginning to whisper that justice had been blinder
than ever, had been groping painfully in the dark, and had nabbed the
wrong man. Mr. Perkins and his jury had been basely and ungratefully
alluded to as a batch of leather heads, and it behooved the sheriffs and
others to look to the buttered side of their bread, lest it, too, should
fall in the municipal mud. Blake felt her trembling as they passed
through the office into a long and dimly-lighted hall.

"Courage, Mrs. Rallston," he whispered. "We are going to lose him, you
and I, but it's to a very different captivity. Oh, he's gone _this_ time
past all saving. Just wait till you see her!" And before she could ask
one question in her wonderment, a door was opened, there was a fond,
welcoming cry of "Nell!" and for the first time in all her life, so far
as Ray could tell, the sister fell forward, fainting, into his arms.
Blake assisted in carrying her to the sofa, brought a glass of water,
and then, as she began to revive, he silently withdrew and left them
together.

Later that afternoon Colonel Rand, Mr. Green, and Blake had a quiet
consultation with the prisoner. The matter of bail, said Rand, was
already settled. On his representations half a dozen prominent citizens
had signified their willingness to act. Mr. Green stated that he had
received advice of other offers, at which Blake was seen to give him a
kick under the table whereon their papers were spread. There was really
nothing to prevent the arrangement being made this evening so that he
might not have to pass another night under the jail roof, but Ray was
firm. He would not return to Russell in arrest; he would not accept his
release until it _could_ be freedom; he was treated courteously and
considerately by the sheriff's people, was allowed this comfortable room
instead of a cell, and he resolutely refused all offer of bail so long
as there remained a pretext for the continuance of his arrest on other
charges. Rand himself, who had been accustomed to his quick, impetuous
ways for years, could hardly recognize in the Ray of to-day the
reckless, devil-may-care, laughing fellow of two years ago. He seemed
utterly changed. He was years older in manner, grave, patient, tolerant
of the opinions of those about him, but doubly tenacious of his own, and
surprisingly capable of demonstrating their justice.

"It has simply come to this, colonel. I stand charged at division
headquarters of crimes that if proven would dismiss me from the service.
The death of the principal witness is the worst mishap that could have
befallen me. It leaves me unvindicated, because now we cannot impeach
his testimony; because now my enemies can say that had he lived the
result might have been different. I urge, I claim that I _must_ be
tried; and Blake here is my witness that I have said so from the very
first. Nothing but a trial can clear me fully of the infamous charges
you hold there, and no friend of mine will delay it an instant. So far
from postponing that court, I say hasten it. Let it sit at once. I am
ready to-day, _any_ day to meet and refute the charges. I need no friend
from the regiment, from anywhere. I shall not draw on my field record
for a cent's worth of consideration. The case must be tried on its
merits. I do not believe a witness need be called for the defence, but
until vindicated I protest against any step that may send me back to
Russell. Answer as to _that_, and then we will come to this matter of my
situation here."

And Rand agreed with him that the court should meet forthwith, and that
telegrams should be sent at once to division headquarters urging that no
postponement be granted. The despatch was written, and Blake took it to
the office. Then Ray went on with his talk:

"And now, colonel, I have waited for your coming that in your presence I
might refer to two points that, as Mr. Green has said, bore heavily
against me with the coroner's jury, and would have to be met should the
case come to trial. Until it come to trial there are one or two matters
which I will _not_ explain, simply because they concern others more
than they do me. As you have seen, suspicion is already pointing to
Sergeant Wolf. I have connected him with the murder from the first. The
detective has ascertained beyond doubt that that was his glove; that a
horse _was_ tied at the northeast corner of the hospital yard about the
time of the occurrence, and that a bandsman--the drummer--is almost
certain that my pistol, which did the work, was in the sergeant's
possession the night he deserted. I _know_ it was: this note will prove
it." And he produced from an envelope bearing the Laramie City postmark,
and addressed to him at Russell, a sheet of note-paper on which, without
date or signature, was written, "I had to take your pistol. Time was
everything. The enclosed twenty dollars will pay." "Compare that
writing," he continued, "with dozens of specimens to be found in the
office at Russell, and that will settle it.

"Now, the jury could not understand why I refused to let Hogan have my
pistol that night. It was because I knew it was gone, and I did not wish
any one else to know it. The colonel could not understand why I would
not tell the cause of Wolf's desertion. I did not wish any one to know.
Everybody, I presume, wanted to know how I explained away the presence
of my pistol at the scene, and that was another thing I wanted kept in
the dark until--until released from a promise that involved the peace of
one whom I was bound to protect. (Mrs. Rallston's eyes were dilating to
twice their usual size.) As soon as notified of the decision of that
jury, I wrote saying that it might soon be necessary to save my honor to
reveal what I had kept so sacred. No answer came until--until last
night; full and free release from my promise; but I believe that all may
be kept sacred still. _You_ will understand that I am prepared to
explain these matters should the case come to trial, but not before."

Even as he was speaking there came a knock at the door: a telegram for
Mr. Green. The lawyer opened and read it, thought earnestly a moment,
and then left the room, saying he would soon return. It was getting
dark, and Ray lighted the oil lamp that stood upon its bracket. Rand was
watching his every movement, and had been quietly jotting some memoranda
of his statements. As the young cavalryman returned to his seat by his
sister's side and took her hand in his, the colonel remarked,--

"Ray, I thought I knew you pretty well all these years, but I believe
I'm only just beginning to get acquainted with you. Blake said you had
astonished him, but your capacity for taking things coolly is an
unexpected trait to more than one, I fancy. Now I'm going to take Mrs.
Rallston over to the hotel for tea, and then we are coming back. Tell
Blake I want him to apply to his post commander for a seven days' leave
to-night. I'll send it out and see that he gets it. If you won't go back
to Russell he must be here with you. Ah! here he comes now!"

"Where's Green?" was the exclamation that greeted their ears as Blake
bolted in, all excitement. "I want him, quick. Billy, they've got that
man Wolf, and he wants to see you or somebody. He's pretty near gone and
fought like a tiger, they say."

"Where is he?" asked Rand, springing to his feet.

"Just out here at the edge of town in a blackguardly sort of dive. It's
my belief they've kept him there hid ever since the night of the murder.
Come, we must have Green and the sheriff. I know Ray can go with us.
There'll be a carriage in a minute."

"Let me escort you to the hotel, Mrs. Rallston," said Rand, "then I can
go with them. This means confirmation of our theory and the end of our
troubles," he said, reassuringly. Ray, very pale and very quiet, kissed
her good-night and saw her to the hall, promising to send for her as
soon as was possible. Then, as for a moment he was left alone, he took
from an inner pocket a crumpled little note that Blake had brought him
the previous evening, read it lingeringly, though with eyes that
softened and glowed with a light that no one yet had seen, and when he
had finished he stood there gazing at the signature and the few words
with which the note was concluded:

     "Believe me, dear Mr. Ray, she never for an instant thought you
     guilty. And now good-night. I shall pray God to watch over and
     cheer you. _Need_ I tell you that your trouble has made me only
     the more

     Loyally your friend,

                    MARION SANFORD."

Oh, Ray! Ray! Here was strength and cheer and comfort for twenty men. No
wonder you could bear the slings and arrows of your outrageous fortune
with that charming endorsement! No wonder people thought you changed!
What would people think--or rather what would they say if they knew of
that letter and its very comforting conclusion? What will be said of
our heroine, Marion, when these damaging particulars are brought to
light? What _would_ the girls at Madame Reichard's have said? though
they knew she had a romantic streak in her, and was a worshipper of
heroes? What will the cold and unsympathetic and critical reader remark
of the unmaidenly lack of reserve which prompted those last few lines?
What will Marion herself say when she hears of them as thus ruthlessly
dragged to the bar of public opinion? Poor Marion! Her cheeks will
redden, her eyes flash and suffuse, her heart beat like a trip-hammer,
her white teeth set, her soft lips will firmly close. She will be
annoyed. She _may_ admit that in cold blood--under any other
circumstances--she would never have so committed herself, and that
nothing but the thought of the wrongs and sorrows and sufferings that
had been heaped one after another upon the undeserving head of that
luckiest of young Kentuckians would ever have betrayed her into such an
outburst of sentiment. She may admit what indeed was the truth, that she
wrote the whole thing after a vehement interview with Grace, at a time
when she thought she saw her gallant friend dragged off to jail,
believing he had been denied by those whom he was actually suffering to
shield. She may say that, had there been time, she would have less
pointedly worded the closing sentence. But of one thing you may be
certain,--once and for all,--she said just what she thought, and
now--against the opinion of the whole world if need be--she will stand
by those words through thick and thin,--she will never retract.

And as for Ray: he gazed upon them as he might upon a heaven-inspired
message from a better world; he bowed his head and kissed, reverently,
humbly, prayerfully, the sweet and thrilling words; and then, and
then--he bent his knee and bowed his head, and with deeper reverence,
with humility such as he had never known before, with a prayer that came
from the depths of his loyal heart, he thanked God for the infinite
blessing that had come to him through the darkness of his bitter
trials; he rose calm, strengthened, steadfast, as he heard the
rapidly-approaching footsteps of his friends.

Less than half an hour thereafter a little group sat in silence around a
rude bed in a darkened room. Outside, sullen and scowling, two
rough-looking men, the owners of the establishment, were guarded by the
officers of the law, while within, Ray, Blake, Mr. Green, the sheriff,
and an officer of the territorial court were listening to the dying
deposition of the Saxon soldier Wolf,--the physicians had declared it
impossible for him to live another day.

Late on the night of the murder three men, returning townwards from the
"house on the hill," had come suddenly upon a gray horse dragging a man
by the stirrup. They picked the man up and carried him into the
gambling-house at the edge of town, where they laid him upon this bed.
Noting the U. S. on the shoulder of the horse and his cavalry
equipments, they sent him away in charge of one of their number, and
proceeded to search the pockets of the still insensible soldier, who was
clad in comparatively new "ranchman's" clothing, and who wore a gauntlet
on his left hand. He had revived for a moment, was told that he was
among friends and had nothing to fear. He said his horse had stumbled
into an _acequia_ in the darkness and fallen on him, and now he wanted
to get up. They assured him no horse was there; that, finding him
insensible, they had carried him to this place, where he was all right
"if he kept quiet," and Wolf soon realized that he was in a notorious
"dive" where soldiers were often drugged and robbed of their money. He
was locked in that night, and though suffering intensely from internal
injuries, he strove to make his escape. The next morning people in the
neighborhood heard appalling cries and uproar, but such things had often
happened there before in the drunken fights that took place, and not
until this day had it leaked out in some way that there was a man there
dying from injuries received partly in a runaway and partly in a fight
in the house. The police made a raid, and there discovered the very man
for whom the detectives and the military were searching high and low.
His first words were to ask for Lieutenant Ray, then for a physician and
a lawyer. And now his story was almost done. Ray was fully, utterly
exonerated.

In brief, it was about as follows: He was mad with rage at the treatment
he had received at the hands of Lieutenant Gleason, and at a deed of his
which he would not detail,--Lieutenant Ray knew, and that was enough. He
himself had only one thought,--to follow at once on the trail, to find
him alone if possible, and to compel him to fight him as gentlemen
fought, _à outrance_, in the old country. He took Ray's pistol, and
after getting some papers and some clothing he needed from the band
barracks, he went to the stables, raised the shutter, and crept into the
window of the stall which held his horse, led him noiselessly out over
the earthen floor to the rear entrance, which was easily opened from the
inside, and long before dawn was on the road to Fetterman, in pursuit of
the stage. He had no fear of ranch people betraying him as a deserter.
They knew nothing but what he was carrying despatches. He had received
plenty of money but a short time before through friends in Dresden; he
hoped to secure fresh horses, and overtake the stage before it reached a
ranch where they stopped for meals several hours south of Fetterman. His
plan was wild and impracticable, enough to throw doubts on his sanity,
but he only thought of revenge, he said; he was determined to waylay
Gleason and force him to fight. But his plan failed. His horse gave out
long before he could get another; he left him at a cattle ranch finally,
and went ahead on a borrowed "plug," but to no purpose. Gleason reached
Fetterman ahead of him, and by the time he neared there he knew that his
desertion had been telegraphed. Still he thought to follow as a scout or
teamster, and bought rough canvas and woolen clothing; hung around the
neighborhood, but avoided all soldiers; learned of Gleason's going with
Webb, and actually crossed the Platte and followed on their trail, until
he met him coming back at the head of the little escort. Keeping his
eager lookout far ahead, he had easily hidden himself and his horse
where he could watch them as they went by, and had recognized his
victim, turned on his tracks, and once more trailed him back; had lost
him and followed the wrong "buckboard" from Fetterman, and had gone
towards Rock Creek before he found out that Gleason went by way of Fort
Laramie. A countryman going in to Laramie City had taken, some days
previous, the note with its enclosure to Ray,--he could not steal, he
said, and at last, having recovered his horse, he returned by night to
Cheyenne, easily learned of Lieutenant Gleason's presence at Russell,
and that very night rode out across the prairie, tied his gray to a post
near the northeast corner of the hospital enclosure, and stole to
Gleason's back-yard. Not for an instant had he ever flinched in his
purpose. He knew the lieutenant was officer of the day, and that he
would be out to visit his sentries after midnight; but it occurred to
him he would have no weapon but the sabre, and he meant to offer him
fair fight. A light was burning in the rear room. He peeped through the
blinds and saw him undressing as though to go to bed. He could wait no
longer. He opened the kitchen door, which Shea had left unlocked,
entered the house, and rapped at Gleason's door. The lieutenant supposed
it to be Shea, probably, and opened it himself. "Behold the man you have
outraged, I said. I give you one instant only to get your pistol. We
fight here to the death. He sprang back, still facing me; he was livid
with fear; he called for help, help! he ordered me to leave, he was a
craven and would not fight; he called louder, and then I fired; he gave
a scream and fell towards me on his face. I had hurled my gauntlet at
him as I challenged, but there was no time to pick it up. I turned and
fled. Some one seized me at the back gate, but I hurled him aside and
ran on tiptoe to my horse. I heard voices coming, but no one could hear
me. I led my horse some distance; then mounted and galloped madly this
way. Near town he stumbled, fell, and rolled on me, and I knew no more
till I heard them say he was dead and that the Herr Lieutenant had
killed him. Then I strove to escape, and we had a fearful fight. They
overcame and drugged me, I think, but again I came to, and begged to be
let to see you. They keep me for the reward, perhaps, but they see me
dying, and the police come at last."

In the solemn hush of the darkened room, far from the land where he had
been known and loved, where doubtless his gifts had been valued, and his
life, until wrecked by that duel, was honored, the Saxon soldier lay
breathing his last. Mad or sane, there was no one there to rightly
judge. The one trait that shone to the end was the strong love of the
profession which he could have adorned so well. His glazing eyes looked
wistfully into Ray's pale face; his tremulous hand sought that of the
young officer, who knelt there by his side; in faint, broken accents he
spoke his last earthly plea:

"I was a gentleman once, Herr Lieutenant. I am soldier--even now. You
are the soldier the men all love. May I not take your hand?"



CHAPTER XXVII.

VINDICATED.


Life at Russell had lost for the time being so much of its customary
gayety as to warrant Mrs. Turner's discontented descriptive of "poky."
With all but three or four officers absent on campaign; without even
letters or news from them; with Mr. Gleason's tragic fate and Mr. Ray's
romantic and mysterious connection therewith, there was too much of
solemn and shudder-inspiring element in the daily talk to render
conversation at all cheerful. All sorts of odd things had happened since
the death of that deserter, Wolf, and Mrs. Turner was at her wit's end
to make her conclusions fit together. She had by no means ceased to
jump,--that saltatory satisfaction at least remained to her,--but she
missed the mark so often as to seriously impair, for a while at least,
her confidence in her theories, and nothing but a series of serious
shocks could have achieved that result. She, too, had her sorrows, poor
lady, for her regimental companions in number eleven had shunned her
society to such an extent as to set the whole garrison talking about it,
though it took very little to accomplish that.

To begin with, Mrs. Truscott rarely went out at all, and had denied
herself to visitors on many occasions. Mrs. Stannard and Marion were all
the companions she cared to see much of, though, to Mrs. Turner's
incredulous wrath, Mrs. Wilkins was admitted on the very days when she,
herself, had called and penetrated no farther than the parlor. Mrs.
Wilkins had enjoyed--we use the term advisedly--a furious quarrel with
the wife of the commanding officer, and had driven that exemplary and
forgiving woman from the field in utter dismay. There had been no love
lost between them from the first, but Mrs. Wilkins had hotly resented
Mrs. Whaling's lamentations over Ray's prospective conviction and his
undeniable guilt, and had given the venerable black silk a dusting the
very day that Ray was carried off to prison. Then came the electrifying
intelligence that Wolf's dying confession had completely exonerated Ray,
and both Mrs. Whaling and Mrs. Turner had flown to Mrs. Stannard to
assure her that neither one of them could have believed in his guilt had
it not been for the other. Mrs. Whaling was positive that she had never
spoken of him except in the love and charity she would have used towards
her own son, and nothing but Mrs. Turner's accounts of his wildness and
dissipation would have shaken her faith in him for a moment. She had
always admired his frank and fearless character, and so had "the
general," who was heart-broken to think he had been so outrageously
imposed upon by Ray's enemies. Mrs. Turner vowed that she had really
loved Mr. Ray like a brother, but that Mrs. Whaling had told her of the
positive evidence the general had against him, and so what could she
think? Mrs. Stannard listened to both with uncompromising and decidedly
chilling silence, and each withdrew discomfited.

Colonel Rand spent much of the morning after Wolf's revelation in
overhauling papers with Colonel Whaling, but his visit to the ladies at
number eleven was of unusual length and cordiality. He left only in time
to see Ray and Blake a few moments in town before taking the eastern
train. It had been Mrs. Stannard's intention to drive thither to call on
Mrs. Rallston, but she was too late. Mr. Green's telegraphic message
from Denver had warned him that Rallston was delirious with fever, and
after the rapturous interview between brother and sister that followed
upon his return from Wolf's bedside, Ray had gently broken the news to
her of her husband's illness, and before the coming of train time on the
following day Rand had obtained telegraphic authority for him to escort
her to, and remain with her in, Denver. His release by the civil
authorities would have had about it something of the nature of an
ovation, when at noon on that day the full details of Wolf's confession
were "spread upon the records," but by ingeniously circulating the story
that he would return to the fort at sunset, Blake managed to throw the
public off the track. His arrest was suspended by the telegram from
division headquarters. Rand was ordered to come thither at once with his
documentary proofs of the falsity of the charges against Ray, and the
latter went quietly off to Denver with a ten days' leave, conducting his
sister to her husband's bedside. He saw no one at Russell before going,
but we have reason to believe that the plethoric missive he sent to Mrs.
Stannard derived much of its bulk from an enclosure that was not meant
for her eyes at all, and Blake went back to Russell to the lionizing he
deserved.

But the gloom at the garrison was dispelled perforce by the arrival of
troop after troop, company after company, from east, west, and south,
fast as cars could carry them,--all bound for the Black Hills to meet
and support Crook, who was reported fighting his way southward through
unknown regions and unknown numbers of the red men. Nothing had been
heard even by telegraph from the --th from any source whatever since the
steamer came down to Bismarck with sick and wounded, and the news that
they had pushed out again for the Little Missouri country the last of
August, and here it was beyond mid September. A whole regiment of
cavalry encamped for a day or two on the prairie, then marched
northward. Natty artillerymen from San Francisco dropped in to pay their
respects on their way to "the Hills;" not a day passed without the
arrival of strange officers, scores of men, and squadrons of horses.
Russell had suddenly blossomed into first rank as a great supply depot,
and in all the excitement of greeting the new-comers, and sending
messages and missives to the dear ones at the front, the pall of tragedy
was lifted from the post. Gleason and Wolf were, alike, wellnigh
forgotten.

And then with sudden thrill the news tore through the post, and flashed
over the wires in every direction, that a courier had ridden down from
the northern limits of the hills bringing despatches from Crook, and
announcing that, though half starved, ragged, and practically
dismounted, the followers of the Gray Fox had reached the Belle Fourche,
and would soon be able to push on to the agencies. They had dashed upon
the Sioux villages at Slim Buttes, capturing hundreds of their fat
ponies (and greedily eating many of them that very night), had found
the lodges crammed with the spoil of the Custer battle, had killed
several warriors and burned every ounce of Indian stores or provisions
they could not use, and had two days' ringing, spirited fighting with
Crazy Horse and his charging hosts among the fog wreaths and dripping
crags of those strange, picturesque upheavals; then burying their dead
and bringing away their wounded, they were once more within reach of
supplies, though it might be weeks before they could come home. "Another
battle and we not there," was Blake's sympathetic despatch to Ray at
Denver; but now the last seemed to be recorded. Another week and letters
might be expected. Another fortnight and it was known that all the
forces were concentrating at Red Cloud to disarm the disaffected bands
near the agencies. And then Blake and Ray, too, had both sped northward
again to join their regiment. Ray's affairs had been summarily settled
in this wise.

Rallston's illness had been severe, and Ray and Nell had been constantly
at his side. When the fever broke and consciousness returned, and the
patient realized where he was and who were his nurses, the man's remorse
and shame were something pitiable. Of him, as an impartial historian, it
is difficult to write, since long association with Stannard had forcibly
impressed his views as to Rallston's character. Perhaps we were as
reluctant to hear of his subsequent behavior and to believe in his
contrition as Mrs. Whaling with all her meek and lowly piety was to
conceive of Ray's innocence of the various charges laid at his door;
but, in the absence of proof to the contrary, we simply place before
the patient reader Nellie Ray Rallston's own statement: that her husband
emerged from that trying illness a very different man, that he humbly
begged Will's forgiveness and hers, and that when he was well enough to
be moved home he had grown so fond of Will that he could not bear to
have him out of his sight, and that he was rejoiced when orders came for
Will to go to Chicago, as it enabled him to travel with them as far as
Omaha. But you must remember, we feel bound to say, that she was of that
loyal loving Kentucky nature--singularly like her brother for that
matter--that having once given itself in its entirety to the service of
lover or friend, is apt to stick to it through thick and thin. We may be
pardoned--we worldlings--for doubting as yet the depth and sincerity of
Rallston's repentance. "When the devil was ill, the devil a saint would
be," etc. You know the application; but, for the time being, Mrs.
Rallston went home happier than she had been for ages.

And Ray went on to division headquarters at Chicago, wondering what on
earth was up now. He was still on leave, still clamoring to be tried,
that he might be cleared of those charges and allowed to rejoin his
regiment. His wound had healed, though he was still thin and worn, and
he could not bear to think that there might be any more fighting for the
dear old --th and he not there.

But Rand had taken Rallston's letters and some other papers with him to
Chicago, as directed, and the commanding general had seen in less than
no time what an outrageous case had been built up against a young
officer whose record up to date had been one that appealed to all his
sympathies. Ever since that daring night ride Ray had been an object of
the liveliest interest to the general,--himself the cavalry leader _par
excellence_ of his day,--and when Rand laid before him all the papers in
the case there was an eruption that made the rafters ring.

But when it came to cooling down and acting on the case, much as the
general might think Ray deserved a triumphant vindication at the hands
of a court, there were a dozen things to make it impracticable. To begin
with, the court had been ordered before it looked so black for Crook's
command and the Black Hills settlers, and all those infantry officers
who were on the original detail were now plodding up to Red Cloud. The
division was wellnigh stripped of everything but staff-officers, and if
a court _did_ meet, what a scoring it might give old Whaling and to his
own staff-officer, who took all that hearsay talk down around
Leavenworth and never gave Ray's friends a chance. It ended in the
general's impetuously directing that the court be dissolved, and that
Ray be ordered there post-haste. "I'll vindicate him!" he said.

And he did. Ray's pale, anxious face turned all sorts of colors when the
general jumped up from his chair and griped his hand like a vise, and
looked into his brave young eyes and said things to him that filled them
with tears and his soul with confusion. Ray had no words, but his heart
was full of a delight that none but soldiers know, and the lionizing he
got that day at division headquarters would have spoiled many another
fellow. The general could, indeed, "vindicate" him. He showed him the
draft of the letters sent to the regiment, and asked with a smile if he
didn't think _that_ would do as well as the "not guilty" of a court; and
that evening Ray took the westward train so as to stop over in Omaha one
night and see Nell, and then hurry on by the Union Pacific to Cheyenne.
His heart was bounding with hope, with pride, with gratitude and joy;
but through it all there was a sense of something strange and new to him
that tempered every feeling of exultation. He had been tried as by fire,
and humbled, softened, chastened by the fierceness of the flame. Even
bitterness and resentment seemed expelled from his soul. Ray was a
changed, a graver man. All that was truthful, gallant, loyal in his
nature was there yet, but the recklessness of the past was gone.

Many letters had come to him in the few days he had spent at Denver by
Rallston's sick-bed, and while Mrs. Stannard had frequently written to
tell him how they all were, and the colonel sent a courteously-worded
expression of his regret at the credence he had given to the statements
of a brother officer and what he termed the "misunderstandings" of the
summer, Ray was most touched at Warner's "solid" and earnest appeal to
be regarded as a friend and not as one of the opposition.

He answered promptly and cordially everything Mr. Warner wrote with a
single exception. The young adjutant was requested by Colonel Whaling to
put in a word or two for the Hibernian quartermaster whom Blake had cut
dead, and who was perturbed in spirit over the prospect of being
otherwise lacerated when Ray got back. Warner thought that the colonel
or the quartermaster himself should make the proper _amende_ in this
case, but the latter was a poor hand at epistolary expression, and the
former had long been a pronounced adherent of that "divine right of"
commanding officers which makes the adjutant the transmitter and medium
of all correspondence involving matters of delicate or diplomatic
import. If the result be successful, all right. It was written by
direction of Colonel So and So, and is presumably his own wording. If it
fail, then anybody can see that failure is due solely to the clumsy and
blockheaded manipulation of the adjutant.

Mr. Warner conveyed a hope that the quartermaster might be included in
the general amnesty, but to this Ray made no response. He drew the line
at those who had been unkind to Dandy.

And now he was hurrying back to Russell to conduct a large body of
recruits and horses up to "the Hills" to meet the regiment; and a party
of young officers had joined, many of them graduates of that very year's
class at the Point, young fellows whom Mrs. Truscott had known well but
a few months previous, when they wore the gray under Jack's tuition at
squadron drill and riding-hall work. Their regiments being in the field
on active campaign, they abandoned much of the leave of absence due them
and hastened to report for duty. Their services were most needed in
getting the recruits into shape, and here they were at Russell
enthusiastic at the prospect of seeing Captain Truscott again, devoting
themselves to the ladies at his army home, and eager to a man to see and
know Ray, whose name was on every lip, whom every man of them envied,
and who would arrive at noon on the morrow.

Mrs. Stannard's piazza was the scene of a levee this lovely, sunshiny
autumn afternoon. She was there with Miss Sanford and Mrs. Truscott, who
was reclining in a comfortable wicker chair, and vastly enjoying the
sunshine, the bracing air, and above all the merry chat of these young
troopers, and envying them their northward march. Would they not be with
Jack in a fortnight? Half a dozen of the "boys" were flocking around the
ladies, and Blake was there sprawling over the railing as was his wont,
and convulsing the assemblage every now and then with his outrageous
travesties and declamatory outbursts. Blake was in the wildest possible
spirits. He was bubbling over with fun and the milk of human kindness,
except for that poor devil of a quartermaster, at whom he scowled
diabolically whenever they met. He had forgiven Mrs. Turner, who was
quick to see where the "gang" had gathered that afternoon, and was early
on hand to lure the new victims. Already she was making a deep
impression on Mr. Corry, who was gazetted to her husband's troop, and
was fetching him farther into the meshes with every glance of her eyes.
And then came Mrs. Whaling, whom Blake hastened to meet, and with
elaborate genuflexions to usher into the circle, where she was speedily
seated and regaling the company with her views on the chances of the
campaign. It being the ardent desire of every cavalry lady in garrison
that the --th should be ordered thither for winter quarters, Mrs.
Whaling was full of information which "the general" had received from
confidential sources going to prove that a great infantry post was to be
established there, which he would command, while the cavalry remained in
the Hills until spring. Blake noted the silence among the young
officers and the anxious look in Mrs. Truscott's face (Mrs. Stannard had
long since ceased to be influenced by Mrs. Whaling's statements), and he
determined on a diversion. He felt morally certain that the only
"confidential" communication the veteran post commander had received
from any superior in a week was the stinging rap from division
headquarters anent the bungle he had made in Ray's affair, and on
general principles he felt that he couldn't let an opportunity slip.

"Oh, come now, Mrs. Whaling, don't crush all the hopes we had of
spending the winter with you here. 'Lady, you are the cruellest she
alive' if you will lead us to believe such ill report, and here we were
all rejoicing that Ray comes to-morrow."

"Oh! Mr. Ray, to be sure! and how delightful it is to think that he has
justified all our confidence in him! He returns like--a--the Bayard of
old; _the chevalier sans peur et--et_----"

"_Sans culotte?_" suggested Blake.

"Ah, yes; thanks! Mr. Blake. As though I _could_ have forgotten it for a
moment! Quite like the chevalier _sans peur et sans culotte_. Such a
knightly fellow as he always was!"

"Oh, Lord, yes! _All_ nightly, especially when the luck ran his way."

"Now, Mr. Blake, how you distort my meaning!"

"Madame, you do me wrong, notorious wrong! I did but echo the words you
spake a week agone. You marvel at my meaning. Nay, then, 'tis not less
strange and weird than the tongue in which you tell of his perfections;
less _bizarre_, if you _will_ have French."

"Mr. Blake, you tilt at wind-mills." ("Gad! that's neat!" quoth he,
_sotto voce_.) "I never said anything about a bazaar, though that
reminds me that every one of you gentlemen should go to town and do
something for the church before you leave. The fair has been going on
two days now, and not one of you has spent a cent there. And they so
need an organ----"

"Mrs. Whaling, tell them to have Jarley's waxworks, and you'll be Mrs.
Jarley--or Mrs. Partington; I'll be John or Ike,--I don't care
which,--and their fortune's made," said Blake, shaking with laughter;
so, too, was Mrs. Stannard behind the palm-leaf fan which concealed, at
least, her face. Miss Sanford, biting her lips, looked reproachfully at
Blake, and Mrs. Truscott hid her face in her hands.

"Now, _Mr._ Blake!" protested Mrs. Turner, "you never have been in town
to church since your coming here, and it's shocking the way you officers
neglect it. I'm sure I've offered to drive you in with me a dozen
times."

"True, fair lady; but those eminently safe animals of yours take an hour
to traverse the intermediate league. I have to get up too early."

"But Mr. Ray went once; though, to be sure, Miss Sanford and Mrs.
Stannard brought that about."

"Oh, yes! and came home sold. He never would have gone only he heard
that the text was to be from the Sermon on the Mount, and he thought it
was some new wrinkle in cavalry tactics."

"Mr. Blake, you are simply outrageous!" "Wretch!" "Shocking!" and a
volley of like exclamations greeted this outburst. Mrs. Stannard rose
from her chair and shook her fan at him.

"You shall not teach so irreverent a doctrine here! Mr. Ray went gladly,
and was far more devout and reverential in church than some of the
ladies."

"Any man could be devout sitting next to Miss Sanford," he persisted;
but seeing no sign of levity in her face, and that her blue eyes were
bent upon him "in pity rather than anger," he abruptly changed his tone
to one of melodramatic gravity.

    "'Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
    I cannot stand and face thy frown.'

I'm not appreciated. I must betake myself to other fields. Ladies, when
I get in a gale it takes something sterner than feminine rebuke to stop
me. I'll away and see Mrs. Wilkins. She likes it. If aught I've said to
wound thee," he continued, bowing with hand on his heart in front of
Miss Sanford, "remember, Miss De Vere, in the words of your favorite
Tennyson,--

    'The cold upon your old stone gates,
    Is not more lyin' to you than I.'"

"Did you ever know such a rattlepate?" exclaimed Mrs. Turner, as the
long legs went striding down the row, and the young officers sat gazing
after him in wonderment.

"Never," replied Mrs. Stannard; "and yet he has as true a heart and as
tender a nature as almost any man I know. There was no fun in him while
Mr. Ray was in trouble; and no more devoted and loyal friend could he
find. I _like_ Mr. Blake, and always have liked him."

But Mrs. Whaling shook her head. "No right-principled young man could
speak so lightly of sacred things. Ah! here comes the orderly with the
mail." And as she spoke the trim young soldier entered the gate carrying
his budget of letters. Mrs. Whaling stretched forth her hand to take the
packet.

"Please, ma'am," said he, "I left yours at the colonel's, and my orders
is not to give the others to anybody but them as they belongs to."

"I will distribute them here, orderly," she replied, with a superior
smile, "as I know all these ladies and gentlemen and you do not." She
was determined to see who received letters and from whom, if a possible
thing, and she carried her point. Most of them were for the officers.
Nothing came as yet from the regiment. Mrs. Truscott received two or
three letters from the East, which were not handed her until the
self-appointed postmistress had scrutinized the superscriptions; so,
too, she inspected the bills and billets that came to the young subs,
and two letters for Miss Sanford,--one from New York, the other,
addressed in a bold, vigorous hand, was from Headquarters, Division of
the Missouri, Chicago. At this, through

    "All her autumn tresses falsely brown,"

she shot sidelong daggers, indeed, as she passed it with significant
smile.

"I thought he'd write even though to-morrow would bring him here
himself," she said; and Miss Sanford bit her lip and colored far more in
indignation than in confusion; but, rallying like the little heroine
she was, and bent now on baffling the schemes of the wily interloper,
she quickly leaned forward and took the letter, glanced brightly at Mrs.
Stannard, and exclaimed, with all the delight and _naïveté_ of genuine
surprise,--

"Why, it _is_ for me, Mrs. Stannard! Now you shall not see a line of it,
for you would not show me yours." And then with provoking coolness,
while Grace gasped in admiration and astonishment, Marion opened and
read with beaming smile her letter from Ray,--the only one he had time
to write in Chicago.

It was very brief, yet when 'twas finished she wished, with all her
heart, she could escape to her own room and read it once again, all by
herself. It was the first letter--in the least like it--she ever
received. It made her pulses bound, and it put her mettle to the test to
turn at once to conversation with the one youth who had received no
letter. It made her long for stable-call to sound that she might be
alone and read it again and again, and yet it was very, very simple and
direct. The trumpets rang their signal soon enough. The young cavalrymen
doffed their caps and scurried away. Mrs. Stannard, smiling knowingly,
said she would take a walk with Mrs. Turner, and then the two school
friends were left alone.

"Maidie, what does he say?"

"Let me read it quietly, Grace dear. I _couldn't_ there."

She had not seen him since sending that very, very outspoken letter the
afternoon after he was taken to Cheyenne, and the letter he had written
in answer to that was full of gratitude for her faith in him,--full of
assurance that with such words as those to cheer him he would bear his
further trials as became a man, but, until fully vindicated of every
charge, he would not return to Russell and could not hope to see her;
but, once freed from the odium of any and every allegation affecting his
integrity, he should come to thank her in person for the strength and
comfort her beautiful letter had given him.

And now--he was coming. He could not wait for his own arrival, since he
had to stop over one day. The instant he left the colonel's presence he
had asked for a desk in the aide-de-camp's room, had penned a few hasty
lines to her first of all, had hurried with them to the Rock Island
Depot, only a few squares away, that they might catch the mail just
starting, and she--she who had proved so gallantly her faith in him, be
the first to know of his complete vindication. Ray never wrote such a
letter in his life before:

     "Only thirty minutes before the westward mail starts, and this
     moment I have come unnerved and weak from the presence of the
     general with the fullest vindication man could ask. In the
     first glow of thoughtfulness my thoughts turn instantly to you.
     May God bless you for the words that came to bless me in my
     darkest hours! May He teach me to show you--I can never tell
     it--the infinite value of your words to me! May He so guide my
     future that, henceforth, my life shall prove worthy the trust
     you placed in me! Until it has, in some measure, so redeemed
     the past, I may not say more. Only this: you, before all the
     world, I desire to know of my acquittal of every allegation.
     To-morrow I shall hope to see you before we march, for I shall
     go at once to the regiment. There may be little opportunity for
     words even if I dared trust myself to speak. Last time, in
     laughing talk, it was agreed that I should wear your colors;
     but now, even your will would be powerless to prevent me, for
     my heart and soul are pledged to them forever.

                    "WILLIAM P. RAY."

Nor did he mean to "say more" when writing that letter. He meant that
she--he did not care _who_ else--should know that the thought of her
friendship and faith had been his mainstay in the troubles which had so
suddenly involved his life and wellnigh wrecked him. He wanted her to
know, and he did not care who knew, that from this time forth he was her
knight, sworn to her service, and bound to her by a tie he could not
break if he would. Seldom as they had met, there had been from the first
a halo of romance about their association, and she had come to be, even
before he could realize it, the one fair woman in whom was centred the
fealty and devotion of his loyal nature. He dare not hope: he would not
expect that one like her could so soon, so unsought, unwooed, have
learned to look upon him as anything more than a friend whose loyalty to
Grace, her one intimate, and whose friendship for Mrs. Stannard had
conspired to make him an object of interest in their daily talk. With
the humility of true manhood he well knew that his name, clouded with
the recklessness and debts of his past life, was not one that he dare
lay at her feet; but this, too, he knew, and knew well, and would have
faced the world to own it as fearlessly as he faced a foe: he loved
her, and, as yet, could ask nothing in return.

And yet, when Blake met him at the station next day, and they drove
rapidly out over the hard prairie roads, and he saw again the white
peaks in the south and the sunlight dancing over the distant slopes, and
the flag waving aloft over the dingy brown buildings of the post, and
his heart beat with eager joy at thought of seeing her again, of
touching that soft white hand and looking down into the depths of her
clear, truthful eyes, and studying the face that, lovely always, had
grown exquisite in beauty to him, he wondered how he could meet her, how
he _could_ speak to her, and control the longing to implore her to
overlook his past life with its follies and its sins, and let him prove
to her how strong and steadfast he could be if she would but bid him
hope. And then he set his teeth and tossed his head,--the old Ray-like
gesture,--and vowed that without a single word of hope she should see
how the faith of "one fair woman" had changed his whole life. He could
hardly answer Blake's eager, enthusiastic talk. He could hardly hear
what he was saying until he caught the words "To-morrow morning, four
hundred recruits, five hundred horses, and you go in command."

So soon, then? And yet 'twas what he had prayed for. He was eager to see
the dear old regiment again. He knew well how many faces of officers and
men would light up in welcome at his coming. In all the misery of the
past month he had almost forgotten that in July he was with them at the
front. How very far away that night ride seemed,--the ride that Wayne's
and Truscott's fellows at least had not forgotten! It made him think of
Dandy, and he questioned eagerly if Dandy were still there.

"Still there? You bet he is, Billy! Hogan's heart will break if you
don't say first thing that he looks better than he ever did in his
life."

"Why! How is it that Hogan has him again? I don't understand."

"Why? You can't go without a horse, man, and as commanding officer of
the whole crowd you would be entitled to your choice. I thought you'd
rather have Dandy, and so said. You can take another if you want to;
there are lots of them, and beauties. Now we're to go to Mrs. Stannard's
for dinner at once. Shall we stop and knock off the dust?"

They were whirling in at the fort gate, the gate through which he had
last driven a prisoner in the grasp of the law. The broad parade was
covered with squads of recruits drilling busily and with knots of young
officers, who looked eagerly at Blake and the dark-eyed young gentleman
in gray by his side. Along the row were many of the ladies of the
garrison and romping children, all of whom nodded and smiled and waved
their hands as they flashed by.

"Quick, Billy," said Blake, between his set teeth. "Out with you and
into the house, unless you want to be snared by Mrs. Turner. Oh, by the
Lord! Here she comes, and Mrs. Whaling, too. Scoot!"

And Ray sprang from the light wagon, and lifting his hat in salute to
the ladies who were hastening down the walk, he darted into the
house,--into the cool, darkened rooms which he had last seen when there
was not a spark of comfort, of hope, or love in a world of black
despair. And now, here was Hogan,--all joy and welcome and delight.
There lay the "swell" undress uniform, his cap and gloves and little
walking switch, all in readiness on the bed, and not until he became
accustomed to the dim light after the glare of the Wyoming sun, and the
mists of emotion had begun to clear away, could he see that Hogan's
blue-gray eyes were wet, and that he was ready to break down again with
sheer ecstasy. Ray laughed, the real old, joyous, ringing laugh again,
as he gripped the faithful Irishman's hand.

"Why, Hogan, old fellow. It's good to see you again; and so Dandy is
here, too, is he?"

"He is, sir, and it's he that'll be glad to have you on his back again.
Oh, murther! Did the lootenant tell ye how he dumped the quarthermasther
in the creek? He _didn't_?----"

"Come, Billy. No time to lose. Mrs. Stannard's waiting for you. She had
early dinner, as there's to be a farewell hop to-night, and I've seen
the colonel and you needn't report until afterwards. Come, man," called
Blake, hurrying in; and so Hogan's ecstasies were cut short, and in a
few moments more Mrs. Stannard's beaming face welcomed them at the door,
and both her hands were cordially clasping Ray's, and yet--somehow,
drawing him in and passing him along into the little parlor, while she
herself remained volubly chatting with Blake, who did not pass the
portals with any rapidity at all. Ray never could realize, much less
explain it, but in another moment he was standing in the little parlor,
and Marion Sanford, lovely in her grace and beauty, lovely in her shyly
welcoming smile, lovely in the soft flush that had mantled her bonny
face, was slowly rising from her chair to welcome him. All she said was
"Mr. Ray!" as with trembling hands he quickly seized the cool, white,
plump little member that was half extended to greet him, and--he could
not speak; he knew not what to say or do; he longed for the first time
in his life to kneel at a woman's feet and press her hand to his lips,
but that would be an unwarrantable demonstration in these conventional
days. He simply bowed low, held it one lingering moment in both
his,--she must have felt their eager trembling,--and then, without the
kiss for which his soul was longing, reluctantly let it go and looked
once into her eyes.

"Miss--Marion, I--_cannot_ tell you how glad I am to see you!"
Low-toned, heartfelt, eager, they were all he dare say. He meant to be
true to his resolve, and to prove his worth and his gratitude by
something better than words. And for once at least in his gallant
debonair life, Ray was mute and at a loss in a woman's presence. He was
indeed conquered,--heart and soul.

A delightful dinner they had, that little _partie carrée_; Mrs. Truscott
had declined, because she said one more woman would spoil it all, and
she wanted to write to Jack. And then Ray had to go and see the colonel
and have a long talk with him about the big command he was to take north
on the morrow, and to shake hands gravely with the embarrassed veteran,
and cordially and gladly with Warner, and to welcome the dozen handsome,
soldierly, enthusiastic young graduates, who came in a body to call and
pay their respects and tell their young commander how their recruit
companies were doing; and then there were a host of other affairs to
attend to, and an inspection of all the five hundred horses that were to
bear them northward in the morning, and afterwards the four hundred
recruits who were to go to the cavalry regiments with him. And then came
retreat parade, and the solemn dinner with the colonel and his amiable
better half, a dinner which seemed interminable, but which was as much a
duty as attending roll-call, and so it was late when he could get into
full-dress uniform and go over to the hop and see her once again.
Warner, lucky devil, was to be her escort, and the young officers would
have taken every dance but for the waltz he found courage to ask for at
dinner. How he rebelled at the idea of having to escort Mrs. Whaling!
Still, it was all part of his self-imposed penance, thought he, with a
grave, quiet smile, as Hogan was helping him to dress, and the strains
of the dance music came floating witchingly over the parade. He had only
time to see Dandy one moment, to pet and fondle him and praise his
beautiful condition (to Hogan's delight), and then, just as tattoo was
sounding, there came into the room the quartermaster's clerk with some
papers for his signature.

"What are these?" he asked in surprise. "Requisition for forage for one
private horse, the property of First Lieutenant William P. Ray, --th
Cavalry. Why, man! I own no horse."

"Them's the quartermaster's orders, sir. Lieutenant Blake got permission
to buy the horse. It's Dandy, sir, but he said as how it was yours, and
you'd sign the papers directly you got back. The forage was issued on
that understanding."

"Shure it's all thrue, sir," said Hogan. "Dandy was bought last week,
sir, and I thought as how Mr. Blake had told you."

Ray said no word more. His eyes were filling; he signed the papers,
finished dressing in silence, escorted Mrs. Whaling with entire
civility, and never heard a word she said though she talked volubly
every inch of the way; and once at the hop-room and he could break loose
from Mrs. Turner, who seized him to upbraid him for not stopping to
speak to her, and to tell him she had saved three dances expressly for
him, and she had such a host of things she wanted to tell him, and she
had been hearing such a host of things about him, etc., etc., he found
Blake and caught him by the sleeve.

"No dodging now, Blakey. _Who_ bought Dandy? Who gave him to me?"

"Well--dang it! _I_ did. Haven't I a right to?"

"No, old man; and, forgive my saying it, you and I cannot afford such
presents. What was he appraised at?"

"Oh, they fixed it low; because he was to be yours, you know. I got him
for two hundred."

"But, Blake, you hadn't ten dollars when I went away. I know full well
how much I owe you in this matter. Bless you, old man! But--the truth
now. You can afford to tell me when I say I _must_ know before it comes
to saying good-night to her. What had Miss Sanford to do with it?"

"Everything, Billy."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE COLORS ENTWINE.


She was talking brightly with a knot of half a dozen young officers, all
clamoring for "extras," when, soft and sweet, the strains of
"Immortellen," that loveliest of Gungl's waltzes, floated on the air,
and Ray stood there before her.

"My waltz, Miss Sanford. Can I claim you in face of such an array of
aspirants?"

She rested her hand on his arm, nodding blithely to the group, and
calling laughingly back to them as he led her away. Then she noticed how
silent he was, and for the first time looked up in his face.

"You have not been dancing, Mr. Ray?"

"No, Miss Marion; and it was a piece of selfishness in me to ask this. I
have not danced since coming back from the Cheyenne, and yet--I could
not go without one. Shall we try?"

Will he ever forget her as she looked that night? How gloriously deep
and soft and tender were her eyes, how wavy and rippling her hair, how
exquisite the delicate tints of her complexion, how rich, how lovely the
warmth of her parted lips! Her dress seemed as airy, as fair as her own
quiet grace. For the life of him he could not describe it, but it was
the first time he had seen her in evening attire, and Marion Sanford's
neck and shoulders and arms were perfect,--fair and white and round and
lovelier than an angel's, thought Ray, as his glowing eyes looked down
in rapture upon her. She had glanced up in his face as he spoke, but his
eyes met hers with such uncontrollable worship in their gaze that she
could not face them. His arm twined lightly about her waist, and without
a further word they swung away in the long, gliding measure that seemed
so perfectly in accord with the spirit of the dreamy music. She danced
lightly as a fairy; "guided," as he would have said, "with the faintest
touch of the rein," and he forgot the stiffness of the wounded thigh,
and everything else but that, to the music of all others he fancied most
(surely the leader had an unusual fit of inspiration that night), he was
dancing at last with the girl whose beauty enthralled his every sense,
whose loyalty to him in all his troubles had won his undying gratitude,
and whom he loved, humbly 'tis true, yet thrillingly, passionately. He
never saw that all over the ball-room curious eyes were watching
eagerly. Hers were downcast, while his were fixed almost in adoration on
her face. Sweeter, softer, dreamier rose and fell the exquisite strains.
Will he ever forget the "Immortellen"? Soft ripples of her hair were
drifting close to his lips. Their delicate fragrance stole over his
senses like a spell. He felt the light pressure of her tiny hand upon
his arm, and envied the dead gold of his shoulder-knot, when once, as
they reversed and a quick turn was necessary to avoid collision with a
bulkier couple, her flushing cheek had rested one instant upon it. He
could not speak; a lump rose in his throat and his heart beat wildly.
What could it mean? what could it mean? this strange thing Blake had
confessed to him? She--_she_ had bought Dandy to give to him? He must
find words to thank her, but how could he without betraying all?

Such silence could not last. Even in the thrilling instant of an avowal
the woman does not live who so far forgets herself as to be insensible
to the gaze of lookers-on. Totally ignorant of the extent of his
knowledge, since she had charged Blake that it was all to be kept a
profound secret; thinking only of the necessity of breaking that
treacherous, betraying silence, she summoned her courage, and, looking
up one instant, she made some laughing allusion to the fact that Mrs.
Turner would never forgive him if he left without dancing with her; and,
indeed, he _must_ dance with Miss Whaling, since he had dined there that
evening.

"I will try. I will do anything you ask or suggest; only, Miss Marion,
we march at eight to-morrow morning. Come with me to the gallery one
minute. I _must_ speak to you."

So after all she had only precipitated matters. He had ceased waltzing
directly opposite one of the open doors, and, without waiting for reply,
with the quick decision that so marked him at times, he led her,
speechless, from the room, snatching up a cavalry cape from a chair, and
this, as they stepped out on the low wooden piazza, he threw over her
shoulders. Several other couples were promenading slowly up and down, or
gazing in at the dancers. He led her rapidly past all these until they
came to the end of the platform, and there, with the moonlight shining
full on his eager features, Ray turned and faced his fate. She knew he
was trembling; she knew his voice was low and broken and husky. His
words had been hardly audible to her in the hop-room, but his emotion
any woman could see. Oh, how white and cold and still the distant
mountains shone in the pallid light! Oh, how silent, peaceful, deserted,
the far-away slopes and ridges over the prairie! Oh, how faint and far
and glimmering were the night lights of the stars, dimmed into
nothingness by the broad, brilliant, overwhelming radiance of the Queen
of Heaven! Oh, how sweet, luring, love-lighting were those witching
waltz strains floating out upon the breathless air! Oh, how warm and
close was the pressure of his strong arm as it held her hand upon his
beating heart! Knowing--well knowing what must be coming, powerless,
even if determined to check him, she bowed her sweet face, and the young
soldier's surging love words broke, low, tremulous, but irresistible,
upon her listening ears.

"God knows I meant to hide as yet, until my life could have shown the
influence you and your blessed faith have had.--God knows I meant to
have striven to show myself worthy before coming to say what now I
cannot restrain; but to-night the truth came out that to you I owe my
pet, my Dandy. No; let me speak," he went on, impetuously, as for one
instant she raised her head as though to check him; he had seized her
hand, too, and held it down there under the folds of that happy cavalry
cape. "I ask nothing. I know I've no right to hope or expect anything as
yet. You have blessed me infinitely beyond my deserts already; but now I
could not go, I _could_ not go without giving you to do with as you will
the only thing on earth I have to offer,--my heart, Marion. Oh, my
darling, my darling, don't shrink from me! Listen, sweet one. There can
be no wrong, no shame in your knowing that I love you, love you beyond
any power of mine to tell you. Were I to go now, after all you have done
for me, and hide all this simply because I did not and could not hope
you would return it,--yet, I would hang my head in shame. The man who
loves as I do _must_ tell it, no matter what the answer be."

And then there was a moment's silence, through which she could plainly
hear the loud beating of his heart, in which she could not find words to
speak, and yet there lay her hand in his, since it was powerless to
check him.

"Have I startled you, Marion?" he whispered low. "Did you not read much
of this in my letter?"

She looked bravely up in his eyes. Her own were full of unshed tears.
Her sweet face was lovely in the pale moonlight, and as once more she
saw the worship in his eyes, the flush of joy, pride,--of what else
could it be?--again mantled her soft cheeks. She made no effort to
withdraw her hand.

"I have no right to be startled, Mr. Ray. I could not but see something
of this all in your letter, though that might have been attributed to a
very unnecessary gratitude. But I would not have you think anything
like--like this due to me because of my interest in all that has taken
place this summer. We all thought--Mrs. Stannard and Grace and I--that
you had been most outrageously wronged, and it did seem as though
everything had turned against you, and I made Mr. Blake buy Dandy
because that seemed the only way to save him, too, from being abused. I
couldn't bear it. Oh, Mr. Ray, the letter did not half prepare me for
all this! I _have_ liked you. I _do_ like you better than any man I
know," she said; and now her swimming eyes were fixed full on his, and
his lips were quivering in their eagerness to kiss away the tears, but
he drew her no closer.

"That in itself is more than I had a right to hope, that in itself
nerves me to tell you this. I go back to my duty with a stimulus and to
my temptations with a safeguard I never knew before. I never have been
worthy your faintest thought, much less your love."

"Mr. Ray, don't say that! I know well that no man who has been such a
friend of Mrs. Stannard's, such a friend to Captain Truscott and Grace,
_could_ be what you paint yourself. Oh, don't think--don't think for an
instant I undervalue the gift; you--you shall not speak of yourself that
way! Do you think any woman who deserves a thought could fail to glory
in such a name as you have won? Oh, Mr. Ray, Mr. Ray, I hardly realize
that it is possible that you care for me! You, so brave and loyal and
daring."

His eyes were blazing with a rapture he could not control. It was so
infinitely sweet to hear her praise.

"You make me hope in spite of yourself, Marion," he murmured, with
trembling eagerness. "Oh, think; look way down into your heart, and see
if you cannot find one little germ of love for me,--one that I may teach
to grow. Try, my darling, try. Ah, heaven! am I mad to-night?"

And now her head was drooping again and her heart beating. She felt that
since it had come she could not bid him go comfortless.

"Only within the last day or two," she whispered, "have I been thinking
that--that--I've been wondering how I dared write to you as I did when
you were--in Cheyenne, wondering whether--if Dandy were not yours
to-day--I could find courage to say what I did to Mr. Blake.
Does--that--tell you anything, Mr. Ray?"

"Marion! Marion! Oh, my darling! let me see your face."

She struggled one instant. She even hid it upon his breast, and the
helmet cords made their mark upon her blushing forehead; but quickly he
took her face between his strong, trembling hands, gently but firmly
raised it until his eyes could drink in every lovely feature, though the
fringed lids still hid from him the eyes he longed to see.

"Marion, sweet one. _Maidie!_ with all my life and strength I love you.
Have you not one little word for me?"

"What--must I say?" she murmured, at last, still shrouding her eyes.

"Say,--'Will, I think I love you just a little.'"

No answer. Only beating hearts, only quick-drawn breath, only the
distant call of the sentry, "Half-past eleven o'clock;" only the dying
strains of the "Immortellen" wafting out through the open casements.

"Try, Maidie," he whispered, eagerly. "Try before the call comes back to
the guard-house. Try before the last notes of that sweet waltz die away
for good and all. Try, sweet love,--'Will, I think I do.'"

A moment's pause, then--then--

"Will, I--I _know_ I do."

And the strong, straining arms clasped about her under that blessed
cavalry cape, and the bonny face was hidden on his breast, and Ray's
trembling lips were raining passionate kisses on that softly rippling
bang, just as the last thrill of the "Immortellen" dreamed away, and the
rich, ringing, soldierly voice of the sentry on number one echoed far
out over the moonlit prairie the soldier watch-cry, "All's well."

       *       *       *       *       *

What a gem of a morning was the morrow when they rode away northward!
After the command had filed out of the garrison, led by the band on
their placid grays, and the ladies all along the row had waved their
good-byes and kissed their dainty white hands, and the children had
hurrahed and shouted and rushed out among the horses' hoofs in their
eagerness to have one more farewell shake of the hand from some favorite
officer or man, and two or three dames and damsels had stolen away to
the back rooms up-stairs, Marion Sanford stood with tear-dimmed eyes at
the window, gazing far out over the prairie at the long blue column
disappearing in the dust over the "divide." By her side stood Grace
Truscott, twining her arms around that slender waist and clinging to her
with a new and sweeter sympathy. Who, who was the cynic that wrote that
even as she stood at the altar plighting her troth to the husband she
had chosen, no woman yet forgave the man whom, having rejected, she knew
to have consoled himself with another? Grace never for a moment admitted
that Ray had been her lover in Arizona; he had been devoted to
her--always--for Jack's sake; but there were those who thought that
only a little encouragement would have tumbled Mr. Ray over head and
heels in love with her in those queer old days. But all that was past.
There was no doubt that Mr. Ray was desperately, deeply in love now, and
that two women in that garrison--Mrs. Stannard and Mrs. Truscott--knew
it well, and rejoiced that his love was requited. But, late as it was,
Ray had had a very happy yet earnest talk with Marion on their return
from the hop. He told her plainly that he had a term of probation to
serve, and that not until he had freed himself from his burden of debt
and furnished his quarters, so that he might not be utterly ashamed to
welcome her to such a roof as even frontier cottages afforded, he would
not ask her to be his wife; he would not ask her to consider herself
even engaged to him. He had no right, he said, to speak to her of his
love, much less to plead for hers; but that was irresistible,--'twas
done. Long engagements are fearful strains, and our social license of
questionings renders them wellnigh intolerable to men and women, who
naturally shrink from speaking of matters which are to them so sacred.
Ray declared that she should not be harassed by any such torturing talk
and prying and questioning as that which has to be undergone by almost
every girl whom civilized society fancies to be engaged. She could never
doubt him for an instant, he felt assured, and he--well, he couldn't
begin to realize his blessed fortune at all, so she must excuse _his_
incredulity; but he declared he would leave her utterly untrammelled.
There should not even be an "understanding." He would not ask her to
accept his class-ring, all he had to offer, but write to her he _would_.
Grace and Mrs. Stannard should know if she saw fit, and Truscott, but
no one else at Russell. Then, if she came to her senses when she went
back to New York and her friends the Zabriskies in November, and met
some fellow worthy her acceptance, why--but here a little white hand was
laid firmly upon his lips; he said no more, but compromised by kissing
it--rapturously.

But he, and Dandy, too, had come to say good-by before marching, and
Dandy's coat shone like silk, and he arched his pretty neck and looked
at her with his soft brown eyes as though he wanted to tell her he knew
all about it, as indeed he did. Had not Ray gone into the stable early
that morning while he was crunching his oats and whispered it all, and
ever so much more, into that sensitive ear? A famous confidant was Dandy
on the long march that followed, for Ray used to bend down on his neck
and talk about her to him time and again, to the wonderment of his
"sub." Ray breakfasted at Mrs. Stannard's the morning of the start, and
when he came away and it was time to mount, he wore in the button-hole
of his scouting-shirt a single daisy--Marion's own flower--and a tiny
speck of dark-blue ribbon. The yellow facings of the cavalry were linked
with the Sanford blue.

And wasn't Blake in a gale that morning? Rattling with nonsense and
misquotation and eagerness to be off, he strode from gallery to gallery
with his Mexican spurs clattering at his heels. He had bought in town a
little china match-safe, which he gravely presented to Mrs. Whaling as a
slight addition to the collection of what she termed her brick-a-braw.
He implored Mrs. Turner to sing to him just once, for singing was a
doubtful accomplishment of hers, and she had already good reason to know
that he had paraphrased one of her songs, because of her defective
enunciation, into--

    "Some day, some day, some day
    I shall meat chew,"

and she never forgave ridicule. He declared he meant to kiss Mrs.
Wilkins good-by, and dared Mrs. Stannard to come down and see him do it;
but when it was really time to ride to the head of his troop of
recruits, he bowed to Miss Sanford with a knowing look in his eye, and
bent low over her hand.

    "'Love sought is good, but given unsought is better;'

and yet, fair lady, you fail to see the overpowering advantages of
accepting mine. In the language of Schillerschoppenhausen, Ich habe
geliebt und gelebt, which being interpreted means, I've loved and got
left. Fare ye well." And away he rode, bestriding his horse like a pair
of bent dividers on a broad grin.

And Ray,--though pale from recent illness and confinement and lack of
the old open air life,--never had he looked so full of hope and buoyancy
and life as, after one thrilling little squeeze of her hand, he swung
into saddle, doffed his broad-brimmed hat to all, and went bounding away
to take his place in front of the long mounted line that awaited his
coming. Then his voice rang out clear and firm and true, and with the
daisy nestling in his breast he galloped to the head of column. Duty,
Loyalty, and Hope were leading on before.

Two long weeks of marching it took to carry them to the romantic valley
in the Black Hills where the old --th so eagerly awaited them, and
meantime letters were flying to and fro. Ray meant to bring his new
riders and new horses in perfect trim to their regiments, and so made
short marches and constant inspection of his stock. Heavens! what a
gloom had settled over the regiment that miserable day, when one of
their number, having ridden into Deadwood, came back with a several
days' old Cheyenne paper giving the fearful details of Gleason's death
and Ray's probable guilt. It was three days more before they met the
mail-stage fairly laden down with bags of letters for them. Stannard had
been almost sick, Truscott sad, silent, but incredulous. There had been
a difference between him and Billings, for the latter was inclined to
believe the story true, and Truscott said that he was prepared to hear
this from other men in the regiment but not from him. Eager as lovers
and husbands to get their mail, every man had dropped the letter he
happened to be reading when young Hunter, searching a later Cheyenne
paper, set up a whoop that made the pine-crested heights echo again and
again. Then waving his paper and dancing like a madman, the youngster
yelled at the top of his voice,--

"Ray's innocent! Ray's acquitted! 'Twas a deserter, Wolf, who did it!
He's confessed. _Now_, Crane. By heaven, swallow your words!
Wh-o-o-o-p!"

Officers and men, the whole regiment sprang to their feet and came
tearing to the spot, and such a scene of hand-shaking and shouting and
jubilee the Black Hills never knew before or since. It was easy enough
for the officers to hurry back to their letters from wives and children
or sweethearts, but for hours the men kept up their hurrah; Ray had been
their hero for years, and the affair of the July fight of Wayne's
command had simply intensified the feeling.

Naturally, the letters bearing the postmarks of latest dates were those
first opened. Fancy the faces of Stannard and Truscott as they read,
letter by letter, backward through that summer's record. Turner looked
as sad and anxious as ever; almost the first one he opened said, "If you
have not already seen and read those that precede this, please burn them
without reading. I was mistaken;" and Turner well knew that when his
wife got so far as to admit that she had been mistaken, it meant that in
some way she had been playing the mischief. He never read, therefore,
all her graphic details of Ray's mysterious flirtation with Mrs.
Truscott, or of the thrilling evidence in Mrs. Turner's possession of
his guilt. A good fellow was Turner, a loyal soldier and husband, who
loved his pretty and capricious better half, and deserved a still better
one.

That night when the first keen frosts of October made the camp-fires
doubly welcome, old Stannard and Jack went off among the pines and built
a little blaze all by themselves, and there talked gravely over the
strange events of the summer now so fully set before them in those
volumes from Russell. All Wolf's wild infatuation. All Gleason's cunning
malice, and--ah! _De mortuis nil nisi bonum._ May God forgive him! All
Ray's loyal and devoted services, and his cruel suffering and wrongs.
What wonder was it that for days the regiment could talk of nothing but
Ray? What wonder that they could not fathom the secret of the tie that
made Stannard and Truscott inseparable now? What wonder that those two
officers obtained permission to ride forward a day's march and meet Ray
and his command, and that when they came upon him cantering gayly up
through Buffalo Gap, he hardly knew them, so gaunt, worn, and ragged
were they; they hardly knew him, so radiant was the halo of hope and
love around his once devil-may-care face; so earnest, so grave, yet so
joyous had become his once flippant, reckless mien. Yet, in their very
greeting, Ray well knew that deep and faithful as had been the old
trust, there was new born from the harsh ordeal of this strange, sad
summer a friendship firmer, deeper, than ever earthly menace could
shake--a trust and loyalty that was registered in heaven. Not one word
for hours was interchanged between Jack and Ray as to that scene in
which he carried to Grace the letter Gleason had stolen, or found.
Together, with Blake occasionally injecting his rattling comments, they
talked over all the sea of troubles through which he had passed, and
together they would have mourned it all anew but for Ray.

"No, major. No, Jack. I see well that it was all for the best. God knows
I have been ten times rewarded for anything I may have suffered then.
There was a lesson I _had_ to learn, and did learn: that there are
hundreds of people who think that when a man drinks at all there is no
crime that may not properly be lodged at his door. It _has_ been a hard
siege, but every hour has been inestimable in result and in reward."

But before they rolled in their blankets that night Truscott looked him
in the eyes one moment, then held out his hand.

"Is it necessary for me to say how I value what you did and bore for
Grace and me, Billy?"

"Not a word, Jack."

Then came the march to meet the regiment, the royal, ringing welcome, a
day devoted to lionizing Ray, greeting the new officers, choosing
horses, assigning recruits to companies, and then a dash down the
Cheyenne, a week's ride in the glad October sunshine, and, one brilliant
evening as they returned, heading in toward the agencies, there met them
the courier with despatches and letters, and Ray's heart went bounding
up into his throat as four dainty envelopes, all addressed in the same
hand, were lifted up to him as he sat on Dandy, and then Jack Truscott
came riding quickly to his side, his eyes glowing, though wet with
emotion, his lips compressed, yet a world of joy and gratitude shining
in his face. Ray looked up eagerly, and their hands clasped.

"I have a son, Billy, and all is well,--thank God!"

       *       *       *       *       *

And then came the day when with the long skirmish lines deployed, far as
eye could see, the --th, with the comrade battalions of the other
regiments that had shared the rigors of the Yellowstone campaign of '76,
came sweeping over the open prairies from the north, and whirling in
ahead of them the sullen, scowling, blanketed bands of old Machpealota;
"herding" them up the valley of the White River towards the agency, and
penning them between the glistening crags of Dancer's Butte and the
barrier bluffs on the other side, while MacKenzie's troopers, trim and
fresh in their natty garrison dress, "rounded them up" from the south
and west, and by night the work of disarming and dismounting the silent
Indians was begun. New forces were all there ready to take the field
against the hordes of Cheyennes still lurking in the mountains; but for
the --th the campaign of the centennial year was virtually over. A few
days of rest and jubilee and greeting of old and new friends among the
regiments there assembled, and then they turned their horses' heads
southward, gave one backward look at the valley where they turned the
tables on the Cheyennes, where Wayne had so nearly sacrificed his whole
command, where Ray had run the gauntlet of death by torture to save
them, where Truscott's night dash to the rescue had brought him charging
just in time, and over the rolling prairies they marched to seek far to
the south their winter homes.

Thither had Ray and Truscott already gone. The summer's work was done.
The campaign was ended, and there came by telegraph from Cheyenne a
notification that Lieutenant Ray would be needed as a witness on the
trial of the owners of that gambling-den in which the soldier Wolf had
been done to death. The "Gray Fox" was sending in his ambulance and a
staff-officer at that very moment. He sent for Ray to bid him good-by
and offer him the welcome lift. And just as Truscott was writing some
hurried lines to Grace, cheering her with the news that in two weeks he
could reach her, the colonel laid a quiet hand upon his shoulder,--an
unusual demonstration, and one that meant a good deal,--and said, "It
has occurred to the general that you might like to go ahead with Ray,
captain; he appreciates the circumstances under which you hurried to
join us, and thinks that now Mrs. Truscott is entitled to claim you, so
Mr. Billings will send your orders after you by mail." He did not say
that he had himself gone to the general to ask this indulgence for
Truscott, but so it happened that long before sundown the three old
comrades, Truscott, Ray, and Mr. Bright, of the staff, were whirling
ahead towards Laramie, and that the precious inmates of number eleven at
Russell were electrified by the news that Jack and Will,--"Jack and
Will!" would be there ten days ahead of the anticipated time.

A blessed ten days they were. Grace and Baby Truscott were in readiness
to welcome paterfamilias long before Mrs. Stannard, like sister Anne on
the watch-tower, reported the cloud of dust that told of the coming of
the Laramie stage, and when that grimy vehicle finally drew up at the
gate, and two eager warriors sprang out (maybe there were not dozens of
watching eyes along the row!), there was Maid Marion down the walk with
a troop of the garrison children flocking about her, and Mrs. Stannard
(by special arrangement and request) was awaiting them on the piazza;
and when Jack, after very brief and hearty greeting, was passed on into
the house and up the stairs, and into the hands of that awesome
potentate in petticoats before whom from the moment of their entry into
this world of troubles all men must bow in helpless submission--the
monthly nurse, and the bronzed and bearded and somewhat haggard soldier
meekly surrendered himself into her custody, and was ushered by her into
a little room, where he was bidden to make himself as civilized as
possible in appearance, lest his war-worn guise should shock mamma and
frighten baby into convulsions, he obeyed in silence, nay, even with
propitiatory smiles and gestures. Ay, lay down your arms and bend the
suppliant knee, sheathe your useless sword, and hush to soothing whisper
the voice that thundered in command a week agone; hide away with
noiseless hand the heavy boot and clinking spur; off with belt and
buckle and scratching shoulder-strap, and don your softest dressing-gown
and creakless slipper; submit to search for pins and needles you never
carried; promise you will only talk just so much, and stay only just so
long, and will sit only just in such a place and won't attempt to
agitate her, "for we must still be very, very careful," and at last you
are admitted, and you kneel by the white bed and hear the rapturous
ecstasy of welcome in her faint voice, and read of her sacred martyrdom
in the white cheek and fragile hand, and glory in the pride and joy of
that wondering, wonderful mother-look in the great, deep, lustrous eyes,
and kiss again the warm, sweet lips that are heaven's nectar to the
thirst of yours; and then--and then there is revealed to you that
little, wrinkled, ruddy head, all folds and puckers and creases, all the
redder and uglier for contrast with the snowy bosom in which it twists
and burrows, and those expressionless, saucer-blue, liquid, blinking
little eyes, and tiny upturned nose, and puckering, gurgling, querulous
mouth,--all that is visible from the folds of the white blanket worn as
only Indian and baby _can_ wear one; and you are bidden to declare that
he is the very, very image of you, bless his honeyed lips! and then you
must take him one minute,--nurse must let her see Jack with his baby
boy in his arms!--and though fearful, you assent, and with reverent,
prayerful gratitude, you receive your first-born to your heart, and
thank God for the infinite mercy that has brought her, the sweet young
wife and mother, through her deadly peril, and then you would kiss the
helpless, staring, blinking, little blanket-framed face; but at first
touch of those bristling moustaches a powerful spasm has convulsed the
tiny features, and a vehement, plaintive, wailing protest bursts from
the contorted lips, and then your son and heir is snatched away, and you
stand like convicted felon, while nursey dandles and tosses and condoles
and condones and cuddles. "Well, well, well, _did_ it nearly fighten its
pessus, pessus life out with its horrid, awful, uggy beard? Well, it
never, never sall aden, _never_! No, nursey wouldn't let it." That's it,
Jack; sit down and make the best of it. Your reign as lord and master is
over and done with. Lo! Baby is king, and Mrs. Muggins is his prime
minister!

But, down in the pretty parlor, the returning soldier is still master of
the situation. Thank heaven for the beneficence which surrounds the
birth of love with the supervisory ministration of no meddling old
woman! Were it otherwise, the ancient and honorable profession of which
Mrs. Sairy Gamp is the faithful exponent would never have been called
into being. Ray and Mrs. Stannard were exchanging rapturous "so glad to
see you's" and shaking hands, and giving and receiving news about all
manner of people, while Marion Sanford was still some distance "down the
row" with the romping group of youngsters, and chatting briskly with
Mrs. Wilkins and some of the infantry ladies for all the world as though
Ray were nowhere within a thousand miles. She wanted to keep faith with
the children, she said, and they made too much noise for Baby's slumbers
when playing about the house. Of course she looked, as did the other
ladies, all eagerness to see the returning officers, and was quite
prepared to parry all thrusts which were certain to come,--all the deft
insinuations which people are so practised in giving under certain
suspected circumstances. Of course that moonlit interview the night of
the hop had been seen by more than one, and told to more than a dozen,
though Ray had kept between her and the couples that happened to be on
the gallery, and so concealed the sweet _dénouement_, and his subsequent
devotions that night to Mrs. Turner and to Miss Whaling had completely
bewildered them. For her sake, he had written, the matter should be so
managed as to subject her to as little questioning as possible. It was
already arranged that she would be returning Eastward about the time the
regiment got fairly settled in winter quarters. Already the infantry
were packing up and shipping their goods and chattels to their new
posts, and it was just barely possible that, with a little dissembling
and apparent indifference, the train of talk might be thrown from the
track. Mrs. Stannard's blue eyes danced merrily as she welcomed Ray, and
they gave one quick glance towards her that he might know where "she"
was, and it was then arranged that he was to return to the house with
certain letters as soon as he could unpack his valise and change his
dress. By that time, too, Miss Sanford was recalled by a message from
Grace, and so when Ray reappeared and the servant ushered him into the
cool, darkened little parlor, and scurried away to the kitchen to
exchange confidences with cook, he had seen and spoken to all the ladies
of the regiment, and given them news of their lords, and had not yet
exchanged one word with the lady of his love. For a moment he stood
there, looking around at the familiar and dainty objects in the room
which he had pictured in his mind's eye a million times in that brief
month; at the piano,--closed and unused of late; at the pictures and
statuettes, and the quaint little odds and ends in the way of
"what-nots," book-stands, tables, and chairs; at the broad and inviting
lounge with its beautiful covering and soft pillows, and the bear-skin
rugs at the foot; at the rich silk and bamboo screen of Japanese
handiwork that kept the chilling draught from the piano or work-table
when the ladies were there, and was big enough to form a complete
enclosure about them,--their "corral" he had termed it,--and, _was_ that
her footstep on the floor above? No! Too heavy and slow. The maid had
just gone up with the mail; besides, her room--_Her_ room was now on the
ground-floor, off the dining-room. Why _didn't_ she come? She must know
how hard all this assumed indifference was to bear. She must know how
eager he was to look once more into her sweet blue eyes and read their
shy welcome; she must know how his arms longed to enfold her. His eyes
were growing more accustomed to the curtained light, and he could see
his own reflection in the mirror between the windows, and noted with
natural satisfaction how bronzed and "serviceable" he was looking again,
and then he thought it would be a good plan to draw that screen across
the end of the piano and hide behind it, and watch _her_ as she came in,
before rushing forth to--well, wait a moment! _Would_ she be quite
prepared for so rapturous a greeting as he longed to give her? Eyes and
lips and arms and breast were yearning for her, but, would she not be
abashed at such a demonstration? It would serve her right for keeping
him waiting, and he took hold of the screen to draw it towards him, and
the screen unaccountably resisted. He dropped on his knee to loosen the
foot from a supposed catch in the heavy rug, and gave a stronger pull
and away it came,--and there like Lady Teazle, only all sweet smiles and
welcome and blushes and shy delight, a lovely, winsome picture of loving
womanhood, crouched bonny Maid Marion.

"Maidie! Oh, you darling! you delight!" And his arms were about her in
an instant. He sprang to his feet, and, despite attempted resistance and
retreat, she was clasped to his heart, and held there,--held there close
and strong: held there so firmly that she could not get away, and so, in
default of other hiding-place, her face was buried on his breast,
and--well, she had to put her arms _somewhere_. When does a woman look
so like a stick as when her own arms hang straight down by her side
while a lover's are twining about her? If you need confirmation of this
startling theory, mademoiselle, simply take one look at that otherwise
delightful picture "At last--Alone." Observe the ardor of the
lover-husband; note the unresponsive droopiness of the charmingly
attired bride, and defend the straight-up-and-down hang of that useless
arm if you can. She might, at least, take the stiffness or limpness out
of it by simply placing the little hand on his shoulder, and that is
just what Marion did, until--until he himself seized and drew it around
his neck. The question as to how he should greet her had, somehow,
solved itself.

At last he raised her head. She was indistinctly murmuring something.

"Pardon me, Miss Blue-Eyes; but--to whom did you speak?"

"To you; I said that, if all the same to you, I would like to look at
you."

"And what did I hear you call me?"

"I said--Mr. Ray."

"_Mr._ Ray! Are you aware of the fact that Mr. Ray is quite a thing of
the past? very, very far in the past," he added, with deep and earnest
feeling in place of the playful tone of the previous words. "I have been
Ray or Mr. Ray, or Billy Ray and 'that scamp Ray,' many a long year.
Only one woman on earth called me always by the one name I strove to
teach you, Maidie, and that was--mother. Am I not yet 'Will' to you?"

A moment's silence, a moment's hesitation, and then, with blushing
cheeks and beaming eyes, bravely, loyally, comes the answer: "Yes! In
every thought, in every moment, only--it was not quite so easy to say."

"And now, if I forgive you, will you tell me, since you have had the
look you demanded, just what it was you wanted to see in such a
sun-tanned specimen? What is there to warrant such flattering notice,
Maidie mine?"

She was looking up at him with such a halo of hope and love and pride
and trust shining about her exquisite face; she stood there with one
soft little hand resting on his shoulder, while the other shyly plucked
at the tiny knot of dark-blue ribbon on his breast,--the ribbon that had
fastened her daisy to his scouting-shirt. He had relaxed the pressure of
his arms, but they still enfolded her, and he looked the picture of
brave young manhood blessed with the sweetest knowledge earth can give.
Two big tears seemed starting from the blue depths of those shining
eyes. He bent fondly towards her.

"What is it, sweet one? tell me."

"I had been thinking of all you had written me of your past, and of all
your troubles and wrongs this summer, and wondering--wondering how any
one could think of the loyalty you had always shown to those you
loved,--how any one could look into your eyes and say you would ever
disappoint--my faith."



CHAPTER XXIX.

A CAVALRY WEDDING.


And now the --th were all in from the field, and the wives and families
of those officers who were there to be stationed were arriving by every
train, and the post was all bustle and confusion and rejoicing. Some
changes had occurred, as had been predicted by the colonel, but many of
our old friends and several of later date were ensconced within the
homely walls, and preparing for the combined rigors and comforts of a
Wyoming winter in garrison. Here again were old Stannard and his loyal,
radiant wife: here were the Turners and Raymonds and Webbs and Waynes
and Truscotts and Heaths and Freemans, and others of whom we have not
heard, and stanch old Bucketts, the sorely badgered but imperturbable
quartermaster, and Billings, the peppery adjutant, and Mrs. Billings
(whom their next-door neighbor Mr. Blake epitomized forthwith, to the
lady's vehement indignation, as Billings and Cooings), and Mr. and Mrs.
Wilkins and the little Wilkinses, and a "raft of youngsters," as the
junior bachelor officers were termed, and with Blake was his sworn
friend and ally Billy Ray, now the senior lieutenant of the regiment.
Life was gayety to all but him, for Marion--the light of his very
existence--had returned to the East. For ten days before the arrival of
the regiment Russell was paradise. There were long, joyous, exquisite
interviews in the dear little parlor at the Truscotts'. There were rides
and drives over the boundless prairie; there were plannings and
promises, and--I fear for once in his life Ray felt no great joy in the
arrival of the old regiment, for on that day Major Taylor's family went
East for the winter, and under their escort Miss Sanford departed.
Bright and gay as was the winter that followed to all the ladies and
most of the officers, there was one fellow at least to whom hops and
dinners and germans had faint attraction. Routine duty at a cavalry post
soon palls on the most enthusiastic. The endless round of roll-calls,
stables both morning and evening, of drills and guard-mount, boards of
survey and garrison courts, recitations and rifle-practice,--all serve
to keep up constant demands on time and attention. There is just one
thing that will throw about them all a halo of romance and
interest,--the presence at the garrison of the girl you love; and when
such a blessing has once been enjoyed and then is suddenly taken away,
the utter blank is beyond description. Only to a few has it happened
that the love of their lives has been found in garrison, and only they
will quite realize what life at Russell became to Ray after Marion
Sanford went East. He had greatly changed as every one saw. Not that he
was less buoyant and brave, but that he was far more thoughtful, grave,
and earnest. He was exact and punctilious in the performance of every
military duty, was always ready to "bear a hand" at the entertainments
and parties, but the haunts where he had once reigned supreme knew him
no more. The post trader was heard regretfully to remark that Ray wasn't
half the man he expected to find him, and there were rattle-pates among
the youngsters in the regiment to whom "Ray's reformation" was a source
of outspoken regret. "If that's the effect of getting all over in love,"
said Mr. Hunter, "I don't want any of it in mine."

Poker, too, languished as a popular pastime; the demand for morning
cocktails had unaccountably fallen off; the bar-keeper would fall asleep
at the club-room from sheer lack of employment during the afternoons and
early evenings, for many of the married ladies had brought maiden
relatives as friends to spend the winter with them, and half a dozen new
romances were starting; and the colonel had his eye on some of the old
_habitués_ of "the store," and Wilkins and Crane and one or two other
formerly reliable patrons were kept too busy to spend time or money at
that once seductive retreat, and with the injustice of embittered human
nature it was their wont to ascribe it all to Ray's backsliding, a
matter of which that young gentleman was for some time in ignorance. He
spent his off-duty hours in writing or reading or long chats with
Truscott and romps with Baby Jack; he always dined with them on Sunday,
and was in and out between their house, the Stannards', and "Saint's
Rest" (as Blake had named the bachelor ranch which he and Ray occupied
in partnership) at all hours of the day or evening; he was properly
attentive at the colonel's, and called frequently upon the young ladies
visiting the Waynes' and Heaths' and Billings' (Mrs. Turner never would
have young ladies with her, they were too distracting), and of course he
was subjected to incessant queries about Miss Sanford. It was too absurd
to deny the engagement, said the garrison, for everybody knew he wrote
regularly and she answered. Nevertheless, Ray, Truscott, Stannard, and,
of course, Mrs. Truscott and Mrs. Stannard, denied that any engagement
existed. Ray and Marion had quietly decided, as has been indicated, that
there should be none, until--until he could offer her a little army
home. But denials only stimulated the womenfolk into hazarding ingenious
questions and suggestions, and the men to various conjectures more or
less wooden-headed. At first it was theorized that he had proposed and
been rejected; that was disposed of by her frequent letters. Then that
"she had him on probation," and would marry him if he could keep clear
of the old temptations a year,--two years or so,--unless some fellow
came along meantime and swept her off. Bets were hazarded on the
different events, and there was no end of talk about it, and Ray was the
object of much sentimental interest among the ladies. One thing,
however, was clearly observable. They, the ladies, with the confiding,
caressing, insinuating, and delicious impertinence of the sex, could and
would hazard their suggestions to him in person, and were laughingly
parried; but if any one among the men were ass enough to suppose that
_all_ the old Ray had vanished he had only just to attempt to be
jocularly familiar or inquisitive with him on that or a kindred subject,
and get a Kentucky kick, as Blake called Ray's snubs, that would make
him red in the face for a week. Poor Crane was the victim of the final
experiment, and it was his last attempt to be facetious for many a weary
month. It was a snapping December morning, one of the Advent Sundays,
Truscott was officer of the day, and Ray had escorted Mrs. Truscott to
church in town, and it so happened that a number of officers were in the
club-room (for the colonel and Billings had gone away to North Platte on
a court-martial, and the major did not care to haul in on the reins
while the chief was absent), and looking out on the wintry prairie as
they came driving into the garrison. There was some little sly comment,
thoroughly good-natured, over the metamorphosis which a year had made in
Ray, when suddenly the door opened and he bounded in.

"Give me a flask of good brandy, Muldoon; our driver is almost frozen."

Of course there was a ripple of laughing chaff over the unchristian
spirit which prompted people to search the Scriptures in such weather
and freeze the helpless victims of their piety,--the drivers. All this
Ray parried in his old jaunty way, his white teeth gleaming and his eyes
twinkling with merriment over some unusually good hit; but as ill luck
would have it Mr. Crane had been up too late or too early--or both--and
had managed to drink more than was prudent. He had always smarted under
the scoring Ray had given him in Arizona, and he saw, or murkily thought
he saw, a chance to say a stinging thing. The bar-keeper had just
wrapped the flask in paper and was handing it to Ray, when Crane thickly
began,--

"Makes a heap of difference in a man this gettin' spooney, don't it?
Year ago Ray would have sneered at fellow's going to church, an' now
he's doin' it--self. Next thing, by George, he'll be havin' 'ligious
scruples 'bout goin' Indian-fighting."

There were sharp, sudden growls of "Shut up, you idiot!" "Choke him off,
somebody!" but all too late. Ray heard every word of it, and his eyes
blazed in an instant. Every man saw the coming storm, and there was an
awkward rising from chairs and gathering about Crane as though to hustle
him out of the room. For a moment Ray stood there quivering with wrath,
seemingly making strong effort at self-control, then, with the old ring
and snap to every word, he first sent the bar-keeper out of the room,
telling him to take the flask at once to his quarters, then turned
quickly on Crane, who was stupidly shuffling at a pack of cards.

"This is the third time, Mr. Crane, that you have made it necessary for
me to bring you up with a round turn. You intimate that a year ago I
would have sneered at a man's going to church. Never, sir, in my whole
life has man or woman, boy or girl, heard from my lips one word of
ridicule or disrespect for religious faith or religious observances. You
are in no condition to-day to appreciate what I say, perhaps, so you may
have until to-morrow for complete apology and retraction; but this much
you _can_ understand, sir: if you fancy for one instant that religions
scruples, or any other kind, will interfere with my fighting now or at
any time, you are most damnably mistaken, sir, as you will find as soon
as you are sober enough to receive a message." And with that he turned
and left the room. The next morning Blake was out with a note, as
everybody knew would be the result, and poor Crane tied a wet towel
around his head and sent for Wilkins and Heath and others, and they all
told him the same thing. He had made an outrageous ass of himself, and
had best write a full apology,--and he did. It was "the church
militant," said Blake, "that Billy joined," and it was evident enough
that the chip was still there on Ray's shoulder. Even Marion Sanford's
sunny head had not displaced it.

And then came a time in the spring when Ray's letters began to be very
frequent, and Rallston's big fist sprawled in on all manner of envelopes
from all manner of Iowa and Nebraska hotels. He was doing a lively
business in the horse and cattle trade again, had quit gambling, said
rumor, and Mrs. Rallston was with him now on all his journeyings, and
looking marvellously well and happy; and along in April Blake and Ray
were doing all they knew how, with Mrs. Stannard's assistance, to make
their quarters habitable for lady's use, and Rallston and Nell came and
paid them a visit of an entire week, and went away enraptured with the
regiment. Rallston was ill at ease at first, but his wife's grace and
beauty, the fact that she was Ray's sister, and that Mrs. Stannard and
Mrs. Truscott became devoted to her from the start, and that "old
Stannard" and Truscott took Rallston under their protecting wings, and
showed him around as though there had never been a flaw in his
record,--all these things and his natural good nature combined to make
him popular among the officers, and the night before they left he had
the whole crowd in at a "stag party" in town, whereat there was much
conviviality and good feeling; and the next thing whispered about the
garrison was that Ray had "an interest in the business," for when
Billings wanted a new horse, and could find none just to suit him in the
stables, he sought Ray's advice, as he always did in such matters (the
cloud between them had long since drifted away, but not until Billings
had "made a clean breast of it"), and Ray told him to wait a few days
and the horse to suit him would be there, and he could take his own time
in paying for him, too. (He did, by the way.) And when May came, and
with it orders for a summer camp, Ray's old troop took the field without
him. Another vacancy had occurred, and Rallston sent three baskets of
champagne from Omaha that all might drink the health of the new captain,
whose troop was down the road at Sidney. Verily, Fortune was smiling on
the gallant fellow on whom she had seemed to frown. Even the course of
true love was defying all previous record, and had run with exceptional
smoothness. Barring the one fearful task of having to write to her
father, his courtship had been sweet and unimpeded as all its first
surroundings had been bitter. And now, free, hopeful, redeemed, what was
there to wait for? Why not claim his bride and a long leave of absence,
and take her with him to see the dear old mother in Kentucky? "The
engagement is at last announced," wrote Grace to Truscott, who was
scouting over the Big Horn, "and the wedding will be some time this
summer. Was it not odd that you and he should each have received
promotion just before marrying? Little did dear Maidie and I ever dream
in the old days at Madame Reichard's that we were to marry captains of
cavalry in the same regiment. Oh, Jack! why _didn't_ I have a military
wedding? Marion says that the entire community is so shocked at the idea
of her accepting an unknown army officer that she has determined to have
a brilliant affair of it, and Mr. Sanford says that she shall have
everything she wants that money can buy, and they say he is 'rolling in
wealth' now. His wife has been behaving like an angel ever since
Marion's return, and, much to the Zabriskies' disappointment, the
reception will be at the Sanfords', and she will be married from there
and the whole clan will be gathered to see it, and there will be eight
bridesmaids, three of whom were our classmates at school, and, of
course, the wedding itself will be in the old cathedral church, and all
the officers there in full dress and the band from Governor's Island.
Oh, Jack! can't we go back and do it all over again? Marion says there
is only one thing to mar her happiness: she cannot have cavalry officers
for groomsmen because almost all Mr.--Captain Ray's (there I go making
the same blunder that used to exasperate me so in Mrs. Turner last year:
she _would_ speak of you as _Mister_ long after you were captain, only I
knew she did it on purpose)--_Captain_ Ray's friends are in the field
and cannot be spared, but Mr. Blake is to be best man, and there will be
plenty of other officers. Marion says that at first her father looked
very, very solemn at the idea of her falling in love with a cavalry
officer, and could not be reconciled to it, but one evening he came home
late from New York,--he had been at a dinner at the Union Club, and
there was introduced to General S----, who sat next him, and in some way
he asked about Mr. Ray, and the general said there wasn't a braver man
or finer officer in the cavalry, and spoke of him in such a glowing way
that Mr. Sanford came home radiant. Well, excepting my Jack, the general
was right." And Jack's answer was that he thought it would be an
excellent plan for Mrs. Grace to take Baby Jack and a "two months'
leave," and go East and exhibit her glory and delight to grandpapa and
grandmamma, and see Marion married. Mrs. Stannard was to start by June
30,--why not go with her? The California mining venture--his old Arizona
investment--would fully warrant the extravagance. Many a woman will
refrain from attending the gayest of balls because her Strephon cannot
be there, but where is the woman who can resist a wedding? Grace went,
as a matter of course.

What pen can describe the sensation that had shaken society to its
foundation when it began to leak out that the lovely Miss Sanford,
eldest daughter of the Honorable Blank Sanford,--plutocrat,--was going
to marry an army officer? This, then, was the reason why swains from
Philadelphia and New York had sighed in vain all that winter. Ever since
November she had been the acknowledged belle, frank, joyous, radiant,
gracious, winning, a woman all men worshipped and all women envied. "I
wish I could find something in her to criticise," was the despairing
summary of a would-be rival. "She is so courteous, so considerate, so
generous, so hopelessly regardful of everybody else's rights and
feelings. _I_ don't think she's a radiant beauty. You cannot but see
defects in her features, but who ever saw a more winning face? I don't
wonder everybody, old and young, is simply fascinated by her. I watched
her there all last evening when they had that little party. She was
surrounded every moment. She was having the best kind of time, but her
eyes were everywhere watching to see that everybody was entertained, and
no sooner was a woman left alone for an instant than she was by her side
with a gracious word--or a man. It is so everywhere she goes. Now, who
on earth can this officer be? What's an officer like, anyhow?"

It was no isolated opinion. Marion Sanford was a marked woman in general
society, a woman who reigned, queenlike, over every heart; but, among
the circle of her relatives, the uncles and aunts and cousins who lived
within the sphere of her attractions, she was held to be little less
than the angels. It made it all the harder for Ray, since everybody was
eager to see what manner of man it was that had won so peerless a pearl
from their midst. It was loyalty to him, pride in him, love for him more
than anything else, that made her choose a military wedding, that all at
home might see something of the brighter side of army life and the
social attractions of the men who were his chosen comrades.

And at last it comes: a day of cloudless sunshine, of soft and balmy
air, heralding a moonlit evening that could have served for the
Midsummer Night's Dream, and inspired the melodies of Mendelssohn; and
the massive walls of a great cathedral church are silvered by the rays
without, and pierced by the brilliant flood of colored light shining
from within. Carriage after carriage rolls up through the dense throng
of curious but silent spectators and discharges its load of
richly-dressed occupants through the carpeted, canvas-roofed lane of
belted police, through the massive portals of the church, past the
welcoming "masters of ceremonies,"--two society swells, who know
everybody and where everybody is to be seated,--and by them are
presented to one of half a dozen stalwart young officers in all the
glitter of shoulder-knots, helmet-cords, aiguillettes, sabres, and
belts, and these martial ushers receive the wondering ladies on their
arms and escort them with much ceremony to the designated pews, wherein
they are deposited with the precision of military bows, and the escort
returns forthwith, clanking down the aisle followed by curious eyes.
Carriage after carriage arrives, party after party is ushered in with
the same unerring ease, just as the staff-officers conduct detachments
to their assigned positions: no break, no confusion; and the good
people of the peace-loving metropolis, to whom army matters have long
been a dark and uninviting mystery, begin to admit that there are some
points worth noting in a military wedding. And then "society" begins to
recognize each other with nods and smiles and fluttering fans, and to
look about and take mental inventory of the marvellous changes in the
vast interior. Verily, Marion Sanford's circle of friends and relatives
has effected transformation here! Back of the congregation the
organ-loft is concealed from view by ornamental screen-work and an
arbor-like arrangement of vines and leaves, from which the gilded pipes
and gothic spires shoot up into the vaulted ceiling; but no one knows
who or what may be there concealed. Towards the altar the church is a
bower of beauty. Immediately in front of the chancel rail and facing
inward towards the centre aisle are the elevated seats of the
choristers, with the pulpit and lectern on opposite sides and at the
outer edge of the choir-stalls. The pulpit and lectern themselves are a
creamy mass of daisies,--Marion's own flower,--while between them
stretches a light trellis-work, half concealing, half disclosing, the
choir-stalls beyond, twined with smilax, and thickly studded with white
roses and carnations. Over the centre aisle this trellis takes the form
of an exquisite floral arch, spanning the steps to the choir-level and
the broad aisle beyond. All the pillars are twined with smilax; all the
chancel rail is similarly decked, while roses, carnations, and
"snowballs" are everywhere. Each side of the altar is ornamented by tall
pyramidal groups of palms and tropical plants, while the upper portion
of the church is filled here and there and everywhere with foliage and
blossoms. A great marriage-bell of carnations hangs over the altar
steps; the altar itself is one mass of daisies; the air is heavy with
perfume and now, as eight o'clock approaches, rich with soft, exquisite
melody that comes floating from an unseen orchestra in the loft. Every
now and then there is unusual flutter and curiosity as the ushers stride
up the aisle with comrades in full uniform, who, with their wives, are
"army guests," and they are escorted to the seats just back of the
choristers, among the relatives and nearest friends, where they are
placed half facing the crowded assemblage, and are at once the object of
hundreds of curious eyes. There are the bald head and red face of old
Colonel Pelham and the majestic proportions of his much-better-half,
who, as scion of all the De Ruyters, is quite at home confronting the
social battery; and Mrs. Stannard with her happy blue eyes and noble
bearing, and Mrs. Truscott, exquisitely dressed and an object of no
little admiration among observers of both sexes. "Old Stannard" fidgets
at the unaccustomed harness of full uniform, and kicks impatiently at
his sabre, wishing himself out on the Arizona deserts again, but
defiantly determined to hold his own and glare the people down. Men of
the artillery and engineers, too, are ushered into their seats, and then
everybody seems to be settled; it lacks but two minutes of eight by the
watch, and a military wedding must be of all things on time. Suppressed
excitement can be heard without. The doors leading into the vestibule
are closed. Everybody is staring back at the church entrance, and still
the sacristy door remains firmly shut. Surely 'tis time for the groom
and his best man to appear there; one minute of eight and no sign. Who
in all that crowd could dream that Ray and Blake have vainly stormed the
vestry door and found it locked? By some unaccountable error the sexton
has barred their entrance as well as that of the intrusive uninvited
whom he meant to exclude.

"What on earth shall we do, Billy?" quoth Blake. "I can heave a brick
through the window and crawl in after it. It will ruin our uniforms, but
we'll get there on time."

"Back to the front!" says Ray, pardonably white and tremulous. "We can
scurry up the side-aisle. It's our only chance now!" So back they go,
and the next instant the vestibule door opens just a few inches, the
congregation rises to a--woman, and two slim-built fellows in full
cavalry uniform, the long yellow plumes of their carried helmets
floating behind them and their sabres clattering, hasten up to the head
of the church just as the tower clock booms the first stroke of eight.
Organ, orchestra, and ringing voices burst into triumphant melody, the
vestibule doors fly open, and, headed by the crucifer and his sacred
emblem, the white surpliced choristers come thronging up the centre
aisle, while the whole congregation turns and faces them, as wedding
congregations will, and the lofty rafters ring with the exultant
strains,--

    "Hark! hark, my soul! Angelic songs are swelling."

Slowly, reverently, they move up through the broad lane, flanked by
eager faces; the choristers are followed by the brilliant party of
ushers,--soldier and civilian,--the gray-haired father and his handsome
wife; then come the fair bridesmaids, two and two, all in fleecy silk,
and bearing dainty bouquets of daisies tied with the cavalry colors,
while between the last two, sister and cousin, and as though led by
them, veiled, and with downcast eyes, a matchless picture of sweet
womanly grace and beauty, is Marion.

The choristers file to their places, the father with the lady of his
name halts at the archway, stepping to one side that the ushers and
bridesmaids may move on to the altar, which they encircle right and
left; Ray, pale and white, but with eager light in his handsome dark
eyes, steps quickly down, with Blake close at his heels, and bowing low,
meets his fair bride at the arch, then turns and faces the two
white-robed clergymen who come forward from the chancel, leaving the
venerable bishop at the holy altar. The swelling hymn has ceased, and in
its place low, sweet, witching strains of music float through the
vaulted sanctuary; a hush as of intense expectation falls upon the
listening throng, and the deep voice of the rector is heard in the
solemn opening exhortation,--"Reverently, discreetly, advisedly,
soberly, and in the fear of God." _Is_ it fancy? or, as that
never-answered challenge comes: "If any man can show just cause why they
may not lawfully be joined together?" _does_ Ray throw back his head
with something of that same old semi-defiant gesture that as much as
pays it wouldn't be a safe thing for any man to try? And then another
voice is heard, feeble, tremulous with years, ay, with deep emotion; it
is that of the revered old soldier of the Cross, whose lips long years
before propounded the same solemn query to her sainted mother; who
under that same roof received this child, a smiling baby-girl, into the
congregation of Christ's flock, and signed her with the sign of the
cross; who led her, a sweet maiden, to the altar there beyond to renew
the solemn promise and vow that was there made in her name; from whose
hands she had on bended knee so often received the consecrated elements;
whose aging accents had trembled in grief and sympathy even as they
uttered the words of solace, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,"
and whose consolation was sweetest to her in the bitter days when that
blessed mother died. No wonder Ray can feel that she is trembling from
head to foot, and that his "I will" is firm and strong as he looks
squarely into the eyes of the venerable priest and honors him for the
gathering tears he sees there; no wonder his own turn proudly, fondly,
down on her as her soft hand is placed in his nervous palm, and Blake
sets his teeth to repel the gasp of delight with which he hears the
clear-cut enunciation of every word of his solemn troth. For the life of
him he cannot help thinking how many a time he has heard that voice in
the wild days on the frontier, in Indian battle or in garrison debate,
and marked the same ring of determination when he was deeply moved. "By
gad, but he means it! I never knew him when he didn't mean every word he
said!" he gasps to himself. And then--'tis her turn, and clear,
bell-like, yet silvery soft, her sweet voice repeats the trembling words
of her old pastor; and all over the great church men and women hold
their breath and listen with eager ear; and eyes grow moist and throats
grow lumpy, and some who love her dearly can hardly restrain a flood of
tears, for never for an instant, from the first word to the last, do her
eyes, glorious in their trust and faith, exquisite in hope and love and
tenderness, falter from their fond, loyal gaze up into his. There is
uncontrollable recourse to handkerchiefs, a rustle, and sensation
throughout the crowded ranks of society as the last solemn word of her
troth is spoken, and Blake thanks heaven that the organ tones grow
perceptibly louder and more triumphant, and so does Ray, who would
gladly balk that awful hurdle on which so many a poor fellow has
floundered,--"With all my worldly goods I thee endow;" but he holds
gallantly to the ring. He hardly knows that they are following the
white-robed clergy forward to the altar now, and that there it is the
bishop's voice that greets them; but despite the helmet and sabre that
hang twixt him and her he is close by her side, and ere he knows it is
kneeling there at the chancel rail and listening to the grandest,
sweetest benediction in all the eloquent ritual of the church, and
then--and then, he has risen and is gazing into the humid eyes of his
wife.

Oh, with what triumph and joy the mingled tones of organ and orchestra
burst into the exultant music of the Wedding March! How the lights dance
and whirl! how overpowering is the perfume of rose, hyacinth, and
carnation! He has blindly shaken hands with some one, but Marion takes
his arm, and together they meet the thronging sea of faces and step
blithely down the surpliced lane of choristers, down the archway stairs,
down the broad and carpeted aisle between the batteries of smiles and
tears, and after them comes Blake towering beside the first bridesmaid;
come all the other damsels on the arms of their attendant cavaliers;
and carriage doors are banging, and there is a merry chime resounding
through the moonlit street, and away they drive to the handsome old
home, with all its windows ablaze with light, and grounds with colored
lanterns; and there in the great bay-window they take their stand, with
the circling ranks of lovely bridesmaids and gallant groomsmen about
them, and have time to note the lavish and beautiful decorations, for
here, as at church, flowers are everywhere, and banks of daisies with
the R. S. monogram in carnations, the crossed sabres of the --th,
cavalry guidons, and the stars and stripes all tell of the work of
loving hands and hearts. And such a picture as she makes as she stands
there by his side! When, when was Marion half so lovely? Her rippling
hair, her lustrous eyes, her pure complexion, her beaming, blissful
smile, her winsome charm of manner that none could ever quite
describe,--none could ever imitate! Her dress? Must I tell of that?
True, madam, I bow in all meekness. No wedding description could be even
tolerable, as you say, that ignored the bridal toilet. Why! therein,
too, Marion shone forth in one of her quaintest, most original guises.
_Such_ a struggle as she had had with Madam Finnegan,--that autocrat of
metropolitan _modistes_! "I will be no conventional bride," she
declared; orange flowers she would not wear, but her veil was fastened
by her own flower,--exquisite daisies in silver and gold filigree work;
and the dress?--Madam vowed it would ruin her _prestige_,--that it was
unheard of, impossible; that no bridal dress could be made low-necked
and sleeveless; but Marion well knew the beauty of her neck and arms,
and Ray had begged it should be so. Madam protested, but in vain; the
low-cut, sleeveless corsage fitted closely to the lines of the lovely
figure, and gleamed with pearl embroidered lace, while the front of the
skirt was trimmed _en tablier_ with the same, and a profusion of rich
point-lace fell on either side from the waist to the bottom of the
skirt. Soft, rich, creamy satin was the material, falling in long,
straight, ample folds from the waist to the end of the train. Neither
pearls nor diamonds would she wear. Not a gem is in her ears. Her one
decoration is an exquisite daisy-chain or necklace,--a dainty and
delicate piece of handiwork in gold and silver,--and this is Ray's
present to his bride.

Of the hundreds invited to the church, only relatives, closest friends,
and "the Army people" are bidden to the reception at the Sanfords'. The
Army represent Ray's kindred, for the loving old mother had been growing
too feeble of late to venture on the journey, and she had decided to
await their coming to her at Lexington; and Nellie Rallston, who longed
to be present, gave it up when her husband decided that his business
would not permit him to be so far away at such a time, but as
compensation, he told her to compute every dollar she thought the
journey with all incidentals would have cost them, and to double it and
send to Chicago for the loveliest present the money would buy as her own
gift to Billy's wife. As for himself, he had already chosen his
present,--the prettiest Kentucky saddle-horse that ever woman rode. It
was his way of expressing his appreciation of what she had done for
Dandy. And so it happened that in the big room up-stairs, where the
presents are shown to the limited few who are bidden to the reception,
Nell's beautiful bracelets are flanked by two photographs,--counterfeit
presentments of a most shapely and knowing-looking little steed, yet
unnamed,--with Mr. Rallston's congratulations and best wishes. There is
no describing the many costly and beautiful gifts from the great circle
of friends, relatives, and school-mates. Papa's, too, is of eminent
solidity, though flimsy paper is the medium, but there are some that
cannot be passed over without remark. There is significance in them.

One is a worn iron horseshoe, framed and set in gold, backed with
velvet, and surrounding an oval miniature of a horse and rider; the
horse is the lithe-limbed sorrel, Dandy; the rider, in the broad-brimmed
hat, the blue scouting-shirt, and Indian leggings, is Ray. Touch a
spring at the base of the frame and the front flies open and reveals
that this is but the enclosure, for within nestles an exquisite little
Swiss watch and chain of daintiest workmanship, with the monogram M. S.
in diamonds. The horseshoe bears this inscription: "From the officers
and men of Wayne's squadron, --th U. S. Cavalry, in grateful remembrance
of a deed of heroism which renders sacred to them the name of Ray." And
there is a letter from Wayne, which says, "The shoe is one of the four
your gallant husband stripped from Dandy's feet the night he braved
death to bring us rescue. The other three are not to be had for love or
money. My wife and children have one of them: the two companies that
composed the command have each another, framed and inscribed over the
first sergeant's door." (Marion had no present she was so eager every
one should see as this.) Then there is a wonderful clock of curious
workmanship with a musical chime of bells that is going to prove
something of a white elephant in moving from one post to another out on
the frontier, but Marion vows it shall never be left behind. It comes
from the men of the captain's own troop, many of whom served under him
in Arizona, and there's a letter signed by the whole company, from the
first sergeant down to Private Zwinge, in which they send their loyalty
and duty to the bride of the bravest officer and kindest friend soldier
ever had, and Marion shows this to Grace with blithe, happy laughter.
"_Now_ talk to me about your Jack!" she says.

Ah, well! Smiles and tears are intermingled, as they must be even in the
marriage feast. There are so many there to whom the bride recalls the
gentle, winsome mother, only, never was seen on that young mother's
face, even in her maiden days, such peace and joy as is in the bride's
to-night. There is no long lingering over the reception. Society will be
invited to some formal affairs of that kind when the happy couple return
from their brief wedding-tour, and only a few magnates from abroad have
to be shaken hands with. The immediate wedding-party are soon
seated--twenty of them--at the great table in the dining-room, while all
the guests are scattered about at little quartette affairs around the
broad halls and conservatory, and the orchestra plays sweet strains from
their perch on the enclosed piazza, and busy waiters fly to and fro, and
soon the champagne-corks are popping and the rooms are ringing with
mirth and merriment, and Ray and Marion, seated side by side at the
head of the broad table, are bombarded with toasts and congratulations,
and the laughter and applause grow incessant as the bridesmaids and
groomsmen exchange the poetic "mottos" in the favors they find at their
places, and no bridesmaid seems quite able to properly affix the little
gold sabre that is nestling in the folds of her napkin: it takes a
soldier's practised hand to fasten them in those dainty India silks; and
every groomsman swears that no one but a woman can ever properly adjust
the daisy, which, as a scarf-pin, is his reward for the evening's
services; and some inspired fellow-citizen gracefully proposes the
health of the hostess, and an eminent statesman present ponderously does
likewise for the bride, although it was the fixed determination that
there should be no formal speech-making; but Mr. Sanford happily comes
to the rescue in a few remarks of unaccustomed humor, in which he sets
the room in a roar by expressing his satisfaction at having married off
one encumbrance, his modified rapture in the reflection that there were
still two or three in the way of daughters and nieces whom he felt bound
to similarly dispose of, his comfort in the sight of half a dozen such
likely young officers as those present, and his hope that they wouldn't
"fool away their time." This dispels anything like formality, and the
next thing there is a health to the Army and shouts for Blake. He finds
his long legs slowly, and comes to the scratch infinitely puzzled as to
how he is to worry through, but all is merriment by this time, and fun
and laughter reward his feeblest shots. He is understood to begin
somewhat as follows:

"You ought not to expect me to respond for the Army. I can't speak for
the ladies thereof because they never gave me a chance to practise (oh!
slander!), and I can't drink for the men because they insist on doing it
for themselves (another libel!). In fact, after being here five days as
the guest of our hospitable friends at the club, I'm wondering how any
one ever could see anything to drink to in the army. Life there is a
fearful grind. In the lofty and inspired language of Canon Kingsley,--if
not cannon, he was at least a big gun in ecclesiastical circles
(oh!),--it is a life in which

    'Men must shirk and women must sweep.'"

(Loud protestations.) "Indeed, if it were not for the ladies--God bless
them!--we would have nothing but fighting in the field and stagnation at
home; but, whenever they get to running things their way, it--it is just
the reverse." (Shame! No! Wretch!) He vainly strives to rally under the
fire of imprecation, but it is too late. The groomsmen are denouncing
him, as he deserves to be, as a slanderer and recreant. Mr. Ferris and
Mr. Waring spring to their feet to implore the assembly to reject any
and all such statements as the emanations of an embittered,
oft-rejected, and "subtle, perjured, false, disloyal man;" and poor
Blake, who really wanted to wind up with an apostrophe to the crowning
excellences of the bride, is driven to cover, a victim of his vicious
propensity for burlesque. He has created illimitable merriment, however,
and is to be infinitely congratulated on getting off so easily. And then
the bride-cake is cut, and eager is the excitement over the search for
the prophetic ring, and the blushing bridesmaid who gets it has plainly
made a deep impression on the young artilleryman who is seated next her,
and is accused of already wearing his colors in her cheeks; and then
comes the dance, and the crash-covered floors are speedily alive with
twinkling feet, and the bride's own set in the lanciers is surrounded by
a throng of eager lookers-on. And Ray's color has come back to his
bronzed cheeks, and he has looked so well, so infinitely happy, so proud
and radiant all the evening, and yet so grave withal, so quiet and
self-restrained. All men speak of the earnest feeling that is evident in
his acceptance of the showered congratulations, and the army comrades
who have been long separated from him wonder at the change that has come
over the fellow they once called "Rattling Ray."

And Marion! Heaven's blessings never lighted a more exquisite face than
is hers to-night! She is simply radiant, simply irresistible, for the
girls hang about her to repeat their congratulations again and again, to
win another kiss, to hear the winning, gracious accents of the voice
that has so long charmed and enthralled them. Old and young, rich and
poor, big and little, those kinsfolk, school-mates, and neighbors,
especially the little ones who were her scholars in the Sunday-school,
flock about her, watch her with fascinated eyes; and for every one she
has sweet and gracious words and beaming smiles; she holds them to the
last. The children troop about her as she is led away to change her
bridal-dress for the journey. 'Tis approaching midnight and the "owl
train" leaves within the hour; and they hang about the stairways waiting
for her reappearance, and hover in mysterious fascination about Captain
Ray as he comes in his travelling suit of mufti, and wonder why he
should discard his uniform and sword, and the carriage is now at the
door, and great store of rice and old slippers are got in readiness, and
presently down the broad stairway she comes, metamorphosed as to
raiment, but radiant, winsome as ever; and they seize upon her and bear
her off bodily into the great parlor, and throng about her and pull her
this way, that way, every way, and kiss and maul and squeeze and rumple,
and never seem to exhaust her infinite patience or their own extravagant
capacity; but at last they begin to surge towards the door-way, and the
bridesmaids hover in circle for the closing ceremony, and she tosses her
bouquet to the ceiling amid shouts and scurry, and, marvel of marvels!
it is captured by her of the rosy cheeks and dancing eyes who has
already secured the ring and fascinated the artilleryman, and they reach
the door, and Ray has squeezed out to the steps, and some of the
emotional cousins have retreated sobbing to deserted nooks and corners
about the house, and at last she comes forth and springs lightly down
the stairs, and the rice rattles after her along the broad walk, and the
groomsmen line the gate-way and usher her into the carriage, and stand
there ready to volley them with old slippers, and Ray is just about
springing in beside her, when down comes Blake with his seven-league
strides, bearing a sobbing little sunny-haired maiden of seven in his
arms.

"Hold on!" he shouts. "This is my little sweetheart, and she shan't be
left out in the cold."

And Marion leans from the carriage, and Ray stands to one side, as the
weeping little one holds out her arms.

"Oh, Miss Ma--wion, I haven't had one kiss. They all cwowded so, and I
was the only one." And her sobs break forth afresh.

"My own little kitten!" she cries, as the child is seized and folded to
her heart. "How could I have come away without seeing my baby scholar?"
And the mite is hugged and kissed and comforted and sent back to Blake's
strong arms, rapturous because she has had Queen Marion's last embrace,
and then Ray springs to her side and the door slams, and the horses
plunge, and away they drive amid a shower of blessings and old slippers;
and they have gone a block before she notes his silence, and, turning,
sees that his eyes are closed, that a tear is glistening on his bronzed
cheek.

"Will,--husband," she whispers, lovingly, tenderly, half-reproachfully.
"What is it?" And her little hand steals into his.

For a moment there is no reply. His arm is quickly thrown around her and
she is drawn close to his breast; his lips are pressed to her forehead,
but he utters no word.

At last she hears the answer,--

"My darling. I am wondering what I ever did to deserve one moment of
your love. I am wondering what man _could_ deserve--you; and, I--was
praying God's guidance that I might never disappoint your trust."

       *       *       *       *       *

It is many a long year since that bright summer. Men have come and men
have gone. Vows have been made and vows and hearts together have been
broken, and yet, some lives, though into each "some rain must fall,"
have been full of sunshine.

Only the other day there came Eastward a letter from a proud young
matron,--still young despite the cares incidental to the possession of a
lively brood, among whom there seems no higher ambition than to emulate
the exploits of a certain Master Sandy Ray, who is in pristine
knickerbockers and perennial mischief. "Jack says," writes this proud
mamma, "that with all his pranks that blessed little rascal is his
father all over, fearless, truthful, and generous, and Captain Ray
fairly idolizes him. My Jack junior is a head taller and nearly two
years older, but the two are inseparable, and it is a sight to see them
'going off scouting' on their Indian ponies. As for Marion, I believe
she is the happiest woman in the army."

Well! Mrs. Truscott ought to know, and this goes far towards
substantiation of Truscott's theory, that Marion's faith was given to a
man who was loyal in every fibre of his being, tender as he was brave,
steadfast as he was loving, and he loves her as such a woman deserves to
be loved, tenderly, faithfully, and to

THE END.





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