Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

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

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Starlight Ranch - and Other Stories of Army Life on the Frontier" ***

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



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



Transcriber's note


Some of the spellings and hyphenations in the original are unusual; they
have not been changed. Minor punctuation errors have been corrected
without notice. A few obvious typographical errors have been corrected,
and they are listed at the end of this book.



STARLIGHT RANCH

AND

OTHER STORIES OF ARMY
LIFE ON THE FRONTIER.

BY

CAPTAIN CHARLES KING, U.S.A.,

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

PHILADELPHIA:
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.
1891.



Copyright, 1890, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.



CONTENTS.


                                                      PAGE
STARLIGHT RANCH                                          7

WELL WON; OR, FROM THE PLAINS TO "THE POINT"            40

FROM "THE POINT" TO THE PLAINS                         116

THE WORST MAN IN THE TROOP                             201

VAN                                                    234



STARLIGHT RANCH.


We were crouching round the bivouac fire, for the night was chill, and
we were yet high up along the summit of the great range. We had been
scouting through the mountains for ten days, steadily working southward,
and, though far from our own station, our supplies were abundant, and it
was our leader's purpose to make a clean sweep of the line from old
Sandy to the Salado, and fully settle the question as to whether the
renegade Apaches had betaken themselves, as was possible, to the heights
of the Matitzal, or had made a break for their old haunts in the Tonto
Basin or along the foot-hills of the Black Mesa to the east. Strong
scouting-parties had gone thitherward, too, for "the Chief" was bound to
bring these Tontos to terms; but our orders were explicit: "Thoroughly
scout the east face of the Matitzal." We had capital Indian allies with
us. Their eyes were keen, their legs tireless, and there had been bad
blood between them and the tribe now broken away from the reservation.
They asked nothing better than a chance to shoot and kill them; so we
could feel well assured that if "Tonto sign" appeared anywhere along our
path it would instantly be reported. But now we were south of the
confluence of Tonto Creek and the Wild Rye, and our scouts declared that
beyond that point was the territory of the White Mountain Apaches,
where we would not be likely to find the renegades.

East of us, as we lay there in the sheltered nook whence the glare of
our fire could not be seen, lay the deep valley of the Tonto brawling
along its rocky bed on the way to join the Salado, a few short marches
farther south. Beyond it, though we could not see them now, the peaks
and "buttes" of the Sierra Ancha rolled up as massive foot-hills to the
Mogollon. All through there our scouting-parties had hitherto been able
to find Indians whenever they really wanted to. There were some officers
who couldn't find the Creek itself if they thought Apaches lurked along
its bank, and of such, some of us thought, was our leader.

In the dim twilight only a while before I had heard our chief packer
exchanging confidences with one of the sergeants,--

"I tell you, Harry, if the old man were trying to steer clear of all
possibility of finding these Tontos, he couldn't have followed a better
track than ours has been. And he made it, too; did you notice? Every
time the scouts tried to work out to the left he would herd them all
back--up-hill."

"We never did think the lieutenant had any too much sand," answered the
sergeant, grimly; "but any man with half an eye can see that orders to
thoroughly scout the east face of a range does not mean keep on top of
it as we've been doing. Why, in two more marches we'll be beyond their
stamping-ground entirely, and then it's only a slide down the west face
to bring us to those ranches in the Sandy Valley. Ever seen them?"

"No. I've never been this far down; but what do you want to bet that
_that's_ what the lieutenant is aiming at? He wants to get a look at
that pretty girl all the fellows at Fort Phoenix are talking about."

"Dam'd old gray-haired rip! It would be just like him. With a wife and
kids up at Sandy too."

There were officers in the party, junior in years of life and years of
service to the gray-headed subaltern whom some odd fate had assigned to
the command of this detachment, nearly two complete "troops" of cavalry
with a pack-train of sturdy little mules to match. We all knew that, as
organized, one of our favorite captains had been assigned the command,
and that between "the Chief," as we called our general, and him a
perfect understanding existed as to just how thorough and searching this
scout should be. The general himself came down to Sandy to superintend
the start of the various commands, and rode away after a long interview
with our good old colonel, and after seeing the two parties destined for
the Black Mesa and the Tonto Basin well on their way. We were to move at
nightfall the following day, and within an hour of the time of starting
a courier rode in from Prescott with despatches (it was before our
military telegraph line was built), and the commander of the
division--the superior of our Arizona chief--ordered Captain Tanner to
repair at once to San Francisco as witness before an important
court-martial. A groan went up from more than one of us when we heard
the news, for it meant nothing less than that the command of the most
important expedition of all would now devolve upon the senior first
lieutenant, Gleason; and so much did it worry Mr. Blake, his junior by
several files, that he went at once to Colonel Pelham, and begged to be
relieved from duty with that column and ordered to overtake one of the
others. The colonel, of course, would listen to nothing of the kind, and
to Gleason's immense and evident gratification we were marched forth
under his command. There had been no friction, however. Despite his gray
beard, Gleason was not an old man, and he really strove to be courteous
and conciliatory to his officers,--he was always considerate towards his
men; but by the time we had been out ten days, having accomplished
nothing, most of us were thoroughly disgusted. Some few ventured to
remonstrate. Angry words passed between the commander and Mr. Blake, and
on the night on which our story begins there was throughout the command
a feeling that we were simply being trifled with.

The chat between our chief packer and Sergeant Merrick ceased instantly
as I came forward and passed them on the way to look over the herd guard
of the little battalion, but it set me to thinking. This was not the
first that the officers of the Sandy garrison had heard of those two new
"ranches" established within the year down in the hot but fertile
valley, and not more than four hours' easy gallop from Fort Phoenix,
where a couple of troops of "Ours" were stationed. The people who had so
confidently planted themselves there were evidently well to do, and they
brought with them a good-sized retinue of ranch- and herdsmen,--mainly
Mexicans,--plenty of "stock," and a complete "camp outfit," which served
them well until they could raise the adobe walls and finish their
homesteads. Curiosity led occasional parties of officers or enlisted
men to spend a day in saddle and thus to visit these enterprising
neighbors. Such parties were always civilly received, invited to
dismount, and soon to take a bite of luncheon with the proprietors,
while their horses were promptly led away, unsaddled, rubbed down, and
at the proper time fed and watered. The officers, of course, had
introduced themselves and proffered the hospitality and assistance of
the fort. The proprietors had expressed all proper appreciation, and
declared that if anything should happen to be needed they would be sure
to call; but they were too busy, they explained, to make social visits.
They were hard at work, as the gentlemen could see, getting up their
houses and their corrals, for, as one of them expressed it, "We've come
to stay." There were three of these pioneers; two of them, brothers
evidently, gave the name of Crocker. The third, a tall, swarthy,
all-over-frontiersman, was introduced by the others as Mr. Burnham.
Subsequent investigations led to the fact that Burnham was first cousin
to the Crockers. "Been long in Arizona?" had been asked, and the elder
Crocker promptly replied, "No, only a year,--mostly prospecting."

The Crockers were building down towards the stream; but Burnham, from
some freak which he did not explain, had driven his stakes and was
slowly getting up his walls half a mile south of the other homestead,
and high up on a spur of foot-hill that stood at least three hundred
feet above the general level of the valley. From his "coigne of vantage"
the whitewashed walls and the bright colors of the flag of the fort
could be dimly made out,--twenty odd miles down stream.

"Every now and then," said Captain Wayne, who happened up our way on a
general court, "a bull-train--a small one--went past the fort on its way
up to the ranches, carrying lumber and all manner of supplies, but they
never stopped and camped near the post either going or coming, as other
trains were sure to do. They never seemed to want anything, even at the
sutler's store, though the Lord knows there wasn't much there they
_could_ want except tanglefoot and tobacco. The bull-train made perhaps
six trips in as many months, and by that time the glasses at the fort
could make out that Burnham's place was all finished, but never once had
either of the three proprietors put in an appearance, as invited, which
was considered not only extraordinary but unneighborly, and everybody
quit riding out there."

"But the funniest thing," said Wayne, "happened one night when I was
officer of the day. The road up-stream ran within a hundred yards of the
post of the sentry on No. 3, which post was back of the officer's
quarters, and a quarter of a mile above the stables, corrals, etc. I was
making the rounds about one o'clock in the morning. The night was bright
and clear, though the moon was low, and I came upon Dexter, one of the
sharpest men in my troop, as the sentry on No. 3. After I had given him
the countersign and was about going on,--for there was no use in asking
_him_ if he knew his orders,--he stopped me to ask if I had authorized
the stable-sergeant to let out one of the ambulances within the hour.
Of course I was amazed and said no. 'Well,' said he, 'not ten minutes
ago a four-mule ambulance drove up the road yonder going full tilt, and
I thought something was wrong, but it was far beyond my challenge
limit.' You can understand that I went to the stables on the jump, ready
to scalp the sentry there, the sergeant of the guard, and everybody
else. I sailed into the sentry first and he was utterly astonished; he
swore that every horse, mule, and wagon was in its proper place. I
routed out the old stable-sergeant and we went through everything with
his lantern. There wasn't a spoke or a hoof missing. Then I went back to
Dexter and asked him what he'd been drinking, and he seemed much hurt. I
told him every wheel at the fort was in its proper rut and that nothing
could have gone out. Neither could there have been a four-mule ambulance
from elsewhere. There wasn't a civilized corral within fifty miles
except those new ranches up the valley, and _they_ had no such rig. All
the same, Dexter stuck to his story, and it ended in our getting a
lantern and going down to the road. By Gad! he was right. There, in the
moist, yielding sand, were the fresh tracks of a four-mule team and a
Concord wagon or something of the same sort. So much for _that_ night!

"Next evening as a lot of us were sitting out on the major's piazza,
and young Briggs of the infantry was holding forth on the
constellations,--you know he's a good deal of an astronomer,--Mrs.
Powell suddenly turned to him with 'But you haven't told us the name of
that bright planet low down there in the northern sky,' and we all
turned and looked where she pointed. Briggs looked too. It was only a
little lower than some stars of the second and third magnitude that he
had been telling about only five minutes before, only it shone with a
redder or yellower glare,--orange I suppose was the real color,--and was
clear and strong as the light of Jupiter.

"'That?' says Briggs. 'Why, that must be----Well, I own up. I declare I
never knew there was so big a star in that part of the firmament!'

"'Don't worry about it, Briggs, old boy,' drawled the major, who had
been squinting at it through a powerful glass he owns. 'That's terra
firmament. That planet's at the new ranch up on the spur of the
Matitzal.'

"But that wasn't all. Two days after, Baker came in from a scout. He had
been over across the range and had stopped at Burnham's on his way down.
He didn't see Burnham; he wasn't invited in, but he was full of his
subject. 'By _Jove!_ fellows. Have any of you been to the ranches
lately? No? Well, then, I want to get some of the ladies to go up there
and call. In all my life I never saw so pretty a girl as was sitting
there on the piazza when I rode around the corner of the house.
_Pretty!_ She's lovely. Not Mexican. No, indeed! A real American
girl,--a young lady, by Gad!'" That, then, explained the new light.

"And did that give the ranch the name by which it is known to you?" we
asked Wayne.

"Yes. The ladies called it 'Starlight Ranch' from that night on. But not
one of them has seen the girl. Mrs. Frazer and Mrs. Jennings actually
took the long drive and asked for the ladies, and were civilly told
that there were none at home. It was a Chinese servant who received
them. They inquired for Mr. Burnham and he was away too. They asked how
many ladies there were, and the Chinaman shook his head--'No sabe.' 'Had
Mr. Burnham's wife and daughter come?' 'No sabe.' 'Were Mr. Burnham and
the ladies over at the other ranch?' 'No sabe,' still affably grinning,
and evidently personally pleased to see the strange ladies; but that
Chinaman was no fool; he had his instructions and was carrying them out;
and Mrs. Frazer, whose eyes are very keen, was confident that she saw
the curtains in an upper window gathered just so as to admit a pair of
eyes to peep down at the fort wagon with its fair occupants. But the
face of which she caught a glimpse was not that of a young woman. They
gave the Chinaman their cards, which he curiously inspected and was
evidently at a loss what to do with, and after telling him to give them
to the ladies when they came home they drove over to the Crocker Ranch.
Here only Mexicans were visible about the premises, and, though Mrs.
Frazer's Spanish was equal to the task of asking them for water for
herself and friend, she could not get an intelligible reply from the
swarthy Ganymede who brought them the brimming glasses as to the
ladies--_Las señoras_--at the other ranch. They asked for the Crockers,
and the Mexican only vaguely pointed up the valley. It was in defeat and
humiliation that the ladies with their escort, Mr. Baker, returned to
the fort, but Baker rode up again and took a comrade with him, and they
both saw the girl with the lovely face and form this time, and had
almost accosted her when a sharp, stern voice called her within. A
fortnight more and a dozen men, officers or soldiers, had rounded that
ranch and had seen two women,--one middle-aged, the other a girl of
about eighteen who was fair and bewitchingly pretty. Baker had bowed to
her and she had smiled sweetly on him, even while being drawn within
doors. One or two men had cornered Burnham and began to ask questions.
'Gentlemen,' said he, 'I'm a poor hand at talk. I've no education. I've
lived on the frontier all my life. I mean no offence, but I cannot
answer your questions and I cannot ask you into my house. For
explanation, I refer you to Mr. Crocker.' Then Baker and a chum of his
rode over and called on the elder Crocker, and asked for the
explanation. That only added to the strangeness of the thing.

"'It is true, gentlemen, that Mr. Burnham's wife and child are now with
him; but, partially because of her, his wife's, infirm health, and
partially because of a most distressing and unfortunate experience in
his past, our kinsman begs that no one will attempt to call at the
ranch. He appreciates all the courtesy the gentlemen and ladies at the
fort would show, and have shown, but he feels compelled to decline all
intercourse. We are beholden, in a measure, to Mr. Burnham, and have to
be guided by his wishes. We are young men compared to him, and it was
through him that we came to seek our fortune here, but he is virtually
the head of both establishments.' Well. There was nothing more to be
said, and the boys came away. One thing more transpired. Burnham gave it
out that he had lived in Texas before the war, and had fought all the
way through in the Confederate service. He thought the officers ought
to know this. It was the major himself to whom he told it, and when the
major replied that he considered the war over and that that made no
difference, Burnham, with a clouded face replied, 'Well, mebbe it
don't--to you.' Whereupon the major fired up and told him that if he
chose to be an unreconstructed reb, when Union officers and gentlemen
were only striving to be civil to him, he might 'go ahead and be d--d,'
and came away in high dudgeon." And so matters stood up to the last we
had heard from Fort Phoenix, except for one letter which Mrs. Frazer
wrote to Mrs. Turner at Sandy, perhaps purely out of feminine mischief,
because a year or so previous Baker, as a junior second lieutenant, was
doing the devoted to Mrs. Turner, a species of mildly amatory
apprenticeship which most of the young officers seemed impelled to serve
on first joining. "We are having such a romance here at Phoenix. You
have doubtless heard of the beautiful girl at 'Starlight Ranch,' as we
call the Burnham place, up the valley. Everybody who called has been
rebuffed; but, after catching a few glimpses of her, Mr. Baker became
completely infatuated and rode up that way three or four times a week.
Of late he has ceased going in the daytime, but it is known that he
rides out towards dusk and gets back long after midnight, sometimes not
till morning. Of course it takes four hours, nearly, to come from there
full-speed, but though Major Tracy will admit nothing, it must be that
Mr. Baker has his permission to be away at night. We all believe that it
is another case of love laughing at locksmiths and that in some way they
contrive to meet. One thing is certain,--Mr. Baker is desperately in
love and will permit no trifling with him on the subject." Ordinarily, I
suppose, such a letter would have been gall and wormwood to Mrs. Turner,
but as young Hunter, a new appointment, was now a devotee, and as it was
a piece of romantic news which interested all Camp Sandy, she read the
letter to one lady after another, and so it became public property. Old
Catnip, as we called the colonel, was disposed to be a little worried on
the subject. Baker was a youngster in whom he had some interest as being
a distant connection of his wife's, but Mrs. Pelham had not come to
Arizona with us, and the good old fellow was living _en garçon_ with the
Mess, where, of course, the matter was discussed in all its bearings.

All these things recurred to me as I pottered around through the herds
examining side-lines, etc., and looking up the guards. Ordinarily our
scouting parties were so small that we had no such thing as an
officer-of-the-day,--nor had we now when Gleason could have been excused
for ordering one, but he evidently desired to do nothing that might
annoy his officers. He _might_ want them to stand by him when it came to
reporting the route and result of the scout. All the same, he expected
that the troop officers would give personal supervision to their
command, and especially to look after their "herds," and it was this
duty that took me away from the group chatting about the bivouac fire
preparatory to "turning in" for the night.

When I got back, a tall, gray-haired trooper was "standing attention" in
front of the commanding officer, and had evidently just made some
report, for Mr. Gleason nodded his head appreciatively and then said,
kindly,--

"You did perfectly right, corporal. Instruct your men to keep a lookout
for it, and if seen again to-night to call me at once. I'll bring my
field-glass and we'll see what it is."

The trooper raised his left hand to the "carried" carbine in salute and
turned away. When he was out of earshot, Gleason spoke to the silent
group,--

"Now, there's a case in point. If I had command of a troop and could get
old Potts into it I could make something of him, and I know it."

Gleason had consummate faith in his "system" with the rank and file, and
no respect for that of any of the captains. Nobody said anything. Blake
hated him and puffed unconcernedly at his pipe, with a display of
absolute indifference to his superior's views that the latter did not
fail to note. The others knew what a trial "old Potts" had been to his
troop commander, and did not believe that Gleason could "reform" him at
will. The silence was embarrassing, so I inquired,--

"What had he to report?"

"Oh, nothing of any consequence. He and one of the sentries saw what
they took to be an Indian signal-fire up Tonto Creek. It soon smouldered
away,--but I always make it a point to show respect to these old
soldiers."

"You show d--d little respect for their reports all the same," said
Blake, suddenly shooting up on a pair of legs that looked like stilts.
"An Indian signal-fire is a matter of a heap of consequence in my
opinion;" and he wrathfully stalked away.

For some reason Gleason saw fit to take no notice of this piece of
insubordination. Placidly he resumed his chat,--

"Now, you gentlemen seem skeptical about Potts. Do any of you know his
history?"

"Well, I know he's about the oldest soldier in the regiment; that he
served in the First Dragoons when they were in Arizona twenty years ago,
and that he gets drunk as a boiled owl every pay-day," was an immediate
answer.

"Very good as far as it goes," replied Gleason, with a superior smile;
"but I'll just tell you a chapter in his life he never speaks of and I
never dreamed of until the last time I was in San Francisco. There I met
old General Starr at the 'Occidental,' and almost the first thing he did
was to inquire for Potts, and then he told me about him. He was one of
the finest sergeants in Starr's troop in '53,--a dashing, handsome
fellow,--and while in at Fort Leavenworth he had fallen in love with,
won, and married as pretty a young girl as ever came into the regiment.
She came out to New Mexico with the detachment with which he served, and
was the belle of all the '_bailes_' given either by the 'greasers' or
the enlisted men. He was proud of her as he could be, and old Starr
swore that the few ladies of the regiment who were with them at old Fort
Fillmore or Stanton were really jealous of her. Even some of the young
officers got to saying sweet things to her, and Potts came to the
captain about it, and he had it stopped; but the girl's head was turned.
There was a handsome young fellow in the sutler's store who kept making
her presents on the sly, and when at last Potts found it out he nearly
hammered the life out of him. Then came that campaign against the
Jicarilla Apaches, and Potts had to go with his troop and leave her at
the cantonment, where, to be sure, there were ladies and plenty of
people to look after her; and in the fight at Cieneguilla poor Potts was
badly wounded, and it was some months before they got back; and meantime
the sutler fellow had got in his work, and when the command finally came
in with its wounded they had skipped, no one knew where. If Potts hadn't
been taken down with brain fever on top of his wound he would have
followed their trail, desertion or no desertion, but he was a broken man
when he got out of hospital. The last thing old Starr said to me was,
'Now, Gleason, I want you to be kind to my old sergeant; he served all
through the war, and I've never forgiven them in the First for going
back on him and refusing to re-enlist him; but the captains, one and
all, said it was no use; he had sunk lower and lower; was perfectly
unreliable; spent nine-tenths of his time in the guard-house and all his
money in whiskey; and one after another they refused to take him.'"

"How'd we happen to get him, then?" queried one of our party.

"He showed up at San Francisco, neat as a new pin; exhibited several
fine discharges, but said nothing of the last two, and was taken into
the regiment as we were going through. Of course, its pretty much as
they said in the First when we're in garrison, but, once out scouting,
days away from a drop of 'tanglefoot,' and he does first rate. That's
how he got his corporal's chevrons."

"He'll lose 'em again before we're back at Sandy forty-eight hours,"
growled Blake, strolling up to the party again.

But he did not. Prophecies failed this time, and old Potts wore those
chevrons to the last.

He was a good prophet and a keen judge of human nature as exemplified in
Gleason, who said that "the old man" was planning for a visit to the new
ranches above Fort Phoenix. A day or two farther we plodded along down
the range, our Indian scouts looking reproachfully--even sullenly--at
the commander at every halt, and then came the order to turn back. Two
marches more, and the little command went into bivouac close under the
eaves of Fort Phoenix and we were exchanging jovial greetings with our
brother officers at the post. Turning over the command to Lieutenant
Blake, Mr. Gleason went up into the garrison with his own particular
pack-mule; billeted himself on the infantry commanding officer--the
major--and in a short time appeared freshly-shaved and in the neatest
possible undress uniform, ready to call upon the few ladies at the post,
and of course to make frequent reference to "my battalion," or "my
command," down beyond the dusty, dismal corrals. The rest of us, having
come out for business, had no uniforms, nothing but the rough field,
scouting rig we wore on such duty, and every man's chin was bristling
with a two-weeks'-old beard.

"I'm going to report Gleason for this thing," swore Blake; "you see if I
don't, the moment we get back."

The rest of us were "hopping mad," too, but held our tongues so long as
we were around Phoenix. We did not want them there to believe there
was dissension and almost mutiny impending. Some of us got permission
from Blake to go up to the post with its hospitable officers, and I was
one who strolled up to "the store" after dark. There we found the major,
and Captain Frazer, and Captain Jennings, and most of the youngsters,
but Baker was absent. Of course the talk soon drifted to and settled on
"Starlight Ranch," and by tattoo most of the garrison crowd were talking
like so many Prussians, all at top-voice and all at once. Every man
seemed to have some theory of his own with regard to the peculiar
conduct of Mr. Burnham, but no one dissented from the quiet remark of
Captain Frazer:

"As for Baker's relations with the daughter, he is simply desperately in
love and means to marry her. He tells my wife that she is educated and
far more refined than her surroundings would indicate, but that he is
refused audience by both Burnham and his wife, and it is only at extreme
risk that he is able to meet his lady-love at all. Some nights she is
entirely prevented from slipping out to see him."

Presently in came Gleason, beaming and triumphant from his round of
calls among the fair sex, and ready now for the game he loved above all
things on earth,--poker. For reasons which need not be elaborated here
no officer in our command would play with him, and an ugly rumor was
going the rounds at Sandy, just before we came away, that, in a game at
Olsen's ranch on the Aqua Fria about three weeks before, he had had his
face slapped by Lieutenant Ray of our own regiment. But Ray had gone to
his lonely post at Camp Cameron, and there was no one by whom we could
verify it except some ranchmen, who declared that Gleason had cheated at
cards, and Ray "had been a little too full," as they put it, to detect
the fraud until it seemed to flash upon him all of a sudden. A game
began, however, with three local officers as participants, so presently
Carroll and I withdrew and went back to bivouac.

"Have you seen anything of Corporal Potts?" was the first question asked
by Mr. Blake.

"Not a thing. Why? Is he missing?"

"Been missing for an hour. He was talking with some of these garrison
soldiers here just after the men had come in from the herd, and what I'm
afraid of is that he'll go up into the post and get bilin' full there.
I've sent other non-commissioned officers after him, but they cannot
find him. He hasn't even looked in at the store, so the bar-tender
swears."

"The sly old rascal!" said Carroll. "He knows perfectly well how to get
all the liquor he wants without exposing himself in the least. No doubt
if the bar-tender were asked if he had not filled some flasks this
evening he would say yes, and Potts is probably stretched out
comfortably in the forage-loft of one of the stables, with a canteen of
water and his flask of bug-juice, prepared to make a night of it."

Blake moodily gazed into the embers of the bivouac-fire. Never had we
seen him so utterly unlike himself as on this burlesque of a scout, and
now that we were virtually homeward-bound, and empty-handed too, he was
completely weighed down by the consciousness of our lost opportunities.
If something could only have happened to Gleason before the start, so
that the command might have devolved on Blake, we all felt that a very
different account could have been rendered; for with all his rattling,
ranting fun around the garrison, he was a gallant and dutiful soldier in
the field. It was now after ten o'clock; most of the men, rolled in
their blankets, were sleeping on the scant turf that could be found at
intervals in the half-sandy soil below the corrals and stables. The
herds of the two troops and the pack-mules were all cropping peacefully
at the hay that had been liberally distributed among them because there
was hardly grass enough for a "burro." We were all ready to turn in, but
there stood our temporary commander, his long legs a-straddle, his hands
clasped behind him, and the flickering light of the fire betraying in
his face both profound dejection and disgust.

"I wouldn't care so much," said he at last, "but it will give Gleason a
chance to say that things always go wrong when he's away. Did you see
him up at the post?" he suddenly asked. "What was he doing, Carroll?"

"Poker," was the sententious reply.

"What?" shouted Blake. "Poker? 'I thank thee, good Tubal,--good
news,--good news!'" he ranted, with almost joyous relapse into his old
manner. "'O Lady Fortune, stand you auspicious', for those fellows at
Phoenix, I mean, and may they scoop our worthy chieftain of his last
ducat. See what it means, fellows. Win or lose, he'll play all night,
he'll drink much if it go agin' him, and I pray it may. He'll be too
sick, when morning comes, to join us, and, by my faith, we'll leave his
horse and orderly and march away without him. As for Potts,--an he
appear not,--we'll let him play hide-and-seek with his would-be
reformer. Hullo! What's that?"

There was a sound of alternate shout and challenge towards where the
horses were herded on the level stretch below us. The sergeant of the
guard was running rapidly thither as Carroll and I reached the corner of
the corral. Half a minute's brisk spurt brought us to the scene.

"What's the trouble, sentry?" panted the sergeant.

"One of our fellows trying to take a horse. I was down on this side of
the herd when I seen him at the other end trying to loose a side-line.
It was just light enough by the moon to let me see the figure, but I
couldn't make out who 'twas. I challenged and ran and yelled for the
corporal, too, but he got away through the horses somehow. Murphy, who's
on the other side of the herds, seen him and challenged too."

"Did he answer?"

"Not a word, sir."

"Count your horses, sergeant, and see if all are here," was ordered.
Then we hurried over to Murphy's post.

"Who was the man? Could you make him out?"

"Not plainly, sir; but I think it was one of our own command," and poor
Murphy hesitated and stammered. He hated to "give away," as he expressed
it, one of his own troop. But his questioners were inexorable.

"What man did this one most look like, so far as you could judge?"

"Well, sir, I hate to suspicion anybody, but 'twas more like Corporal
Potts he looked. Sure, if 'twas him, he must ha' been drinkin', for the
corporal's not the man to try and run off a horse when he's in his sober
sinses."

The waning moon gave hardly enough light for effective search, but we
did our best. Blake came out and joined us, looking very grave when he
heard the news. Eleven o'clock came, and we gave it up. Not a sign of
the marauder could we find. Potts was still absent from the bivouac when
we got back, but Blake determined to make no further effort to find him.
Long before midnight we were all soundly sleeping, and the next thing I
knew my orderly was shaking me by the arm and announcing breakfast.
Reveille was just being sounded up at the garrison. The sun had not yet
climbed high enough to peep over the Matitzal, but it was broad
daylight. In ten minutes Carroll and I were enjoying our coffee and
_frijoles_; Blake had ridden up into the garrison. Potts was still
absent; and so, as we expected, was Mr. Gleason.

Half an hour more, and in long column of twos, and followed by our
pack-train, the command was filing out along the road whereon "No. 3"
had seen the ambulance darting by in the darkness. Blake had come back
from the post with a flush of anger on his face and with lips
compressed. He did not even dismount. "Saddle up at once" was all he
said until he gave the commands to mount and march. Opposite the
quarters of the commanding officer we were riding at ease, and there he
shook his gauntleted fist at the whitewashed walls, and had recourse to
his usual safety-valve,--

     "'Take heed, my lords, the welfare of us all
       Hangs on the cutting short that fraudful man,'

and may the devil fly away with him! What d'ye think he told me when I
went to hunt him up?"

There was no suitable conjecture.

"He said to march ahead, leaving his horse, Potts's, and his orderly's,
also the pack-mule: he would follow at his leisure. He had given Potts
authority to wait and go with him, but did not consider it necessary to
notify me."

"Where was he?"

"Still at the store, playing with the trader and some understrappers.
Didn't seem to be drunk, either."

And that was the last we heard of our commander until late in the
evening. We were then in bivouac on the west bank of the Sandy within
short rifle-range of the buildings of Crocker's Ranch on the other side.
There the lights burned brightly, and some of our people who had gone
across had been courteously received, despite a certain constraint and
nervousness displayed by the two brothers. At "Starlight," however,
nearly a mile away from us, all was silence and darkness. We had studied
it curiously as we marched up along the west shore, and some of the men
had asked permission to fall out and ride over there, "just to see it,"
but Blake had refused. The Sandy was easily fordable on horseback
anywhere, and the Crockers, for the convenience of their ranch people,
had placed a lot of bowlders and heaps of stones in such position that
they served as a foot-path opposite their corrals. But Blake said he
would rather none of his people intruded at "Starlight," and so it
happened that we were around the fire when Gleason rode in about nine
o'clock, and with him Lieutenant Baker, also the recreant Potts.

"You may retain command, Mr. Blake," said the former, thickly. "I have
an engagement this evening."

In an instant Baker was at my side. We had not met before since he was
wearing the gray at the Point.

"For God's sake, don't let him follow me,--but _you_,--come if you
possibly can. I'll slip off into the willows up-stream as soon as I can
do so without his seeing."

I signalled Blake to join us, and presently he sauntered over our way,
Gleason meantime admonishing his camp cook that he expected to have the
very best hot supper for himself and his friend, Lieutenant Baker, ready
in twenty minutes,--twenty minutes, for they had an important
engagement, an _affaire de coor_, by Jove!

"You fellows know something of this matter," said Baker, hurriedly; "but
I cannot begin to tell you how troubled I am. Something is wrong with
_her_. She has not met me once this week, and the house is still as a
grave. I must see her. She is either ill or imprisoned by her people, or
carried away. God only knows why that hound Burnham forbids me the
house. I cannot see him. I've never seen his wife. The door is barred
against me and I cannot force an entrance. For a while she was able to
slip out late in the evening and meet me down the hill-side, but they
must have detected her in some way. I do not even know that she is
there, but to-night I _mean_ to know. If she is within those walls--and
alive--she will answer my signal. But for heaven's sake keep that
drunken wretch from going over there. He's bent on it. The major gave
me leave again for to-night, provided I would see Gleason safely to your
camp, and he has been maundering all the way out about how _he_ knew
more'n I did,--he and Potts, who's half-drunk too,--and how he meant to
see me through in this matter."

"Well, here," said Blake, "there's only one thing to be done. You two
slip away at once; get your horses, and ford the Sandy well below camp.
I'll try and keep him occupied."

In three minutes we were off, leading our steeds until a hundred yards
or so away from the fires, then mounting and moving at rapid walk.
Following Baker's lead, I rode along, wondering what manner of adventure
this was apt to be. I expected him to make an early crossing of the
stream, but he did not. "The only fords I know," said he, "are down
below Starlight," and so it happened that we made a wide _détour_; but
during that dark ride he told me frankly how matters stood. Zoe Burnham
had promised to be his wife, and had fully returned his love, but she
was deeply attached to her poor mother, whose health was utterly broken,
and who seemed to stand in dread of her father. The girl could not bear
to leave her mother, though he had implored her to do so and be married
at once. "She told me the last time I saw her that old Burnham had sworn
to kill me if he caught me around the place, so I have to come armed,
you see;" and he exhibited his heavy revolver. "There's something shady
about the old man, but I don't know what it is."

At last we crossed the stream, and soon reached a point where we
dismounted and fastened our horses among the willows; then slowly and
cautiously began the ascent to the ranch. The slope here was long and
gradual, and before we had gone fifty yards Baker laid his hand on my
arm.

"Wait. Hush!" he said.

Listening, we could distinctly hear the crunching of horses' hoofs, but
in the darkness (for the old moon was not yet showing over the range to
the east) we could distinguish nothing. One thing was certain: those
hoofs were going towards the ranch.

"Heavens!" said Baker. "Do you suppose that Gleason has got the start of
us after all? There's no telling what mischief he may do. He swore he
would stand inside those walls to-night, for there was no Chinaman on
earth whom he could not bribe."

We pushed ahead at the run now, but within a minute I plunged into some
unseen hollow; my Mexican spurs tangled, and down I went heavily upon
the ground. The shock was severe, and for an instant I lay there
half-stunned. Baker was by my side in the twinkling of an eye full of
anxiety and sympathy. I was not injured in the slightest, but the breath
was knocked out of me, and it was some minutes before I could forge
ahead again. We reached the foot of the steep slope; we clambered
painfully--at least I did--to the crest, and there stood the black
outline of Starlight Ranch, with only a glimmer of light shining through
the windows here and there where the shades did not completely cover the
space. In front were three horses held by a cavalry trooper.

"Whose horses are these?" panted Baker.

"Lieutenant Gleason's, sir. Him and Corporal Potts has gone round
behind the ranch with a Chinaman they found takin' in water."

And then, just at that instant, so piercing, so agonized, so fearful
that even the three horses started back snorting and terrified, there
rang out on the still night air the most awful shriek I ever heard, the
wail of a woman in horror and dismay. Then dull, heavy blows; oaths,
curses, stifled exclamations; a fall that shook the windows; Gleason's
voice commanding, entreating; a shrill Chinese jabber; a rush through
the hall; more blows; gasps; curses; more unavailing orders in Gleason's
well-known voice; then a sudden pistol shot, a scream of "Oh, my God!"
then moans, and then silence. The casement on the second floor was
thrown open, and a fair young face and form were outlined upon the
bright light within; a girlish voice called, imploringly,--

"Harry! Harry! Oh, help, if you are there! They are killing father!"

But at the first sound Harry Baker had sprung from my side and
disappeared in the darkness.

"We are friends," I shouted to her,--"Harry Baker's friends. He has gone
round to the rear entrance." Then I made a dash for the front door,
shaking, kicking, and hammering with all my might. I had no idea how to
find the rear entrance in the darkness. Presently it was opened by the
still chattering, jabbering Chinaman, his face pasty with terror and
excitement, and the sight that met my eyes was one not soon to be
forgotten.

A broad hall opened straight before me, with a stairway leading to the
second floor. A lamp with burnished reflector was burning brightly
midway down its length. Another just like it fully lighted a big room to
my left,--the dining-room, evidently,--on the floor of which, surrounded
by overturned chairs, was lying a woman in a deathlike swoon. Indeed, I
thought at first she was dead. In the room to my right, only dimly
lighted, a tall man in shirt-sleeves was slowly crawling to a sofa,
unsteadily assisted by Gleason; and as I stepped inside, Corporal Potts,
who was leaning against the wall at the other end of the room pressing
his hand to his side and with ashen face, sank suddenly to the floor,
doubled up in a pool of his own blood. In the dining-room, in the hall,
everywhere that I could see, were the marks of a fearful struggle. The
man on the sofa gasped faintly, "Water," and I ran into the dining-room
and hastened back with a brimming goblet.

"What does it all mean?" I demanded of Gleason.

Big drops of sweat were pouring down his pallid face. The fearful scene
had entirely sobered him.

"Potts has found the man who robbed him of his wife. That's she on the
floor yonder. Go and help her."

But she was already coming to and beginning to stare wildly about her. A
glass of water helped to revive her. She staggered across the hall, and
then, with a moan of misery and horror at the sight, threw herself upon
her knees, not beside the sofa where Burnham lay gasping, but on the
floor where lay our poor old corporal. In an instant she had his head in
her lap and was crooning over the senseless clay, swaying her body to
and fro as she piteously called to him,--

"Frank, Frank! Oh, for the love of Jesus, speak to me! Frank, dear
Frank, my husband, my own! Oh, for God's sake, open your eyes and look
at me! I wasn't as wicked as they made me out, Frank, God knows I
wasn't. I tried to get back to you, but Pierce there swore you were
dead,--swore you were killed at Cieneguilla. Oh, Frank, Frank, open your
eyes! _Do_ hear me, husband. O God, don't let him die! Oh, for pity's
sake, gentlemen, can't you do something? Can't you bring him to? He must
hear me! He must know how I've been lied to all these years!"

"Quick! Take this and see if you can bring him round," said Gleason,
tossing me his flask. I knelt and poured the burning spirit into his
open mouth. There were a few gurgles, half-conscious efforts to swallow,
and then--success. He opened his glazing eyes and looked up into the
face of his wife. His lips moved and he called her by name. She raised
him higher in her arms, pillowing his head upon her bosom, and covered
his face with frantic kisses. The sight seemed too much for "Burnham."
His face worked and twisted with rage; he ground out curses and
blasphemy between his clinched teeth; he even strove to rise from the
sofa, but Gleason forced him back. Meantime, the poor woman's wild
remorse and lamentations were poured into the ears of the dying man.

"Tell me you believe me, Frank. Tell me you forgive me. O God! you don't
know what my life has been with him. When I found out that it was all a
lie about your being killed at Cieneguilla, he beat me like a slave. He
had to go and fight in the war. They made him; they conscripted him; and
when he got back he brought me papers to show you were killed in one of
the Virginia battles. I gave up hope then for good and all."

Just then who should come springing down the stairs but Baker, who had
evidently been calming and soothing his lady-love aloft. He stepped
quickly into the parlor.

"Have you sent for a surgeon?" he asked.

The sound of his voice seemed to rouse "Burnham" to renewed life and
raging hate.

"Surgeons be damned!" he gasped. "I'm past all surgery; but thank God
I've given that ruffian what'll send him to hell before I get there! And
you--_you_"--and here he made a frantic grab for the revolver that lay
upon the floor, but Gleason kicked it away--"you, young hound, I meant
to have wound you up before I got through. But I can jeer at
you--God-forsaken idiot--I can triumph over you;" and he stretched forth
a quivering, menacing arm and hand. "You _would_ have your way--damn
you!--so take it. You've given your love to a bastard,--that's what Zoe
is."

Baker stood like one turned suddenly into stone. But from the other end
of the room came prompt, wrathful, and with the ring of truth in her
earnest protest, the mother's loud defence of her child.

"It's a lie,--a fiendish and malignant lie,--and he knows it. Here lies
her father, my own husband, murdered by that scoundrel there. Her
baptismal certificate is in my room. I've kept it all these years where
he never could get it. No, Frank, she's your own, your own baby, whom
you never saw. Go--go and bring her. He _must_ see his baby-girl. Oh,
my darling, don't--don't go until you see her." And again she covered
the ashen face with her kisses. I knelt and put the flask to his lips
and he eagerly swallowed a few drops. Baker had turned and darted
up-stairs. "Burnham's" late effort had proved too much for him. He had
fainted away, and the blood was welling afresh from several wounds.

A moment more and Baker reappeared, leading his betrothed. With her
long, golden hair rippling down her back, her face white as death, and
her eyes wild with dread, she was yet one of the loveliest pictures I
ever dreamed of. Obedient to her mother's signal, she knelt close beside
them, saying no word.

"Zoe, darling, this is your own father; the one I told you of last
winter."

Old Potts seemed struggling to rise; an inexpressible tenderness shone
over his rugged, bearded face; his eyes fastened themselves on the
lovely girl before him with a look almost as of wonderment; his lips
seemed striving to whisper her name. His wife raised him still higher,
and Baker reverently knelt and supported the shoulder of the dying man.
There was the silence of the grave in the dimly-lighted room. Slowly,
tremulously the arm in the old blue blouse was raised and extended
towards the kneeling girl. Lowly she bent, clasping her hands and with
the tears now welling from her eyes. One moment more and the withered
old hand that for quarter of a century had grasped the sabre-hilt in the
service of our common country slowly fell until it rested on that
beautiful, golden head,--one little second or two, in which the lips
seemed to murmur a prayer and the fast glazing eyes were fixed in
infinite tenderness upon his only child. Then suddenly they sought the
face of his sobbing wife,--a quick, faint smile, a sigh, and the hand
dropped to the floor. The old trooper's life had gone out in
benediction.

       *     *     *     *     *

Of course there was trouble all around before that wretched affair was
explained. Gleason came within an ace of court-martial, but escaped it
by saying that he knew of "Burnham's" threats against the life of
Lieutenant Baker, and that he went to the ranch in search of the latter
and to get him out of danger. They met the Chinaman outside drawing
water, and he ushered them in the back way because it was the nearest.
Potts asked to go with him that he might see if this was his long-lost
wife,--so said Gleason,--and the instant she caught sight of him she
shrieked and fainted, and the two men sprang at each other like tigers.
Knives were drawn in a minute. Then Burnham fled through the hall,
snatched a revolver from its rack, and fired the fatal shot. The surgeon
from Fort Phoenix reached them early the next morning, a messenger
having been despatched from Crocker's ranch before eleven at night, but
all his skill could not save "Burnham," now known to be Pierce, the
ex-sutler clerk of the early Fifties. He had prospered and made money
ever since the close of the war, and Zoe had been thoroughly well
educated in the East before the poor child was summoned to share her
mother's exile. His mania seemed to be to avoid all possibility of
contact with the troops, but the Crockers had given such glowing
accounts of the land near Fort Phoenix, and they were so positively
assured that there need be no intercourse whatever with that post, that
he determined to risk it. But, go where he would, his sin had found him
out.

The long hot summer followed, but it often happened that before many
weeks there were interchanges of visits between the fort and the ranch.
The ladies insisted that the widow should come thither for change and
cheer, and Zoe's appearance at Phoenix was the sensation of the year.
Baker was in the seventh heaven. "Burnham," it was found, had a certain
sense of justice, for his will had been made long before, and everything
he possessed was left unreservedly to the woman whom he had betrayed
and, in his tigerish way, doubtless loved, for he had married her in
'65, the instant he succeeded in convincing her that Potts was really
dead.

So far from combating the will, both the Crockers were cordial in their
support. Indeed, it was the elder brother who told the widow of its
existence. They had known her and her story many a year, and were ready
to devote themselves to her service now. The junior moved up to the
"Burnham" place to take general charge and look after matters, for the
property was every day increasing in value. And so matters went until
the fall, and then, one lovely evening, in the little wooden chapel at
the old fort, there was a gathering such as its walls had never known
before; and the loveliest bride that Arizona ever saw, blushing,
smiling, and radiantly happy, received the congratulations of the entire
garrison and of delegations from almost every post in the department.

A few years ago, to the sorrow of everybody in the regiment, Mr. and
Mrs. Harry Baker bade it good-by forever. The fond old mother who had so
long watched over the growing property for "her children," as she called
them, had no longer the strength the duties required. Crocker had taken
unto himself a helpmate and was needed at his own place, and our gallant
and genial comrade with his sweet wife left us only when it became
evident to all at Phoenix that a new master was needed at Starlight
Ranch.



WELL WON;

OR,

FROM THE PLAINS TO "THE POINT."



CHAPTER I.

RALPH MCCREA.


The sun was going down, and a little girl with big, dark eyes who was
sitting in the waiting-room of the railway station was beginning to look
very tired. Ever since the train came in at one o'clock she had been
perched there between the iron arms of the seat, and now it was after
six o'clock of the long June day, and high time that some one came for
her.

A bonny little mite she was, with a wealth of brown hair tumbling down
her shoulders and overhanging her heavy eyebrows. She was prettily
dressed, and her tiny feet, cased in stout little buttoned boots, stuck
straight out before her most of the time, as she sat well back on the
broad bench.

She was a silent little body, and for over two hours had hardly opened
her lips to any one,--even to the doll that now lay neglected on the
seat beside her. Earlier in the afternoon she had been much engrossed
with that blue-eyed, flaxen-haired, and overdressed beauty; but, little
by little, her interest flagged, and when a six-year-old girlie loses
interest in a brand-new doll something serious must be the matter.

Something decidedly serious was the matter now. The train that came up
from Denver had brought this little maiden and her father,--a handsome,
sturdy-looking ranchman of about thirty years of age,--and they had been
welcomed with jubilant cordiality by two or three stalwart men in
broad-brimmed slouch hats and frontier garb. They had picked her up in
their brawny arms and carried her to the waiting-room, and seated her
there in state and fed her with fruit and dainties, and made much of
her. Then her father had come in and placed in her arms this wonderful
new doll, and while she was still hugging it in her delight, he laid a
heavy satchel on the seat beside her and said,--

"And now, baby, papa has to go up-town a ways. He has lots of things to
get to take home with us, and some new horses to try. He may be gone a
whole hour, but will you stay right here--you and dolly--and take good
care of the satchel?"

She looked up a little wistfully. She did not quite like to be left
behind, but she felt sure papa could not well take her,--he was always
so loving and kind,--and then, there was dolly; and there were other
children with their mothers in the room. So she nodded, and put up her
little face for his kiss. He took her in his arms a minute and hugged
her tight.

"That's my own little Jessie!" he said. "She's as brave as her mother
was, fellows, and it's saying a heap."

With that he set her down upon the bench, and they put dolly in her
arms again and a package of apples within her reach; and then the jolly
party started off.

They waved their hands to her through the window and she smiled shyly at
them, and one of them called to a baggage-man and told him to have an
eye on little Jessie in there. "She is Farron's kid."

For a while matters did not go so very badly. Other children, who came
to look at that marvellous doll and to make timid advances, kept her
interested. But presently the east-bound train was signalled and they
were all whisked away.

Then came a space of over an hour, during which little Jessie sat there
all alone in the big, bare room, playing contentedly with her new toy
and chattering in low-toned, murmurous "baby talk" to her, and pointing
out the wonderful sunbeams that came slanting in through the dust of the
western windows. She had had plenty to eat and a big glass of milk
before papa went away, and was neither hungry nor thirsty; but all the
same, it seemed as if that hour were getting very, very long; and every
time the tramp of footsteps was heard on the platform outside she looked
up eagerly.

Then other people began to come in to wait for a train, and whenever the
door opened, the big, dark eyes glanced quickly up with such a hopeful,
wistful gaze, and as each new-comer proved to be a total stranger the
little maiden's disappointment was so evident that some kind-hearted
women came over to speak to her and see if all was right.

But she was as shy as she was lonely, poor little mite, and hung her
head and hugged her doll, and shrank away when they tried to take her in
their arms. All they could get her to say was that she was waiting for
papa and that her name was Jessie Farron.

At last their train came and they had to go, and a new set appeared; and
there were people to meet and welcome them with joyous greetings and
much homely, homelike chatter, and everybody but one little girl seemed
to have friends. It all made Jessie feel more and more lonely, and to
wonder what could have happened to keep papa so very long.

Still she was so loyal, so sturdy a little sentinel at her post. The
kind-hearted baggage-man came in and strove to get her to go with him to
his cottage "a ways up the road," where his wife and little ones were
waiting tea for him; but she shook her head and shrank back even from
him.

Papa had told her to stay there and she would not budge. Papa had placed
his satchel in her charge, and so she kept guard over it and watched
every one who approached.

The sun was getting low and shining broadly in through those western
windows and making a glare that hurt her eyes, and she longed to change
her seat. Between the sun glare and the loneliness her eyes began to
fill with big tears, and when once they came it was so hard to force
them back; so it happened that poor little Jessie found herself crying
despite all her determination to be "papa's own brave daughter."

The windows behind her opened out to the north, and by turning around
she could see a wide, level space between the platform and the hotel,
where wagons and an omnibus or two, and a four-mule ambulance had been
coming and going.

Again and again her eyes had wandered towards this space in hopeful
search for father's coming, only to meet with disappointment. At last,
just as she had turned and was kneeling on the seat and gazing through
the tears that trickled down her pretty face, she saw a sight that made
her sore little heart bound high with hope.

First there trotted into the enclosure a span of handsome bay horses
with a low phaeton in which were seated two ladies; and directly after
them, at full gallop, came two riders on spirited, mettlesome sorrels.

Little Jessie knew the horsemen at a glance. One was a tall, bronzed,
dark-moustached trooper in the fatigue uniform of a cavalry sergeant;
the other was a blue-eyed, faired-haired young fellow of sixteen years,
who raised his cap and bowed to the ladies in the carriage, as he reined
his horse up close to the station platform.

He was just about to speak to them when he heard a childish voice
calling, "Ralph! Ralph!" and, turning quickly around, he caught sight of
a little girl stretching out her arms to him through the window, and
crying as if her baby heart would break.

In less time than it takes me to write five words he sprang from his
horse, bounded up the platform into the waiting-room, and gathered the
child to his heart, anxiously bidding her tell him what was the trouble.

For a few minutes she could only sob in her relief and joy at seeing
him, and snuggle close to his face. The ladies wondered to see Ralph
McCrea coming towards them with a strange child in his arms, but they
were all sympathy and loving-kindness in a moment, so attractive was her
sweet face.

"Mrs. Henry, this is Jessie Farron. You know her father; he owns a ranch
up on the Chugwater, right near the Laramie road. The station-master
says she has been here all alone since he went off at one o'clock with
some friends to buy things for the ranch and try some horses. It must
have been his party Sergeant Wells and I saw way out by the fort."

He paused a moment to address a cheering word to the little girl in his
arms, and then went on: "Their team had run away over the prairie--a man
told us--and they were leading them in to the quartermaster's corral as
we rode from the stables. I did not recognize Farron at the distance,
but Sergeant Wells will gallop out and tell him Jessie is all right.
_Would_ you mind taking care of her a few minutes? Poor little girl!" he
added, in lower and almost beseeching tones, "she hasn't any mother."

"_Would_ I mind!" exclaimed Mrs. Henry, warmly. "Give her to me, Ralph.
Come right here, little daughter, and tell me all about it," and the
loving woman stood up in the carriage and held forth her arms, to which
little Jessie was glad enough to be taken, and there she sobbed, and was
soothed and petted and kissed as she had not been since her mother died.

Ralph and the station-master brought to the carriage the wonderful
doll--at sight of whose toilet Mrs. Henry could not repress a
significant glance at her lady friend, and a suggestive exclamation of
"Horrors!"--and the heavy satchel. These were placed where Jessie could
see them and feel that they were safe, and then she was able to answer a
few questions and to look up trustfully into the gentle face that was
nestled every little while to hers, and to sip the cup of milk that
Ralph fetched from the hotel. She had certainly fallen into the hands of
persons who had very loving hearts.

"Poor little thing! What a shame to leave her all alone! How long has
her mother been dead, Ralph?" asked the other lady, rather indignantly.

"About two years, Mrs. Wayne. Father and his officers knew them very
well. Our troop was camped up there two whole summers near them,--last
summer and the one before,--but Farron took her to Denver to visit her
mother's people last April, and has just gone for her. Sergeant Wells
said he stopped at the ranch on the way down from Laramie, and Farron
told him, then, he couldn't live another month without his little girl,
and was going to Denver for her at once."

"I remember them well, now," said Mrs. Henry, "and we saw him sometimes
when our troop was at Laramie. What was the last news from your father,
Ralph, and when do you go?"

"No news since the letter that met me here. You know he has been
scouting ever since General Crook went on up to the Powder River
country. Our troop and the Grays are all that are left to guard that
whole neighborhood, and the Indians seem to know it. They are 'jumping'
from the reservation all the time."

"But the Fifth Cavalry are here now, and they will soon be up there to
help you, and put a stop to all that,--won't they?"

"I don't know. The Fifth say that they expect orders to go to the Black
Hills, so as to get between the reservations and Sitting Bull's people.
Only six troops--half the regiment--have come. Papa's letter said I was
to start for Laramie with them, but they have been kept waiting four
days already."

"They will start now, though," said the lady. "General Merritt has just
got back from Red Cloud, where he went to look into the situation, and
he has been in the telegraph office much of the afternoon wiring to
Chicago, where General Sheridan is. Colonel Mason told us, as we drove
past camp, that they would probably march at daybreak."

"That means that Sergeant Wells and I go at the same time, then," said
Ralph, with glistening eyes. "Doesn't it seem odd, after I've been
galloping all over this country from here to the Chug for the last three
years, that now father won't let me go it alone. I never yet set eyes on
a war party of Indians, or heard of one south of the Platte."

"All the same they came, Ralph, and it was simply to protect those
settlers that your father's company was there so much. This year they
are worse than ever, and there has been no cavalry to spare. If you were
my boy, I should be worried half to death at the idea of your riding
alone from here to Laramie. What does your mother think of it?"

"It was mother, probably, who made father issue the order. She writes
that, eager as she is to see me, she wouldn't think of letting me come
alone with Sergeant Wells. Pshaw! He and I would be safer than the old
stage-coach any day. That is never 'jumped' south of Laramie, though it
is chased now and then above there. Of course the country's full of
Indians between the Platte and the Black Hills, but we shouldn't be
likely to come across any."

There was a moment's silence. Nestled in Mrs. Henry's arms the weary
little girl was dropping off into placid slumber, and forgetting all her
troubles. Both the ladies were wives of officers of the army, and were
living at Fort Russell, three miles out from Cheyenne, while their
husbands were far to the north with their companies on the Indian
campaign, which was just then opening.

It was an anxious time. Since February all of the cavalry and much of
the infantry stationed in Nebraska and Wyoming had been out in the wild
country above the North Platte River, between the Big Horn Mountains and
the Black Hills. For two years previous great numbers of the young
warriors had been slipping away from the Sioux reservations and joining
the forces of such vicious and intractable chiefs as Sitting Bull, Gall,
and Rain-in-the-face, it could scarcely be doubted, with hostile intent.

Several thousands of the Indians were known to be at large, and
committing depredations and murders in every direction among the
settlers. Now, all pacific means having failed, the matter had been
turned over to General Crook, who had recently brought the savage
Apaches of Arizona under subjection, to employ such means as he found
necessary to defeat their designs.

General Crook found the Sioux and their allies armed with the best
modern breech-loaders, well supplied with ammunition and countless herds
of war ponies, and far too numerous and powerful to be handled by the
small force at his command.

One or two sharp and savage fights occurred in March, while the mercury
was still thirty degrees below zero, and then the government decided on
a great summer campaign. Generals Terry and Gibbon were to hem the
Indians from the north along the Yellowstone, while at the same time
General Crook was to march up and attack them from the south.

When June came, four regiments of cavalry and half a dozen infantry
regiments were represented among the forces that scouted to and fro in
the wild and beautiful uplands of Wyoming, Dakota, and Eastern Montana,
searching for the Sioux.

The families of the officers and soldiers remained at the barracks from
which the men were sent, and even at the exposed stations of Forts
Laramie, Robinson, and Fetterman, many ladies and children remained
under the protection of small garrisons of infantry. Among the ladies at
Laramie was Mrs. McCrea, Ralph's mother, who waited for the return of
her boy from a long absence at school.

A manly, sturdy fellow was Ralph, full of health and vigor, due in great
part to the open-air life he had led in his early boyhood. He had
"backed" an Indian pony before he was seven, and could sit one like a
Comanche by the time he was ten. He had accompanied his father on many a
long march and scout, and had ridden every mile of the way from the Gila
River in Arizona, across New Mexico, and so on up into Nebraska.

He had caught brook trout in the Cache la Poudre, and shot antelope
along the Loup Fork of the Platte. With his father and his father's men
to watch and keep him from harm, he had even charged his first buffalo
herd and had been fortunate enough to shoot a bull. The skin had been
made into a robe, which he carefully kept.

Now, all eager to spend his vacation among his favorite haunts,--in the
saddle and among the mountain streams,--Ralph McCrea was going back to
his army home, when, as ill-luck would have it, the great Sioux war
broke out in the early summer of our Centennial Year, and promised to
greatly interfere with, if it did not wholly spoil, many of his
cherished plans.

Fort Laramie lay about one hundred miles north of Cheyenne, and Sergeant
Wells had come down with the paymaster's escort a few days before,
bringing Ralph's pet, his beautiful little Kentucky sorrel "Buford," and
now the boy and his faithful friend, the sergeant, were visiting at Fort
Russell, and waiting for a safe opportunity to start for home.

Presently, as they chatted in low tones so as not to disturb the little
sleeper, there came the sound of rapid hoof-beats, and Sergeant Wells
cantered into the enclosure and, riding up to the carriage, said to
Ralph,--

"I found him, sir, all safe; but their wagon was being patched up, and
he could not leave. He is so thankful to Mrs. Henry for her kindness,
and begs to know if she would mind bringing Jessie out to the fort. The
men are trying very hard to persuade him not to start for the Chug in
the morning."

"Why not, sergeant?"

"Because the telegraph despatches from Laramie say there must be a
thousand Indians gone out from the reservation in the last two days.
They've cut the wires up to Red Cloud, and no more news can reach us."

Ralph's face grew very pale.

"Father is right in the midst of them, with only fifty men!"



CHAPTER II.

CAVALRY ON THE MARCH.


It was a lovely June morning when the Fifth Cavalry started on its
march. Camp was struck at daybreak, and soon after five o'clock, while
the sun was still low in the east and the dew-drops were sparkling on
the buffalo grass, the long column was winding up the bare, rolling
"divide" which lay between the valleys of Crow and Lodge Pole Creeks. In
plain view, only thirty miles away to the west, were the summits of the
Rocky Mountains, but such is the altitude of this upland prairie,
sloping away eastward between the two forks of the Platte River, that
these summits appear to be nothing more than a low range of hills
shutting off the western horizon.

Looking southward from the Laramie road, all the year round one can see
the great peaks of the range--Long's and Hahn's and Pike's--glistening
in their mantles of snow, and down there near them, in Colorado, the
mountains slope abruptly into the Valley of the South Platte.

Up here in Wyoming the Rockies go rolling and billowing far out to the
east, and the entire stretch of country, from what are called the "Black
Hills of Wyoming," in contradistinction to the Black Hills of Dakota,
far east as the junction of the forks of the Platte, is one vast
inclined plane.

The Union Pacific Railway winds over these Black Hills at Sherman,--the
lowest point the engineers could find,--and Sherman is over eight
thousand feet above the sea.

From Sherman, eastward, in less than an hour's run the cars go sliding
down with smoking brakes to Cheyenne, a fall of two thousand feet. But
the wagon-road from Cheyenne to Fort Laramie twists and winds among the
ravines and over the divides of this lofty prairie; so that Ralph and
his soldier friends, while riding jauntily over the hard-beaten track
this clear, crisp, sunshiny, breezy morning, were twice as high above
the sea as they would have been at the tiptop of the Catskills and
higher even than had they been at the very summit of Mount Washington.

The air at this height, though rare, is keen and exhilarating, and one
needs no second look at the troopers to see how bright are their eyes
and how nimble and elastic is the pace of their steeds.

The commanding officer, with his adjutant and orderlies and a little
group of staff sergeants, had halted at the crest of one of these ridges
and was looking back at the advancing column. Beside the winding road
was strung a line of wires,--the military telegraph to the border
forts,--and with the exception of those bare poles not a stick of timber
was anywhere in sight.

The whole surface is destitute of bush or tree, but the thick little
bunches of gray-green grass that cover it everywhere are rich with juice
and nutriment. This is the buffalo grass of the Western prairies, and
the moment the horses' heads are released down go their nozzles, and
they are cropping eagerly and gratefully.

Far as the eye can see to the north and east it roams over a rolling,
tumbling surface that seems to have become suddenly petrified. Far to
the south are the snow-shimmering peaks; near at hand, to the west, are
the gloomy gorges and ravines and wide wastes of upland of the Black
Hills of Wyoming; and so clear is the air that they seem but a short
hour's gallop away.

There is something strangely deceptive about the distances in an
atmosphere so rare and clear as this.

A young surgeon was taking his first ride with a cavalry column in the
wide West, and, as he looked back into the valley through which they had
been marching for over half an hour, his face was clouded with an
expression of odd perplexity.

"What's the matter, doctor?" asked the adjutant, with a grin on his
face. "Are you wondering whether those fellows really are United States
regulars?" and the young officer nodded towards the long column of
horsemen in broad-brimmed slouch hats and flannel shirts or fanciful
garb of Indian tanned buckskin. Even among the officers there was hardly
a sign of the uniform or trappings which distinguish the soldiers in
garrison.

"No, it isn't _that_. I knew that you fellows who had served so long in
Arizona had got out of the way of wearing uniform in the field against
Indians. What I can't understand is that ridge over there. I thought we
had been down in a hollow for the last half-hour, yet look at it; we
must have come over that when I was thinking of something else."

"Not a bit of it, doctor," laughed the colonel. "That's where we
dismounted and took a short rest and gave the horses a chance to pick a
bit."

"Why, but, colonel! that must have been two miles back,--full half an
hour ago: you don't mean that ridge is two miles away? I could almost
hit that man riding down the road towards us."

"It would be a wonderful shot, doctor. That man is one of the teamsters
who went back after a dropped pistol. He is a mile and a half away."

The doctor's eyes were wide open with wonder.

"Of course you must know, colonel, but it is incomprehensible to me."

"It is easily proved, doctor. Take these two telegraph poles nearest us
and tell me how far they are apart."

The doctor looked carefully from one pole to another. Only a single wire
was strung along the line, and the poles were stout and strong. After a
moment's study he said, "Well, they are just about seventy-five yards
apart."

"More than that, doctor. They are a good hundred yards. But even at your
estimate, just count the poles back to that ridge--of course they are
equidistant, or nearly so, all along--and tell me how far you make it."

The doctor's eyes began to dilate again as he silently took account of
the number.

"I declare, there are over twenty to the rear of the wagon-train and
nearly forty across the ridge! I give it up."

"And now look here," said the colonel, pointing out to the eastward
where some lithe-limbed hounds were coursing over the prairie with Ralph
on his fleet sorrel racing in pursuit. "Look at young McCrea out there
where there are no telegraph poles to help you judge the distance. If he
were an Indian whom you wanted to bring down what would you set your
sights at, providing you had time to set them at all?" and the veteran
Indian fighter smiled grimly.

The doctor shook his head.

"It is too big a puzzle for me," he answered. "Five minutes ago I would
have said three hundred at the utmost, but I don't know now."

"How about that, Nihil?" asked the colonel, turning to a soldier riding
with the head-quarters party.

Nihil's brown hand goes up to the brim of his scouting hat in salute,
but he shook his head.

"The bullet would kick up a dust this side of him, sir," was the answer.

"People sometimes wonder why it is we manage to hit so few of these
Cheyennes or Sioux in our battles with them," said the colonel. "Now you
can get an idea of one of the difficulties. They rarely come within six
hundred yards of us when they are attacking a train or an infantry
escort, and are always riding full tilt, just as you saw Ralph just now.
It is next to impossible to hit them."

"I understand," said the doctor. "How splendidly that boy rides!"

"Ralph? Yes. He's a genuine trooper. Now, there's a boy whose whole
ambition is to go to West Point. He's a manly, truthful, dutiful young
fellow, born and raised in the army, knows the plains by heart, and just
the one to make a brilliant and valuable cavalry officer, but there
isn't a ghost of a chance for him."

"Why not?"

"Why not? Why! how is he to get an appointment? If he had a home
somewhere in the East, and his father had influence with the Congressman
of the district, it might be done; but the sons of army officers have
really very little chance. The President used to have ten appointments a
year, but Congress took them away from him. They thought there were too
many cadets at the Point; but while they were virtuously willing to
reduce somebody else's prerogatives in that line, it did not occur to
them that they might trim a little on their own. Now the President is
allowed only ten 'all told,' and can appoint no boy until some of his
ten are graduated or otherwise disposed of. It really gives him only two
or three appointments a year, and he has probably a thousand applicants
for every one. What chance has an army boy in Wyoming against the son of
some fellow with Senators and Representatives at his back in Washington?
If the army could name an occasional candidate, a boy like Ralph would
be sure to go, and we would have more soldiers and fewer scientists in
the cavalry."

By this time the head of the compact column was well up, and the captain
of the leading troop, riding with his first lieutenant in front of his
sets of fours, looked inquiringly at the colonel, as though half
expectant of a signal to halt or change the gait. Receiving none, and
seeing that the colonel had probably stopped to look over his command,
the senior troop leader pushed steadily on.

Behind him, four abreast, came the dragoons,--a stalwart, sunburned,
soldierly-looking lot. Not a particle of show or glitter in their attire
or equipment. Utterly unlike the dazzling hussars of England or the
European continent, when the troopers of the United States are out on
the broad prairies of the West "for business," as they put it, hardly a
brass button, even, is to be seen.

The colonel notes with satisfaction the nimble, active pace of the
horses as they go by at rapid walk, and the easy seat of the men in
their saddles.

First the bays of "K" Troop trip quickly past; then the beautiful, sleek
grays of "B," Captain Montgomery's company; then more bays in "I" and
"A" and "D," and then some sixty-five blacks, "C" Troop's color.

There are two sorrel troops in the regiment and more bays, and later in
the year, when new horses were obtained, the Fifth had a roan and a
dark-brown troop; but in June, when they were marching up to take their
part in the great campaign that followed, only two of their companies
were not mounted on bright bay horses, and one and all they were in the
pink of condition and eager for a burst "'cross country."

It was, however, their colonel's desire to take them to their
destination in good trim, and he permitted no "larking."

They had several hundred miles of weary marching before them. Much of
the country beyond the Platte was "Bad Lands," where the grass is scant
and poor, the soil ashen and spongy, and the water densely alkaline. All
this would tell very sensibly upon the condition of horses that all
winter long had been comfortably stabled, regularly groomed and
grain-fed, and watered only in pure running streams flushed by springs
or melting snow.

It was all very well for young Ralph to be coursing about on his fleet,
elastic sorrel, radiant with delight as the boy was at being again "out
on the plains" and in the saddle; but the cavalry commander's first care
must be to bring his horses to the scene of action in the most effective
state of health and soundness. The first few days' marching, therefore,
had to be watched with the utmost care.

As the noon hour approached, the doctor noted how the hills off to the
west seemed to be growing higher, and that there were broader vistas of
wide ranges of barren slopes to the east and north.

The colonel was riding some distance ahead of the battalion, his little
escort close beside, and Ralph was giving Buford a resting spell, and
placidly ambling alongside the doctor.

Sergeant Wells was riding somewhere in the column with some chum of old
days. He belonged to another regiment, but knew the Fifth of old. The
hounds had tired of chasing over a waterless country, and with lolling
tongues were trotting behind their masters' horses.

The doctor was vastly interested in what he had heard of Ralph, and
engaged him in talk. Just as they came in sight of the broad, open
valley in which runs the sparkling Lodge Pole, a two-horse wagon rumbled
up alongside, and there on the front seat was Farron, the ranchman, with
bright-eyed, bonny-faced little Jessie smiling beside him.

"We've caught you, Ralph," he laughed, "though we left Russell an hour
or more behind you. I s'pose you'll all camp at Lodge Pole for the
night. We're going on to the Chug."

"Hadn't you better see the colonel about that?" asked Ralph, anxiously.

"Oh, it's all right! I got telegrams from Laramie and the Chug, both,
just before we left Russell. Not an Indian's been heard of this side of
the Platte, and your father's troop has just got in to Laramie."

"Has he?" exclaimed Ralph, with delight. "Then he knows I've started,
and perhaps he'll come on to the Chug or Eagle's Nest and meet me."

"More'n likely," answered Farron. "You and the sergeant had better come
ahead and spend the night with me at the ranch."

"I've no doubt the colonel will let us go ahead with you," answered
Ralph, "but the ranch is too far off the road. We would have to stay at
Phillips's for the night. What say you, sergeant?" he asked, as Wells
came loping up alongside.

"The very plan, I think. Somebody will surely come ahead to meet us, and
we can make Laramie two days before the Fifth."

"Then, good-by, doctor; I must ask the colonel first, but we'll see you
at Laramie."

"Good-by, Ralph, and good luck to you in getting that cadetship."

"Oh, well! I _must_ trust to luck for that. Father says it all depends
on my getting General Sheridan to back me. If _he_ would only ask for
me, or if I could only do something to make him glad to ask; but what
chance is there?"

What chance, indeed? Ralph McCrea little dreamed that at that very
moment General Sheridan--far away in Chicago--was reading despatches
that determined him to go at once, himself, to Red Cloud Agency; that in
four days more the general would be there, at Laramie, and that in two
wonderful days, meantime--but who was there who dreamed what would
happen meantime?



CHAPTER III.

DANGER IN THE AIR.


When the head of the cavalry column reached the bridge over Lodge Pole
Creek a march of about twenty-five miles had been made, which is an
average day's journey for cavalry troops when nothing urgent hastens
their movements.

Filing to the right, the horsemen moved down the north bank of the
rapidly-running stream, and as soon as the rearmost troop was clear of
the road and beyond reach of its dust, the trumpets sounded "halt" and
"dismount," and in five minutes the horses, unsaddled, were rolling on
the springy turf, and then were driven out in herds, each company's by
itself, to graze during the afternoon along the slopes. Each herd was
watched and guarded by half a dozen armed troopers, and such horses as
were notorious "stampeders" were securely "side-lined" or hobbled.

Along the stream little white tents were pitched as the wagons rolled in
and were unloaded; and then the braying mules, rolling and kicking in
their enjoyment of freedom from harness, were driven out and disposed
upon the slopes at a safe distance from the horses. The smokes of little
fires began to float into the air, and the jingle of spoon and
coffee-pot and "spider" and skillet told that the cooks were busy
getting dinner for the hungry campaigners.

Such appetites as those long-day marches give! Such delight in life and
motion one feels as he drinks in that rare, keen mountain air! Some of
the soldiers--old plainsmen--are already prone upon the turf, their
heads pillowed on their saddles, their slouch hats pulled down over
their eyes, snatching half an hour's dreamless sleep before the cooks
shall summon them to dinner.

One officer from each company is still in saddle, riding around the
horses of his own troop to see that the grass is well chosen and that
his guards are properly posted and on the alert. Over at the road there
stands a sort of frontier tavern and stage station, at which is a
telegraph office, and the colonel has been sending despatches to
Department Head-Quarters to announce the safe arrival of his command at
Lodge Pole _en route_ for Fort Laramie. Now he is talking with Ralph.

"It isn't that, my boy. I do not suppose there is an Indian anywhere
near the Chugwater; but if your father thought it best that you should
wait and start with us, I think it was his desire that you should keep
in the protection of the column all the way. Don't you?"

"Yes, sir, I do. The only question now is, will he not come or send
forward to the Chug to meet me, and could I not be with mother two days
earlier that way? Besides, Farron is determined to go ahead as soon as
he has had dinner, and--I don't like to think of little Jessie being up
there at the Chug just now. Would you mind my telegraphing to father at
Laramie and asking him?"

"No, indeed, Ralph. Do so."

And so a despatch was sent to Laramie, and in the course of an hour,
just as they had enjoyed a comfortable dinner, there came the reply,--

"All right. Come ahead to Phillips's Ranch. Party will meet you there at
eight in the morning. They stop at Eagle's Nest to-night."

Ralph's eyes danced as he showed this to the colonel who read it gravely
and replied,--

"It is all safe, I fancy, or your father would not say so. They have
patrols all along the bank of the Platte to the southeast, and no
Indians can cross without its being discovered in a few hours. I suppose
they never come across between Laramie and Fetterman, do they, Ralph?"

"Certainly not of late years, colonel. It is so far off their line to
the reservations where they have to run for safety after their
depredations."

"I know that; but now that all but two troops of cavalry have gone up
with General Crook they might be emboldened to try a wider sweep. That's
all I'm afraid of."

"Even if the Indians came, colonel, they've got those ranch buildings so
loop-holed and fortified at Phillips's that we could stand them off a
week if need be, and you would reach there by noon at latest."

"Yes. We make an early start to-morrow morning, and 'twill be just
another twenty-five miles to our camp on the Chug. If all is well you
will be nearly to Eagle's Nest by the time we get to Phillips's, and you
will be at Laramie before the sunset-gun to-morrow. Well, give my
regards to your father, Ralph, and keep your eye open for the main
chance. We cavalry people want you for our representative at West Point,
you know."

"Thank you for that, colonel," answered Ralph, with sparkling eyes. "I
sha'n't forget it in many a day."

So it happened that late that afternoon, with Farron driving his load of
household goods; with brown-haired little Jessie lying sound asleep with
her head on his lap; with Sergeant Wells cantering easily alongside and
Ralph and Buford scouting a little distance ahead, the two-horse wagon
rolled over the crest of the last divide and came just at sunset in
sight of the beautiful valley with the odd name of Chugwater.

Farther up the stream towards its sources among the pine-crested Black
Hills, there were many places where the busy beavers had dammed its
flow. The Indians, bent on trapping these wary creatures, had listened
in the stillness of the solitudes to the battering of those wonderful
tails upon the mud walls of their dams and forts, and had named the
little river after its most marked characteristic, the constant "_chug,
chug_" of those cricket-bat caudals.

On the west of the winding stream, in the smiling valley with tiny
patches of verdure, lay the ranch with its out-buildings, corrals, and
the peacefully browsing stock around it, and little Jessie woke at her
father's joyous shout and pointed out her home to Ralph.

There where the trail wound away from the main road the wagon and
horsemen must separate, and Ralph reined close alongside and took Jessie
in his arms and was hugged tight as he kissed her bonny face. Then he
and the sergeant shook hands heartily with Farron, set spurs to their
horses, and went loping down northeastward to the broader reaches of the
valley.

On their right, across the lowlands, ran the long ridge ending in an
abrupt precipice, that was the scene of the great buffalo-killing by the
Indians many a long year ago. Straight ahead were the stage station, the
forage sheds, and the half dozen buildings of Phillips's. All was as
placid and peaceful in the soft evening light as if no hostile Indian
had ever existed.

Yet there were to be seen signs of preparation for Indian attack. The
herder whom the travellers met two miles south of the station was
heavily armed and his mate was only short rifle-shot away. The men waved
their hats to Ralph and his soldier comrade, and one of them called out,
"Whar'd ye leave the cavalry?" and seemed disappointed to hear they were
as far back as Lodge Pole.

At the station, they found the ranchmen prepared for their coming and
glad to see them. Captain McCrea had telegraphed twice during the
afternoon and seemed anxious to know of their arrival.

"He's in the office at Laramie now," said the telegraph agent, with a
smile, "and I wired him the moment we sighted you coming down the hill.
Come in and send him a few words. It will please him more than anything
I can say."

So Ralph stepped into the little room with its solitary instrument and
lonely operator. In those days there was little use for the line except
for the conducting of purely military business, and the agents or
operators were all soldiers detailed for the purpose. Here at "The Chug"
the instrument rested on a little table by the loop-hole of a window in
the side of the log hut. Opposite it was the soldier's narrow camp-bed
with its brown army blankets and with his heavy overcoat thrown over the
foot. Close at hand stood his Springfield rifle, with the belt of
cartridges, and over the table hung two Colt's revolvers.

All through the rooms of the station the same war-like preparations were
visible, for several times during the spring and early summer war
parties of Indians had come prowling up the valley, driving the herders
before them; but, having secured all the beef cattle they could handle,
they had hurried back to the fords of the Platte and, except on one or
two occasions, had committed no murders.

Well knowing the pluck of the little community at Phillips's, the
Indians had not come within long rifle range of the ranch, but on the
last two visits the warriors seemed to have grown bolder. While most of
the Indians were rounding up cattle and scurrying about in the valley,
two miles below the ranch, it was noted that two warriors, on their
nimble ponies, had climbed the high ridge on the east that overlooked
the ranches in the valley beyond and above Phillips's, and were
evidently taking deliberate note of the entire situation.

One of the Indians was seen to point a long, bare arm, on which silver
wristlets and bands flashed in the sun, at Farron's lonely ranch four
miles up-stream.

That was more than the soldier telegrapher could bear patiently. He took
his Springfield rifle out into the fields, and opened a long range fire
on these adventurous redskins.

The Indians were a good mile away, but that honest "Long Tom" sent its
leaden missiles whistling about their ears, and kicking up the dust
around their ponies' heels, until, after a few defiant shouts and such
insulting and contemptuous gestures as they could think of, the two had
ducked suddenly out of sight behind the bluffs.

All this the ranch people told Ralph and the sergeant, as they were
enjoying a hot supper after the fifty-mile ride of the day. Afterwards
the two travellers went out into the corral to see that their horses
were secure for the night.

Buford looked up with eager whinny at Ralph's footstep, pricked his
pretty ears, and looked as full of life and spirit as if he had never
had a hard day's gallop in his life. Sergeant Wells had given him a
careful rubbing down while Ralph was at the telegraph office, and
later, when the horses were thoroughly cool, they were watered at the
running stream and given a hearty feed of oats.

Phillips came out to lock up his stable while they were petting Buford,
and stood there a moment admiring the pretty fellow.

"With your weight I think he could make a race against any horse in the
cavalry, couldn't he, Mr. Ralph?" he asked.

"I'm not quite sure, Phillips; the colonel of the Fifth Cavalry has a
horse that I might not care to race. He was being led along behind the
head-quarters escort to-day. Barring that horse Van, I would ride Buford
against any horse I've ever seen in the service for any distance from a
quarter of a mile to a day's march."

"But those Indian ponies, Mr. Ralph, couldn't they beat him?"

"Over rough ground--up hill and down dale--I suppose some of them could.
I saw their races up at Red Cloud last year, and old Spotted Tail
brought over a couple of ponies from Camp Sheridan that ran like a
streak, and there was a Minneconjou chief there who had a very fast
pony. Some of the young Ogallallas had quick, active beasts, but, take
them on a straight-away run, I wouldn't be afraid to try my luck with
Buford against the best of them."

"Well, I hope you'll never have to ride for your life on him. He's
pretty and sound and fast, but those Indians have such wind and bottom;
they never seem to give out."

A little later--at about half after eight o'clock--Sergeant Wells, the
telegraph operator, and one or two of the ranchmen sat tilted back in
their rough chairs on the front porch of the station enjoying their
pipes. Ralph had begun to feel a little sleepy, and was ready to turn in
when he was attracted by the conversation between the two soldiers; the
operator was speaking, and the seriousness of his tone caused the boy to
listen.

"It isn't that we have any particular cause to worry just here. With our
six or seven men we could easily stand off the Indians until help came,
but it's Farron and little Jessie I'm thinking of. He and his two men
would have no show whatever in case of a sudden and determined attack.
They have not been harmed so far, because the Indians always crossed
below Laramie and came up to the Chug, and so there was timely warning.
Now, they have seen Farron's place up there all by itself. They can
easily find out, by hanging around the traders at Red Cloud, who lives
there, how many men he has, and about Jessie. Next to surprising and
killing a white man in cold blood, those fellows like nothing better
than carrying off a white child and concealing it among them. The
gypsies have the same trait. Now, they know that so long as they cross
below Laramie the scouts are almost sure to discover it in an hour or
two, and as soon as they strike the Chug Valley some herders come
tumbling in here and give the alarm. They have come over regularly every
moon, since General Crook went up in February, _until now_."

The operator went on impressively:

"The moon's almost on the wane, and they haven't shown up yet. Now, what
worries me is just this. Suppose they _should_ push out westward from
the reservation, cross the Platte somewhere about Bull Bend or even
nearer Laramie, and come down the Chug from the north. Who is to give
Farron warning?"

"They're bound to hear it at Laramie and telegraph you at once,"
suggested one of the ranchmen.

"Not necessarily. The river isn't picketed between Fetterman and
Laramie, simply because the Indians have always tried the lower
crossings. The stages go through three times a week, and there are
frequent couriers and trains, but they don't keep a lookout for pony
tracks. The chances are that their crossing would not be discovered for
twenty-four hours or so, and as to the news being wired to us here,
those reds would never give us a chance. The first news we got of their
deviltry would be that they had cut the line ten or twelve miles this
side of Laramie as they came sweeping down.

"I tell you, boys," continued the operator, half rising from his chair
in his earnestness, "I hate to think of little Jessie up there to-night.
I go in every few minutes and call up Laramie or Fetterman just to feel
that all is safe, and stir up Lodge Pole, behind us, to realize that
we've got the Fifth Cavalry only twenty-five miles away; but the Indians
haven't missed a moon yet, and there's only one more night of this."

Even as his hearers sat in silence, thinking over the soldier's words,
there came from the little cabin the sharp and sudden clicking of the
telegraph. "It's my call," exclaimed the operator, as he sprang to his
feet and ran to his desk.

Ralph and Sergeant Wells were close at his heels; he had clicked his
answering signal, seized a pencil, and was rapidly taking down a
message. They saw his eyes dilate and his lips quiver with suppressed
excitement. Once, indeed, he made an impulsive reach with his hand, as
if to touch the key and shut off the message and interpose some idea of
his own, but discipline prevailed.

"It's for you," he said, briefly, nodding up to Ralph, while he went on
to copy the message.

It was a time of anxious suspense in the little office. The sergeant
paced silently to and fro with unusual erectness of bearing and a
firmly-compressed lip. His appearance and attitude were that of the
soldier who has divined approaching danger and who awaits the order for
action. Ralph, who could hardly control his impatience, stood watching
the rapid fingers of the operator as they traced out a message which was
evidently of deep moment.

At last the transcript was finished, and the operator handed it to the
boy. Ralph's hand was trembling with excitement as he took the paper and
carried it close to the light. It read as follows:

     "RALPH MCCREA, Chugwater Station:

     "Black Hills stage reports having crossed trail of large war party
     going west, this side of Rawhide Butte. My troop ordered at once in
     pursuit. Wait for Fifth Cavalry.

                                                    "GORDON MCCREA."

"Going west, this side of Rawhide Butte," said Ralph, as calmly as he
could. "That means that they are twenty miles north of Laramie, and on
the other side of the Platte."

"It means that they knew what they were doing when they crossed just
behind the last stage so as to give no warning, and that their trail was
nearly two days old when seen by the down stage this afternoon. It means
that they crossed the stage road, Ralph, but how long ago was that, do
you think, and where are they now? It is my belief that they crossed the
Platte above Laramie last night or early this morning, and will be down
on us to-night."

"Wire that to Laramie, then, at once," said Ralph. "It may not be too
late to turn the troop this way."

"I can only say what I think to my fellow-operator there, and can't even
do that now; the commanding officer is sending despatches to Omaha, and
asking that the Fifth Cavalry be ordered to send forward a troop or two
to guard the Chug. But there's no one at the head-quarters this time o'
night. Besides, if we volunteer any suggestions, they will say we were
stampeded down here by a band of Indians that didn't come within
seventy-five miles of us."

"Well, father won't misunderstand me," said Ralph, "and I'm not afraid
to ask him to think of what you say; wire it to him in my name."

There was a long interval, twenty minutes or so, before the operator
could "get the line." When at last he succeeded in sending his despatch,
he stopped short in the midst of it.

"It's no use, Ralph. Your father's troop was three miles away before his
message was sent. There were reports from Red Cloud that made the
commanding officer believe there were some Cheyennes going up to attack
couriers or trains between Fetterman and the Big Horn. He is away north
of the Platte."

Another few minutes of thoughtful silence, then Ralph turned to his
soldier friend,--

"Sergeant, I have to obey father's orders and stay here, but it's my
belief that Farron should be put on his guard at once. What say you?"

"If you agree, sir, I'll ride up and spend the night with him."

"Then go by all means. I know father would approve it."



CHAPTER IV.

CUT OFF.


It was after ten o'clock when the waning moon came peering over the
barrier ridge at the east. Over an hour had passed since Sergeant Wells,
on his big sorrel, had ridden away up the stream on the trail to
Farron's.

Phillips had pressed upon him a Henry repeating rifle, which he had
gratefully accepted. It could not shoot so hard or carry so far as the
sergeant's Springfield carbine, the cavalry arm; but to repel a sudden
onset of yelling savages at close quarters it was just the thing, as it
could discharge sixteen shots without reloading. His carbine and the
belt of copper cartridges the sergeant left with Ralph.

Just before riding away he took the operator and Ralph to the back of
the corral, whence, far up the valley, they could see the twinkling
light at Farron's ranch.

"We ought to have some way of signalling," he had said as they went out
of doors. "If you get news during the night that the Indians are surely
this side of the Platte, of course we want to know at once; if, on the
other hand, you hear they are nowhere within striking distance, it will
be a weight off my mind and we can all get a good night's rest up there.
Now, how shall we fix it?"

After some discussion, it was arranged that Wells should remain on the
low porch in front of Farron's ranch until midnight. The light was to be
extinguished there as soon as he arrived, as an assurance that all was
well, and it should not again appear during the night unless as a
momentary answer to signals they might make.

If information were received at Phillips's that the Indians were south
of the Platte, Ralph should fire three shots from his carbine at
intervals of five seconds; and if they heard that all was safe, he
should fire one shot to call attention and then start a small blaze out
on the bank of the stream, where it could be plainly seen from Farron's.

Wells was to show his light half a minute when he recognized the signal.
Having arrived at this understanding, the sergeant shook the hand of
Ralph and the operator and rode towards Farron's.

"What I wish," said the operator, "is that Wells could induce Farron to
let him bring Jessie here for the night; but Farron is a bull-headed
fellow and thinks no number of Indians could ever get the better of him
and his two men. He knows very little of them and is hardly alive to the
danger of his position. I think he will be safe with Wells, but, all
the same, I wish that a troop of the Fifth Cavalry had been sent forward
to-night."

After they had gone back to the office the operator "called up" Laramie.
"All quiet," was the reply, and nobody there seemed to think the Indians
had come towards the Platte.

Then the operator signalled to his associate at Lodge Pole, who wired
back that nobody there had heard anything from Laramie or elsewhere
about the Indians; that the colonel and one or two of his officers had
been in the station a while during the evening and had sent messages to
Cheyenne and Omaha and received one or two, but that they had all gone
out to camp. Everything was quiet; "taps" had just sounded and they were
all going to bed.

"Lodge Pole" announced for himself that some old friends of his were on
the guard that night, and he was going over to smoke a pipe and have a
chat with them.

To this "Chug" responded that he wished he wouldn't leave the office.
There was no telling what might turn up or how soon he'd be wanted.

But "Lodge Pole" said the operators were not required to stay at the
board after nine at night; he would have the keeper of the station
listen for his call, and would run over to camp for an hour; would be
back at half-past ten and sleep by his instrument. Meantime, if needed,
he could be called in a minute,--the guard tents were only three hundred
yards away,--and so he went.

Ralph almost wished that he had sent a message to the colonel to tell
him of their suspicions and anxiety. He knew well that every officer
and every private in that sleeping battalion would turn out eagerly and
welcome the twenty-five-mile trot forward to the Chug on the report that
the Sioux were out "on the war-path" and might be coming that way.

Yet, army boy that he was, he hated to give what might be called a false
alarm. He knew the Fifth only by reputation, and while he would not have
hesitated to send such a message to his father had he been camped at
Lodge Pole, or to his father's comrades in their own regiment, he did
not relish the idea of sending a despatch that would rout the colonel
out of his warm blankets, and which might be totally unnecessary.

So the telegraph operator at Lodge Pole was permitted to go about his
own devices, and once again Ralph and his new friend went out into the
night to look over their surroundings and the situation.

The light still burned at Farron's, and Phillips, coming out with a
bundle of kindling-wood for the little beacon fire, chuckled when he saw
it,--

"Wells must be there by this time, but I'll just bet Farron is giving
the boys a little supper, or something, to welcome Jessie home, and now
he's got obstinate and won't let them douse the glim."

"It's a case that Wells will be apt to decide for himself," answered
Ralph. "He won't stand fooling, and will declare martial law.--There!
What did I tell you?"

The light went suddenly out in the midst of his words. They carried the
kindling and made a little heap of dry sticks out near the bank of the
stream; then stood a while and listened. In the valley, faintly lighted
by the moon, all was silence and peace; not even the distant yelp of
coyote disturbed the stillness of the night. Not a breath of air was
stirring. A light film of cloud hung about the horizon and settled in a
cumulus about the turrets of old Laramie Peak, but overhead the
brilliant stars sparkled and the planets shone like little globes of
molten gold.

Hearing voices, Buford, lonely now without his friend, the sergeant's
horse, set up a low whinny, and Ralph went in and spoke to him, patting
his glossy neck and shoulder. When he came out he found that a third man
had joined the party and was talking eagerly with Phillips.

Ralph recognized the man as an old trapper who spent most of his time in
the hills or farther up in the neighborhood of Laramie Peak. He had
often been at the fort to sell peltries or buy provisions, and was a
mountaineer and plainsman who knew every nook and cranny in Wyoming.

Cropping the scant herbage on the flat behind the trapper was a lank,
long-limbed horse from which he had just dismounted, and which looked
travel-stained and weary like his master. The news the man brought was
worthy of consideration, and Ralph listened with rapt attention and with
a heart that beat hard and quick, though he said no word and gave no
sign.

"Then you haven't seen or heard a thing?" asked the new-comer. "It's
mighty strange. I've scoured these hills--man and boy--nigh onto thirty
years and ought to know Indian smokes when I see 'em. I don't think I
can be mistaken about this. I was way up the range about four o'clock
this afternoon and could see clear across towards Rawhide Butte, and
three smokes went up over there, sure. What startled me," the trapper
continued, "was the answer. Not ten miles above where I was there went
up a signal smoke from the foot-hills of the range,--just in here to the
northwest of us, perhaps twenty miles west of Eagle's Nest. It's the
first time I've seen Indian smokes in there since the month they killed
Lieutenant Robinson up by the peak. You bet I came down. _Sure_ they
haven't seen anything at Laramie?"

"Nothing. They sent Captain McCrea with his troop up towards Rawhide
just after dark, but they declare nothing has been seen or heard of
Indians this side of the Platte. I've been talking with Laramie most of
the evening. The Black Hills stage coming down reported trail of a big
war party out, going west just this side of the Butte, and some of them
may have sent up the smokes you saw in that direction. I was saying to
Ralph, here, that if that trail was forty-eight hours old, they would
have had time to cross the Platte at Bull Bend, and be down here
to-night."

"They wouldn't come here first. They know this ranch too well. They'd go
in to Eagle's Nest to try and get the stage horses and a scalp or two
there. You're too strong for 'em here."

"Ay; but there's Farron and his little kid up there four miles above
us."

"You don't tell me! Thought he'd taken her down to Denver."

"So he did, and fetched her back to-day. Sergeant Wells has gone up
there to keep watch with them, and we are to signal if we get important
news. All you tell me only adds to what we suspected. How I wish we had
known it an hour ago! Now, will you stay here with us or go up to
Farron's and tell Wells what you've seen?"

"I'll stay here. My horse can't make another mile, and you may believe I
don't want any prowling round outside of a stockade this night. No, if
you can signal to him go ahead and do it."

"What say you, Ralph?"

Ralph thought a moment in silence. If he fired his three shots, it meant
that the danger was imminent, and that they had certain information that
the Indians were near at hand. He remembered to have heard his father
and other officers tell of sensational stories this same old trapper had
inflicted on the garrison. Sergeant Wells himself used to laugh at
"Baker's yarns." More than once the cavalry had been sent out to where
Baker asserted he had certainly seen a hundred Indians the day before,
only to find that not even the vestige of a pony track remained on the
yielding sod. If he fired the signal shots it meant a night of vigil for
everybody at Farron's and then how Wells would laugh at him in the
morning, and how disgusted he would be when he found that it was
entirely on Baker's assurances that he had acted!

It was a responsible position for the boy. He would much have preferred
to mount Buford and ride off over the four miles of moonlit prairie to
tell the sergeant of Baker's report and let him be the judge of its
authenticity. It was lucky he had that level-headed soldier operator to
advise him. Already he had begun to fancy him greatly, and to respect
his judgment and intelligence.

"Suppose we go in and stir up Laramie, and tell them what Mr. Baker
says," he suggested; and, leaving the trapper to stable his jaded horse
under Phillips's guidance, Ralph and his friend once more returned to
the station.

"If the Indians are south of the Platte," said the operator, "I shall no
longer hesitate about sending a despatch direct to the troops at Lodge
Pole. The colonel ought to know. He can send one or two companies right
along to-night. There is no operator at Eagle's Nest, or I'd have him up
and ask if all was well there. That's what worries me, Ralph. It was
back of Eagle's Nest old Baker says he saw their smokes, and it is
somewhere about Eagle's Nest that I should expect the rascals to slip in
and cut our wire. I'll bet they're all asleep at Laramie by this time.
What o'clock is it?"

The boy stopped at the window of the little telegraph room where the
light from the kerosene lamp would fall upon his watch-dial. The soldier
passed on around to the door. Glancing at his watch, Ralph followed on
his track and got to the door-way just as his friend stretched forth his
hand to touch the key.

"It's just ten-fifty now."

"Ten-fifty, did you say?" asked the soldier, glancing over his shoulder.
"Ralph!" he cried, excitedly, "_the wire's cut!_"

"Where?" gasped Ralph. "Can you tell?"

"No, somewhere up above us,--near the Nest, probably,--though who can
tell? It may be just round the bend of the road, for all we know. No
doubt about there being Indians now, Ralph, give 'em your signal. Hullo!
Hoofs!"

Leaping out from the little tenement, the two listened intently. An
instant before the thunder of horse's feet upon wooden planking had been
plainly audible in the distance, and now the coming clatter could be
heard on the roadway.

Phillips and Baker, who had heard the sounds, joined them at the
instant. Nearer and nearer came a panting horse; a shadowy rider loomed
into sight up the road, and in another moment a young ranchman galloped
up to the very doors.

"All safe, fellows? Thank goodness for that! I've had a ride for it, and
we're dead beat. _Indians?_ Why, the whole country's alive with 'em
between here and Hunton's. I promised I'd go over to Farron's if they
ever came around that way, but they may beat me there yet. How many men
have you here?"

"Seven now, counting Baker and Ralph; but I'll wire right back to Lodge
Pole and let the Fifth Cavalry know. Quick, Ralph, give 'em your signal
now!"

Ralph seized his carbine and ran out on the prairie behind the corral,
the others eagerly following him to note the effect. Bang! went the gun
with a resounding roar that echoed from the cliffs at the east and came
thundering back to them just in time to "fall in" behind two other
ringing reports at short, five-second intervals.

Three times the flash lighted up the faces of the little party; set and
stern and full of pluck they were. Then all eyes were turned to the
dark, shadowy, low-lying objects far up the stream, the roofs of
Farron's threatened ranch.

Full half a minute they watched, hearts beating high, breath coming
thick and fast, hands clinching in the intensity of their anxiety.

Then, hurrah! Faint and flickering at first, then shining a few seconds
in clear, steady beam, the sergeant's answering signal streamed out upon
the night, a calm, steadfast, unwavering response, resolute as the
spirit of its soldier sender, and then suddenly disappeared.

"He's all right!" said Ralph, joyously, as the young ranchman put spurs
to his panting horse and rode off to the west. "Now, what about Lodge
Pole?"

Just as they turned away there came a sound far out on the prairie that
made them pause and look wonderingly a moment in one another's eyes. The
horseman had disappeared from view. They had watched him until he had
passed out of sight in the dim distance. The hoof-beats of his horse had
died away before they turned to go.

Yet now there came the distant thunder of an hundred hoofs bounding over
the sod.

Out from behind a jutting spur of a bluff a horde of shadows sweep forth
upon the open prairie towards the trail on which the solitary rider has
disappeared. Here and there among them swift gleams, like silver
streaks, are plainly seen, as the moonbeams glint on armlet or bracelet,
or the nickel plating on their gaudy trappings.

Then see! a ruddy flash! another! another! the muffled bang of
fire-arms, and the vengeful yell and whoops of savage foeman float down
to the breathless listeners at the station on the Chug. The Sioux are
here in full force, and a score of them have swept down on that brave,
hapless, helpless fellow riding through the darkness alone.

Phillips groaned. "Oh, why did we let him go? Quick, now! Every man to
the ranch, and you get word to Lodge Pole, will you?"

"Ay, ay, and fetch the whole Fifth Cavalry here at a gallop!"

But when Ralph ran into the telegraph station a moment later, he found
the operator with his head bowed upon his arms and his face hidden from
view.

"What's the matter,--quick?" demanded Ralph.

It was a ghastly face that was raised to the boy, as the operator
answered,--

"It--it's all my fault. I've waited too long. _They've cut the line
behind us!_"



CHAPTER V.

AT FARRON'S RANCH.


When Sergeant Wells reached Farron's ranch that evening little Jessie
was peacefully sleeping in the room that had been her mother's. The
child was tired after the long, fifty-mile drive from Russell, and had
been easily persuaded to go to bed.

Farron himself, with the two men who worked for him, was having a
sociable smoke and chat, and the three were not a little surprised at
Wells's coming and the unwelcome news he bore. The ranchman was one of
the best-hearted fellows in the world, but he had a few infirmities of
disposition and one or two little conceits that sometimes marred his
better judgment. Having lived in the Chug Valley a year or two before
the regiment came there, he had conceived it to be his prerogative to
adopt a somewhat patronizing tone to its men, and believed that he knew
much more about the manners and customs of the Sioux than they could
possibly have learned.

The Fifth Cavalry had been stationed not far from the Chug Valley when
he first came to the country, and afterwards were sent out to Arizona
for a five-years' exile. It was all right for the Fifth to claim
acquaintance with the ways of the Sioux, Farron admitted, but as for
these fellows of the --th,--that was another thing. It did not seem to
occur to him that the guarding of the neighboring reservations for about
five years had given the new regiment opportunities to study and observe
these Indians that had not been accorded to him.

Another element which he totally overlooked in comparing the relative
advantages of the two regiments was a very important one that radically
altered the whole situation. When the Fifth was on duty watching the
Sioux, it was just after breech-loading rifles had been introduced into
the army, and before they had been introduced among the Sioux.

Through the mistaken policy of the Indian Bureau at Washington this
state of affairs was now changed and, for close fighting, the savages
were better armed than the troops. Nearly every warrior had either a
magazine rifle or a breech-loader, and many of them had two revolvers
besides. Thus armed, the Sioux were about ten times as formidable as
they had been before, and the task of restraining them was far more
dangerous and difficult than it had been when the Fifth guarded them.

The situation demanded greater vigilance and closer study than in the
old days, and Farron ought to have had sense enough to see it. But he
did not. He had lived near the Sioux so many years; these soldiers had
been near them so many years less; therefore they must necessarily know
less about them than he did. He did not take into account that it was
the soldiers' business to keep eyes and ears open to everything relating
to the Indians, while the information which he had gained came to him
simply as diversion, or to satisfy his curiosity.

So it happened that when Wells came in that night and told Farron what
was feared at Phillips's, the ranchman treated his warning with
good-humored but rather contemptuous disregard.

"Phillips gets stampeded too easy," was the way he expressed himself,
"and when you fellows of the Mustangs have been here as long as I have
you'll get to know these Indians better. Even if they did come, Pete and
Jake here, and I, with our Henry rifles, could stand off fifty of 'em.
Why, we've done it many a time."

"How long ago?" asked the sergeant, quietly.

"Oh, I don't know. It was before you fellows came. Why, you don't begin
to know anything about these Indians! You never see 'em here nowadays,
but when I first came here to the Chug there wasn't a week they didn't
raid us. They haven't shown up in three years, except just this spring
they've run off a little stock. But you never see 'em."

"_You_ may never see them, Farron, but we do,--see them day in and day
out as we scout around the reservation; and while I may not know what
they were ten years ago, I know what they are _now_, and that's more to
the purpose. You and Pete might have stood off a dozen or so when they
hadn't 'Henrys' and 'Winchesters' as they have now, but you couldn't do
it to-day, and it's all nonsense for you to talk of it. Of course, so
long as you keep inside here you may pick them off, but look out of this
window! What's to prevent their getting into your corral out there, and
then holding you here! They can set fire to your roof over your head,
man, and you can't get out to extinguish it."

"What makes you think they've spotted me, anyhow?" asked Farron.

"They looked you over the last time they came up the valley, and you
know it. Now, if you and the men want to stay here and make a fight for
it, all right,--I'd rather do that myself, only we ought to have two or
three men to put in the corral,--but here's little Jessie. Let me take
her down to Phillips's; she's safe there. He has everything ready for a
siege and you haven't."

"Why, she's only just gone to sleep, Wells; I don't want to wake her up
out of a warm bed and send her off four miles a chilly night like
this,--all for a scare, too. The boys down there would laugh at
me,--just after bringing her here from Denver, too."

"They're not laughing down there _this_ night, Farron, and they're not
the kind that get stampeded either. Keep Jessie, if you say so, and I'll
stay through the night; but I've fixed some signals with them down at
the road and you've got to abide by them. They can see your light plain
as a beacon, and it's got to go out in fifteen minutes."

Farron had begun by pooh-poohing the sergeant's views, but he already
felt that they deserved serious consideration. He was more than half
disposed to adopt Wells's plan and let him take Jessie down to the safer
station at Phillips's, but she looked so peaceful and bonny, sleeping
there in her little bed, that he could not bear to disturb her. He was
ashamed, too, of the appearance of yielding.

So he told the sergeant that while he would not run counter to any
arrangement he had made as to signals, and was willing to back him up in
any project for the common defence, he thought they could protect Jessie
and the ranch against any marauders that might come along. He didn't
think it was necessary that they should all sit up. One man could watch
while the others slept.

As a first measure Farron and the sergeant took a turn around the ranch.
The house itself was about thirty yards from the nearest side of the
corral, or enclosure, in which Farron's horses were confined. In the
corral were a little stable, a wagon-shed, and a poultry-house. The back
windows of the stable were on the side towards the house, and should
Indians get possession of the stable they could send fire-arrows, if
they chose, to the roof of the house, and with their rifles shoot down
any persons who might attempt to escape from the burning building.

This fault of construction had long since been pointed out to Farron,
but the man who called his attention to it, unluckily, was an officer of
the new regiment, and the ranchman had merely replied, with a
self-satisfied smile, that he guessed he'd lived long enough in that
country to know a thing or two about the Indians.

Sergeant Wells shook his head as he looked at the stable, but Farron
said that it was one of his safe-guards.

"I've got two mules in there that can smell an Indian five miles off,
and they'd begin to bray the minute they did. That would wake me up, you
see, because their heads are right towards me. Now, if they were way
across the corral I mightn't hear 'em at all. Then it's close to the
house, and convenient for feeding in winter. Will you put your horse in
to-night?"

Sergeant Wells declined. He might need him, he said, and would keep him
in front of the house where he was going to take his station to watch
the valley and look out for signals. He led the horse to the stream and
gave him a drink, and asked Farron to lay out a hatful of oats. "They
might come in handy if I have to make an early start."

However lightly Farron might estimate the danger, his men regarded it as
a serious matter. Having heard the particulars from Sergeant Wells,
their first care was to look over their rifles and see that they were in
perfect order and in readiness for use. When at last Farron had
completed a leisurely inspection of his corral and returned to the
house, he found Wells and Pete in quiet talk at the front, and the
sergeant's horse saddled close at hand.

"Oh, well!" he said, "if you're as much in earnest as all that, I'll
bring my pipe out here with you, and if any signal should come, it'll be
time enough then to wake Jessie, wrap her in a blanket, and you gallop
off to Phillips's with her."

And so the watchers went on duty. The light in the ranch was
extinguished, and all about the place was as quiet as the broad, rolling
prairie itself. Farron remained wakeful a little while, then said he was
sleepy and should go in and lie down without undressing. Pete, too,
speedily grew drowsy and sat down on the porch, where Wells soon caught
sight of his nodding head just as the moon came peeping up over the
distant crest of the "Buffalo Hill."

How long Farron slept he had no time to ask, for the next thing he knew
was that a rude hand was shaking his shoulder, and Pete's voice said,--

"Up with you, Farron! The signal's fired at Phillips's. Up quick!"

As Farron sprang to the floor, Pete struck a light, and the next minute
the kerosene lamp, flickering and sputtering at first, was shining in
the eastward window. Outside the door the ranchman found Wells
tightening his saddle-girths, while his horse, snorting with excitement,
pricked up his ears and gazed down the valley.

"Who fired?" asked Farron, barely awake.

"I don't know; Ralph probably. Better get Jessie for me at once. The
Indians are this side of the Platte sure, and they may be near at hand.
I don't like the way Spot's behaving,--see how excited he is. I don't
like to leave you short-handed if there's to be trouble. If there's time
I'll come back from Phillips's. Come, man! Wake Jessie."

"All right. There's plenty of time, though. They must be miles down the
valley yet. If they'd come from the north, the telegraph would have
given warning long ago. And Dick Warner--my brother-in-law, Jessie's
uncle--always promised he'd be down to tell me first thing, if they came
any way that he could hear of it. You bet he'll be with us before
morning, unless they're between him and us now."

With that he turned into the house, and in a moment reappeared with the
wondering, sleepy-eyed, half-wakened little maid in his strong arms.
Wells was already in saddle, and Spot was snorting and prancing about in
evident excitement.

"I'll leave the 'Henry' with Pete. I can't carry it and Jessie, too.
Hand her up to me and snuggle her well in the blanket."

Farron hugged his child tight in his arms one moment. She put her little
arms around his neck and clung to him, looking piteously into his face,
yet shedding no tears. Something told her there was danger; something
whispered "Indians!" to the childish heart; but she stifled her words of
fear and obeyed her father's wish.

"You are going down to Phillips's where Ralph is, Jessie, darling.
Sergeant Wells is going to carry you. Be good and perfectly quiet. Don't
cry, don't make a particle of noise, pet. Whatever you do, don't make
any noise. Promise papa."

As bravely as she had done when she waited that day at the station at
Cheyenne, the little woman choked back the rising sob. She nodded
obedience, and then put up her bonny face for her father's kiss. Who can
tell of the dread, the emotion he felt as he clung to the trusting
little one for that short moment?

"God guard you, my baby," he muttered, as he carefully lifted her up to
Wells, who circled her in his strong right arm, and seated her on the
overcoat that was rolled at his pommel.

Farron carefully wrapped the blanket about her tiny feet and legs, and
with a prayer on his lips and a clasp of the sergeant's bridle hand he
bade him go. Another moment, and Wells and little Jessie were loping
away on Spot, and were rapidly disappearing from view along the dim,
moonlit trail.

For a moment the three ranchmen stood watching them. Far to the
northeast a faint light could be seen at Phillips's, and the roofs and
walls were dimly visible in the rays of the moon. The hoof-beats of old
Spot soon died away in the distance, and all seemed as still as the
grave. Anxious as he was, Farron took heart. They stood there silent a
few moments after the horseman, with his precious charge, had faded from
view, and then Farron spoke,--

"They'll make it all safe. If the Indians were anywhere near us those
mules of mine would have given warning by this time."

The words were hardly dropped from his lips when from the other side of
the house--from the stable at the corral--there came, harsh and loud and
sudden, the discordant bray of mules. The three men started as if
stung.

"Quick! Pete. Fetch me any one of the horses. I'll gallop after him.
Hear those mules? That means the Indians are close at hand!" And he
sprang into the house for his revolvers, while Pete flew round to the
stable.

It was not ten seconds before Farron reappeared at the front door. Pete
came running out from the stable, leading an astonished horse by the
snaffle. There was not even a blanket on the animal's back, or time to
put one there.

Farron was up and astride the horse in an instant, but before he could
give a word of instruction to his men, there fell upon their ears a
sound that appalled them,--the distant thunder of hundreds of bounding
hoofs; the shrill, vengeful yells of a swarm of savage Indians; the
crack! crack! of rifles; and, far down the trail along which Wells had
ridden but a few moments before, they could see the flash of fire-arms.

"O God! save my little one!" was Farron's agonized cry as he struck his
heels to his horse's ribs and went tearing down the valley in mad and
desperate ride to the rescue.

Poor little Jessie! What hope to save her now?



CHAPTER VI.

A NIGHT OF PERIL.


For one moment the telegraph operator was stunned and inert. Then his
native pluck and the never-say-die spirit of the young American came to
his aid. He rose to his feet, seized his rifle, and ran out to join
Phillips and the few men who were busily at work barricading the corral
and throwing open the loop-holes in the log walls.

Ralph had disappeared, and no one knew whither he had gone until, just
as the men were about to shut the heavy door of the stable, they heard
his young voice ring cheerily out through the darkness,--

"Hold on there! Wait till Buford and I get out!"

"Where on earth are you going?" gasped Phillips, in great astonishment,
as the boy appeared in the door-way, leading his pet, which was bridled
and saddled.

"Going? Back to Lodge Pole, quick as I can, to bring up the cavalry."

"Ralph," said the soldier, "it will never do. Now that Wells is gone I
feel responsible for you, and your father would never forgive me if
anything befell you. We can't let you go?"

Ralph's eyes were snapping with excitement and his cheeks were flushed.
It was a daring, it was a gallant, thought,--the idea of riding back all
alone through a country that might be infested by savage foes; but it
was the one chance.

Farron and Wells and the men might be able to hold out a few hours at
the ranch up the valley, and keep the Indians far enough away to prevent
their burning them out. Of course the ranch could not stand a long siege
against Indian ingenuity, but six hours, or eight at the utmost, would
be sufficient time in which to bring rescue to the inmates. By that time
he could have an overwhelming force of cavalry in the valley, and all
would be safe.

If word were not sent to them it would be noon to-morrow before the
advance of the Fifth would reach the Chug. By that time all would be
over with Farron.

Ralph's brave young heart almost stopped beating as he thought of the
hideous fate that awaited the occupants of the ranch unless help came to
them. He felt that nothing but a light rider and a fast horse could
carry the news in time. He knew that he was the lightest rider in the
valley; that Buford was the fastest horse; that no man at the station
knew all the "breaks" and ravines, the ridges and "swales" of the
country better than he did.

Farron's lay to the southwest, and thither probably all the Indians were
now riding. He could gallop off to the southeast, make a long _détour_,
and so reach Lodge Pole unseen. If he could get there in two hours and a
half, the cavalry could be up and away in fifteen minutes more, and in
that case might reach the Chug at daybreak or soon afterwards.

One thing was certain, that to succeed he must go instantly, before the
Indians could come down and put a watch around Phillips's.

Of course it was a plan full of fearful risk. He took his life in his
hands. Death by the cruelest of tortures awaited him if captured, and it
was a prospect before which any boy and many a man might shrink in
dismay.

But he had thought of little Jessie; the plan and the estimation of the
difficulties and dangers attending its execution had flashed through his
mind in less than five seconds, and his resolution was instantly made.
He was a soldier's son, was Ralph, and saying no word to any one he had
run to the stable, saddled and bridled Buford, and with his revolver at
his hip was ready for his ride.

"It's no use of talking; I'm going," was all he said. "I know how to
dodge them just as well as any man here, and, as for father, he'd be
ashamed of me if I didn't go."

Waiting for no reply,--before they could fully realize what he
meant,--the boy had chirruped to his pawing horse and away they darted
round the corner of the station, across the moonlit road, and then
eastward down the valley.

"Phillips," exclaimed the soldier, "I never should have let him go. I
ought to have gone myself; but he's away before a man can stop him."

"You're too heavy to ride that horse, and there's none other here to
match him. That boy's got the sense of a plainsman any day, I tell you,
and he'll make it all right. The Indians are all up the valley and we'll
hear 'em presently at Farron's. He's keeping off so as to get round east
of the bluffs, and then he'll strike across country southward and not
try for the road until he's eight or ten miles away. Good for Ralph!
It's a big thing he's doing, and his father will be proud of him for
it."

But the telegraph operator was heavy-hearted. The men were all anxious,
and clustered again at the rear of the station. All this had taken place
in the space of three minutes, and they were eagerly watching for the
next demonstration from the marauders.

Of the fate of poor Warner there could be little doubt. It was evident
that the Indians had overwhelmed and killed him. There was a short
struggle and the rapidly concentrating fire of rifles and revolvers for
a minute or two; then the yells had changed to triumphant whoops, and
then came silence.

"They've got his scalp, poor fellow, and no man could lend a hand to
help him. God grant they're all safe inside up there at Farron's," said
one of the party; it was the only comment made on the tragedy that had
been enacted before them.

"Hullo! What's that?"

"It's the flash of rifles again. They've sighted Ralph!" cried the
soldier.

"Not a bit of it. Ralph's off here to the eastward. They're firing and
chasing up the valley. Perhaps Warner got away after all. _Look_ at 'em!
See! The flashes are getting farther south all the time! They've headed
him off from Farron's, whoever it is, and he's making for the road. The
cowardly hounds! There's a hundred of 'em, I reckon, on one poor hunted
white man, and here we are with our hands tied!"

For a few minutes more the sound of shots and yells and thundering
hoofs came vividly through the still night air. All the time it was
drifting away southward, and gradually approached the road. One of the
ranchmen begged Phillips to let him have a horse and go out in the
direction of the firing to reconnoitre and see what had happened, but it
would have been madness to make the attempt, and the request was met
with a prompt refusal.

"We shall need every man here soon enough at the rate things are going,"
was the answer. "That may have been Warner escaping, or it may have been
one of Farron's men trying to get through to us or else riding off
southward to find the cavalry. Perhaps it was Sergeant Wells. Whoever it
was, they've had a two- or three-mile chase and have probably got him by
this time. The firing in that direction is all over. Now the fun will
begin up at the ranch. Then they'll come for us."

"It's my fault!" groaned the operator. "What a night,--and all my fault!
I ought to have told them at Lodge Pole when I could."

"Tell them what?" said Phillips. "You didn't know a thing about their
movements until Warner got here! What could you have said if you'd had
the chance? The cavalry can't move on mere rumors or ideas that any
chance man has who comes to the station in a panic. It has just come all
of a sudden, in a way we couldn't foresee.

"All I'm worrying about now is little Jessie, up there at Farron's. I'm
afraid Warner's gone, and possibly some one else; but if Farron can only
hold out against these fellows until daylight I think he and his little
one will be safe. Watch here, two of you, now, while I go back to the
house a moment."

And so, arms at hand and in breathless silence, the little group watched
and waited. All was quiet at the upper ranch. Farron's light had been
extinguished soon after it had replied to the signal from below, but his
roofs and walls were dimly visible in the moonlight. The distance was
too great for the besiegers to be discerned if any were investing his
place.

The quiet lasted only a few moments. Then suddenly there came from up
the valley and close around those distant roofs the faint sound of rapid
firing. Paled by the moonlight into tiny, ruddy flashes, the flame of
each report could be seen by the sharper eyes among the few watchers at
Phillips's. The attack had indeed begun at Farron's.

One of the men ran in to tell the news to Phillips, who presently came
out and joined the party. No sign of Indians had yet been seen around
them, but as they crouched there by the corral, eagerly watching the
flashes that told of the distant struggle, and listening to the sounds
of combat, there rose upon the air, over to the northward and apparently
just at the base of the line of bluffs, the yelps and prolonged bark of
the coyote. It died away, and then, far on to the southward, somewhere
about the slopes where the road climbed the divide, there came an
answering yelp, shrill, querulous, and prolonged.

"Know what that is, boys?" queried Phillips.

"Coyotes, I s'pose," answered one of the men,--a comparatively new hand.

"Coyotes are scarce in this neighborhood nowadays. Those are Sioux
signals, and we are surrounded. No man in this crowd could get out now.
Ralph ain't out a moment too soon. God speed him! If Farron don't owe
his life and little Jessie's to that boy's bravery, it'll be because
nobody could get to them in time to save them. Why _didn't_ he send her
here?"

Bad as was the outlook, anxious as were all their hearts, what was their
distress to what it would have been had they known the truth,--that
Warner lay only a mile up the trail, stripped, scalped, gashed, and
mutilated! Still warm, yet stone dead! And that all alone, with little
Jessie in his arms, Sergeant Wells had ridden down that trail into the
very midst of the thronging foe! Let us follow him, for he is a soldier
who deserves the faith that Farron placed in him.

For a few moments after leaving the ranch the sergeant rides along at
rapid lope, glancing keenly over the broad, open valley for any sign
that might reveal the presence of hostile Indians, and then hopefully at
the distant light at the station. He holds little Jessie in firm but
gentle clasp, and speaks in fond encouragement every moment or two. She
is bundled like a pappoose in the blanket, but her big, dark eyes look
up trustfully into his, and once or twice she faintly smiles. All seems
so quiet; all so secure in the soldier's strong clasp.

"That's my brave little girl!" says the sergeant. "Papa was right when
he told us down at Russell that he had the pluckiest little daughter in
all Wyoming. It isn't every baby that would take a night ride with an
old dragoon so quietly."

He bends down and softly kisses the thick, curling hair that hangs over
her forehead. Then his keen eye again sweeps over the valley, and he
touches his charger's flank with the spur.

"_Looks_ all clear," he mutters, "but I've seen a hundred Indians spring
up out of a flatter plain than that. They'll skulk behind the smallest
kind of a ridge, and not show a feather until one runs right in among
them. There might be dozens of them off there beyond the Chug at this
moment, and I not be able to see hair or hide of 'em."

Almost half way to Phillips's, and still all is quiet. Then he notes
that far ahead the low ridge, a few hundred yards to his left, sweeps
round nearly to the trail, and dips into the general level of the
prairie within short pistol-shot of the path along which he is riding.
He is yet fully three-quarters of a mile from the place where the ridge
so nearly meets the trail, but it is plainly visible now in the silvery
moonlight.

"If they should have come down, and should be all ranged behind that
ridge now, 'twould be a fearful scrape for this poor little mite," he
thinks, and then, soldier-like, sets himself to considering what his
course should be if the enemy were suddenly to burst upon him from
behind that very curtain.

"Turn and run for it, of course!" he mutters. "Unless they should cut me
off, which they couldn't do unless some of 'em were far back along
behind the ridge. Hullo! A shadow on the trail! Coming this way. A
horseman. That's good! They've sent out a man to meet me."

The sound of iron-shod hoofs that came faintly across the wide distance
from the galloping shadow carried to the sergeant's practised ear the
assurance that the advancing horseman was not an Indian. After the
suspense of that lonely and silent ride, in the midst of unknown
dangers, Wells felt a deep sense of relief.

"The road is clear between here and Phillips's, that's certain," he
thought. "I'll take Jessie on to the station, and then go back to
Farron's. I wonder what news that horseman brings, that he rides so
hard."

Still on came the horseman. All was quiet, and it seemed that in five
minutes more he would have the news the stranger was bringing,--of
safety, he hoped. Jessie, at any rate, should not be frightened unless
danger came actually upon them. He quickened his horse's gait, and
looked smilingly down into Jessie's face.

"It's all right, little one! Somebody is coming up the trail from
Phillips's, so everything must be safe," he told her.

Then came a cruel awakening. Quick, sudden, thrilling, there burst upon
the night a mad chorus of shouts and shots and the accompaniment of
thundering hoofs. Out from the sheltering ridge by dozens, gleaming,
flashing through the moonlight, he saw the warriors sweep down upon the
hapless stranger far in front.

He reined instantly his snorting and affrighted horse, and little
Jessie, with one low cry of terror, tried to release her arms from the
circling blanket and throw them about his neck; but he held her tight.
He grasped the reins more firmly, gave one quick glance to his left and
rear, and, to his dismay, discovered that he, too, was well-nigh hemmed
in; that, swift and ruthless as the flight of hawks, a dozen warriors
were bounding over the prairie towards him, to cut off his escape.

He had not an instant to lose. He whirled his practised troop horse to
the right about, and sent him leaping madly through the night back for
Farron's ranch.

Even as he sped along, he bent low over his charger's neck, and, holding
the terror-stricken child to his breast, managed to speak a word to keep
up her courage.

"We'll beat them yet, my bonny bird!" he muttered, though at that
instant he heard the triumphant whoops that told him a scalp was taken
on the trail behind him, though at that very instant he saw that
warriors, dashing from that teeming ridge, had headed him; that he must
veer from the trail as he neared the ranch, and trust to Farron and his
men to drive off his pursuers.

Already the yells of his pursuers thrilled upon the ear. They had opened
fire, and their wide-aimed bullets went whizzing harmlessly into space.
His wary eye could see that the Indians on his right front were making a
wide circle, so as to meet him when close to the goal, and he was
burdened with that helpless child, and could not make fight even for his
own life.

Drop her and save himself? He would not entertain the thought. No,
though it be his only chance to escape!

His horse panted heavily, and still there lay a mile of open prairie
between him and shelter; still those bounding ponies, with their
yelping, screeching riders, were fast closing upon him, when suddenly
through the dim and ghostly light there loomed another shadow, wild and
daring,--a rider who came towards him at full speed.

Because of the daring of the feat to ride thus alone into the teeth of a
dozen foemen, the sergeant was sure, before he could see the man, that
the approaching horseman was Farron, rushing to the rescue of his child.

Wells shouted a trooper's loud hurrah, and then, "Rein up, Farron! Halt
where you are, and open fire! That'll keep 'em off!"

Though racing towards him at thundering speed, Farron heard and
understood his words, for in another moment his "Henry" was barking its
challenge at the foe, and sending bullet after bullet whistling out
across the prairie.

The flashing, feather-streaming shadows swerved to right and left, and
swept away in big circles. Then Farron stretched out his arms,--no time
for word of any kind,--and Wells laid in them the sobbing child, and
seized in turn the brown and precious rifle.

"Off with you, Farron! Straight for home now. I'll keep 'em back." And
the sergeant in turn reined his horse, fronted the foe, and opened rapid
fire, though with little hope of hitting horse or man.

Disregarding the bullets that sang past his ears, he sent shot after
shot at the shadowy riders, checked now, and circling far out on the
prairie, until once more he could look about him, and see that Farron
had reached the ranch, and had thrown himself from his horse.

Then slowly he turned back, fronting now and then to answer the shots
that came singing by him, and to hurrah with delight when, as the
Indians came within range of the ranch, its inmates opened fire on them,
and a pony sent a yelping rider flying over his head, as he stumbled and
plunged to earth, shot through the body.

Then Wells turned in earnest and made a final dash for the corral. Then
his own good steed, that had borne them both so bravely, suddenly
wavered and tottered under him. He knew too well that the gallant horse
had received his death-blow even before he went heavily to ground within
fifty yards of the ranch.

Wells was up in an instant, unharmed, and made a rush, stooping low.

Another moment, and he was drawn within the door-way, panting and
exhausted, but safe. He listened with amazement to the outward sounds of
shots and hoofs and yells dying away into the distance southward.

"What on earth is that?" he asked.

"It's that scoundrel, Pete. He's taken my horse and deserted!" was
Farron's breathless answer. "I hope they'll catch and kill him! I
despise a coward!"



CHAPTER VII.

THE RESCUE.


All the time, travelling at rapid lope, but at the same time saving
Buford's strength for sudden emergency, Ralph McCrea rode warily through
the night. He kept far to east of the high ridge of the "Buffalo
Hill,"--Who knew what Indian eyes might be watching there?--and mile
after mile he wound among the ravines and swales which he had learned so
well in by-gone days when he little dreamed of the value that his
"plainscraft" might be to him.

For a while his heart beat like a trip-hammer; every echo of his
courser's footfall seemed to him to be the rush of coming warriors, and
time and again he glanced nervously over his shoulder, dreading pursuit.
But he never wavered in his gallant purpose.

The long ridge was soon left to his right rear, and now he began to edge
over towards the west, intending in this way to reach the road at a
point where there would lie before him a fifteen-mile stretch of good
"going ground." Over that he meant to send Buford at full speed.

Since starting he had heard no sound of the fray; the ridge and the
distance had swallowed up the clamor; but he knew full well that the
raiding Indians would do their utmost this night to burn the Farron
ranch and kill or capture its inmates. Every recurring thought of the
peril of his beleaguered friends prompted him to spur his faithful
steed, but he had been reared in the cavalry and taught never to drive a
willing horse to death.

The long, sweeping, elastic strides with which Buford bore him over the
rolling prairie served their needs far better than a mad race of a mile
or two, ending in a complete break-down, would have done.

At last, gleaming in the moonlight, he sighted the hard-beaten road as
it twisted and wound over the slopes, and in a few moments more rode
beneath the single wire of the telegraph line, and then gave Buford a
gentle touch of the steel. He had made a circuit of ten miles or more to
reach this point, and was now, he judged, about seven miles below the
station and five miles from Farron's ranch.

He glanced over his right shoulder and anxiously searched the sky and
horizon. Intervening "divides" shut him off from a view of the valley,
but he saw that as yet no glare of flames proceeded from it.

"Thus far the defence has held its own," he said, hopefully, to himself.
"Now, if Buford and I can only reach Lodge Pole unmolested there may yet
be time."

Ascending a gentle slope he reined Buford down to a walk, so that his
pet might have a little breathing spell. As he arrived at the crest he
cast an eager glance over the next "reach" of prairie landscape, and
then--his heart seemed to leap to his throat and a chill wave to rush
through his veins.

Surely he saw a horseman dart behind the low mound off to the west. This
convinced him that the Indians had discovered and pursued him. After
the Indian fashion they had not come squarely along his trail and thus
driven him ahead at increased speed, but with the savage science of
their warfare, they were working past him, far to his right, intending
to head him off.

To his left front the country was clear, and he could see over it for a
considerable distance. The road, after winding through some intermediate
ravines ahead, swept around to the left. He had almost determined to
leave the trail and make a bee-line across country, and so to outrun the
foeman to his right, when, twice or thrice, he caught the gleam of steel
or silver or nickel-plate beyond the low ground in the very direction in
which he had thought to flee.

His heart sank low now, for the sight conveyed to his mind but one
idea,--that the gleams were the flashing of moonbeams on the barbaric
ornaments of Indians, as he had seen them flash an hour ago when the
warriors raced forth into the valley of the Chug. Were the Indians ahead
of him then, and on both sides of the road?

One thing he had to do, and to do instantly: ride into the first hollow
he could find, dismount, crawl to the ridge and peer around him,--study
which way to ride if he should have to make a race for his own life
now,--and give Buford time to gather himself for the effort.

The boy's brave spirit was wrought well-nigh to the limit. His eyes
clouded as he thought of his father and the faithful troop, miles and
miles away and all unconscious of his deadly peril; of his anxious and
loving mother, wakeful and watching at Laramie, doubtless informed of
the Indian raid by this time; powerless to help him, but praying God to
watch over her boy.

He looked aloft at the starry heavens and lifted his heart in one brief
prayer: "God guard and guide me. I've tried to do my duty as a soldier's
son." And somehow he felt nerved and strengthened.

He grasped the handle of his cavalry revolver as he guided Buford down
to the right where there seemed to be a hollow among the slopes. Just as
he came trotting briskly round a little shoulder of the nearest ridge
there was a rush and patter of hoofs on the other side of it, an
exclamation, half-terror, half-menace, a flash and a shot that whizzed
far over his head. A dark, shadowy horseman went scurrying off into
space as fast as a spurred and startled horse could carry him; a
broad-brimmed slouch hat was blown back to him as a parting _souvenir_,
and Ralph McCrea shouted with relief and merriment as he realized that
some man--a ranchman doubtless--had taken him for an Indian and had
"stampeded," scared out of his wits.

Ralph dismounted, picked up the hat, swung himself again into saddle,
and with rejoicing heart sped away again on his mission. There were
still those suspicious flashes off to the east that he must dodge, and
to avoid them he shaped his course well to the west.

Let us turn for a moment to the camp of the cavalry down in Lodge Pole
Valley. We have not heard from them since early evening when the
operator announced his intention of going over to have a smoke and a
chat with some of his friends on guard.

"Taps," the signal to extinguish lights and go to bed, had sounded early
and, so far as the operator at Lodge Pole knew when he closed his
instrument, the battalion had gladly obeyed the summons.

It happened, however, that the colonel had been talking with one of his
most trusted captains as they left the office a short time before, and
the result of that brief talk was that the latter walked briskly away
towards the bivouac fires of his troop and called "Sergeant Stauffer!"

A tall, dark-eyed, bronzed trooper quickly arose, dropped his pipe, and
strode over to where his captain stood in the flickering light, and,
saluting, "stood attention" and waited.

"Sergeant, let the quartermaster-sergeant and six men stay here to load
our baggage in the morning. Mount the rest of the troop at once, without
any noise,--fully equipped."

The sergeant was too old a soldier even to look surprised. In fifteen
minutes, with hardly a sound of unusual preparation, fifty horsemen had
"led into line," had mounted, and were riding silently off northward.
The colonel said to the captain, as he gave him a word of good-by,--

"I don't know that you'll find anything out of the way at all, but, with
such indications, I believe it best to throw forward a small force to
look after the Chug Valley until we come up. We'll be with you by
dinner-time."

Two hours later, when the telegraph operator, breathless and excited,
rushed into the colonel's tent and woke him with the news that his wire
was cut up towards the Chug, the colonel was devoutly thankful for the
inspiration that prompted him to send "K" Troop forward through the
darkness. He bade his adjutant, the light-weight of the officers then on
duty, take his own favorite racer, Van, and speed away on the trail of
"K" Troop, tell them that the line was cut,--that there was trouble
ahead; to push on lively with what force they had, and that two more
companies would be hurried to their support.

At midnight "K" Troop, riding easily along in the moonlight, had
travelled a little over half the distance to Phillips's ranch. The
lieutenant, who with two or three troopers was scouting far in advance,
halted at the crest of a high ridge over which the road climbs, and
dismounted his little party for a brief rest while he went up ahead to
reconnoitre.

Cavalrymen in the Indian country never ride into full view on top of a
"divide" until after some one of their number has carefully looked over
the ground beyond.

There was nothing in sight that gave cause for long inspection, or that
warranted the officer's taking out his field-glasses. He could see the
line of hills back of the Chugwater Valley, and all was calm and placid.
The valley itself lay some hundreds of feet below his point of
observation, and beginning far off to his left ran northeastward until
one of its branches crossed the trail along which the troop was riding.

Returning to his party, the lieutenant's eye was attracted, for the
fifth or sixth time since they had left Lodge Pole, by little gleams and
flashes of light off in the distance, and he muttered, in a somewhat
disparaging manner, to some of the members of his own troop,--

"Now, what the dickens can those men be carrying to make such a streak
as that? One would suppose that Arizona would have taken all the
nonsense out of 'em, but that glimmer must come from bright bits or
buckles, or something of the kind, for we haven't a sabre with us. What
makes those little flashes, sergeant?" he asked, impatiently.

"It's some of the tin canteens, sir. The cloth is all worn off a dozen
of 'em, and when the moonlight strikes 'em it makes a flash almost like
a mirror."

"Indeed it does, and would betray our coming miles away of a moonlit
night. We'll drop all those things at Laramie. Hullo! Mount, men,
lively!"

The young officer and his party suddenly sprang to saddle. A clatter of
distant hoofs was heard rapidly approaching along the hard-beaten road.
Nearer, nearer they came at tearing gallop. The lieutenant rode
cautiously forward to where he could peer over the crest.

"Somebody riding like mad!" he muttered. "Hatless and demoralized. Who
comes _there_?" he shouted aloud. "Halt, whoever you are!"

Pulling up a panting horse, pale, wide-eyed, almost exhausted, a young
ranchman rode into the midst of the group. It was half a minute before
he could speak. When at last he recovered breath, it was a marvellous
tale that he told.

"The Chug's crammed with Indians. They've killed all down at Phillips's,
and got all around Farron's,--hundreds of 'em. Sergeant Wells tried to
run away with Jessie, but they cut him off, and he'd have been killed
and Jessie captured but for me and Farron. We charged through 'em, and
got 'em back to the ranch. Then the Indians attacked us there, and there
was only four of us, and some one had to cut his way out. Wells said you
fellows were down at Lodge Pole, but he da'sn't try it. I had to." Here
"Pete" looked important, and gave his pistol-belt a hitch.

"I must 'a' killed six of 'em," he continued. "Both my revolvers empty,
and I dropped one of 'em on the trail. My hat was shot clean off my
head, but they missed me, and I got through. They chased me every inch
of the way up to a mile back over yonder. I shot the last one there. But
how many men you got?"

"About fifty," answered the lieutenant. "We'll push ahead at once. You
guide us."

"I ain't going ahead with no fifty. I tell you there's a thousand
Indians there. Where's the rest of the regiment?"

"Back at Lodge Pole. Go on, if you like, and tell them your story.
Here's the captain now."

With new and imposing additions, Pete told the story a second time.
Barely waiting to hear it through, the captain's voice rang along the
eager column,--

"Forward, trot, _march_!"

Away went the troop full tilt for the Chug, while the ranchman rode
rearward until he met the supporting squadron two hours behind. Ten
minutes after parting with their informant, the officers of "K" Troop,
well out in front of their men, caught sight of a daring horseman
sweeping at full gallop down from some high bluffs to their left and
front.

"Rides like an Indian," said the captain; "but no Sioux would come down
at us like that, waving a hat, too. By Jupiter! It's Ralph McCrea! How
are you, boy? What's wrong at the Chug?"

"Farron's surrounded, and I believe Warner's killed!" said Ralph,
breathless. "Thank God, you're here so far ahead of where I expected to
find you! We'll get there in time now;" and he turned his panting horse
and rode eagerly along by the captain's side.

"And you've not been chased? You've seen nobody?" was the lieutenant's
question.

"Nobody but a white man, worse scared than I was, who left his hat
behind when I ran upon him a mile back here."

Even in the excitement and urgent haste of the moment, there went up a
shout of laughter at the expense of Pete; but as they reached the next
divide, and got another look well to the front, the laughter gave place
to the grinding of teeth and muttered malediction. A broad glare was in
the northern sky, and smoke and flame were rolling up from the still
distant valley of the Chug, and now the word was "Gallop!"

Fifteen minutes of hard, breathless riding followed. Horses snorted and
plunged in eager race with their fellows; officers warned even as they
galloped, "Steady, there! Keep back! Keep your places, men!" Bearded,
bright-eyed troopers, with teeth set hard together and straining
muscles, grasped their ready carbines, and thrust home the grim copper
cartridges. On and on, as the flaring beacon grew redder and fiercer
ahead; on and on, until they were almost at the valley's edge, and then
young Ralph, out at the front with the veteran captain, panted to him,
in wild excitement that he strove manfully to control,--

"Now keep well over to the left, captain! I know the ground well. It's
all open. We can sweep down from behind that ridge, and they'll never
look for us or think of us till we're right among them. Hear them yell!"

"Ay, ay, Ralph! Lead the way. Ready now, men!" He turned in his saddle.
"Not a word till I order 'Charge!' Then yell all you want to."

Down into the ravine they thunder; round the moonlit slope they sweep;
swift they gallop through the shadows of the eastward bluffs; nearer and
nearer they come, manes and tails streaming in the night wind; horses
panting hard, but never flagging.

Listen! Hear those shots and yells and war-whoops! Listen to the hideous
crackling of the flames! Mark the vengeful triumph in those savage
howls! Already the fire has leaped from the sheds to the rough
shingling. The last hope of the sore-besieged is gone.

Then, with sudden blare of trumpet, with ringing cheer, with thundering
hoof and streaming pennon and thrilling rattle of carbine and pistol;
with one magnificent, triumphant burst of speed the troop comes whirling
out from the covert of the bluff and sweeps all before it down the
valley.

Away go Sioux and Cheyenne; away, yelling shrill warning, go warrior and
chief; away, down stream, past the stiffening form of the brave fellow
they killed; away past the station where the loop-holes blaze with
rifle-shots and ring with exultant cheers; away across the road and down
the winding valley, and so far to the north and the sheltering arms of
the reservation,--and one more Indian raid is over.

But at the ranch, while willing hands were dashing water on the flames,
Ralph and the lieutenant sprang inside the door-way just as Farron
lifted from a deep, cellar-like aperture in the middle of the floor a
sobbing yet wonderfully happy little maiden. She clung to him
hysterically, as he shook hands with one after another of the few
rescuers who had time to hurry in.

Wells, with bandaged head and arm, was sitting at his post, his "Henry"
still between his knees, and he looked volumes of pride and delight into
his young friend's sparkling eyes. Pete, of course, was nowhere to be
seen. Jake, with a rifle-bullet through his shoulder, was grinning pale
gratification at the troopers who came in, and then there was a moment's
silence as the captain entered.

Farron stepped forward and held forth his hand. Tears were starting from
his eyes.

"You've saved me and my little girl, captain. I never can thank you
enough."

"Bosh! Never mind us. Where's Ralph McCrea? There's the boy you can
thank for it all. _He_ led us!"

And though hot blushes sprang to the youngster's cheeks, and he, too,
would have disclaimed any credit for the rescue, the soldiers would not
have it so. 'Twas Ralph who dared that night-ride to bring the direful
news; 'twas Ralph who guided them by the shortest, quickest route, and
was with the foremost in the charge. And so, a minute after, when Farron
unclasped little Jessie's arms from about his own neck, he whispered in
her ear,--

"'Twas Ralph who saved us, baby. You must thank him for me, too."

And so, just as the sun was coming up, the little girl with big, dark
eyes whom we saw sitting in the railway station at Cheyenne, waiting
wearily and patiently for her father's coming, and sobbing her relief
and joy when she finally caught sight of Ralph, was once more nestling a
tear-wet face to his and clasping him in her little arms, and thanking
him with all her loyal, loving heart for the gallant rescue that had
come to them just in time.

Four days later there was a gathering at Laramie. The general had come;
the Fifth were there in camp, and a group of officers had assembled on
the parade after the brief review of the command. The general turned
from his staff, and singled out a captain of cavalry who stood close at
hand.

"McCrea, I want to see that boy of yours. Where is he?"

An orderly sped away to the group of spectators and returned with a
silent and embarrassed youth, who raised his hat respectfully, but said
no word. The general stepped forward and held out both his hands.

"I'm proud to shake hands with you, young gentleman. I've heard all
about you from the Fifth. You ought to go to West Point and be a cavalry
officer."

"There's nothing I so much wish, general," stammered Ralph, with beaming
eyes and burning cheeks.

"Then we'll telegraph his name to Washington this very day, gentlemen. I
was asked to designate some young man for West Point who thoroughly
deserved it, and is not this appointment well won?"



FROM "THE POINT" TO THE PLAINS.



CHAPTER I.

A CADET'S SISTER.


She was standing at the very end of the forward deck, and, with flushing
cheeks and sparkling eyes, gazing eagerly upon the scene before her.
Swiftly, smoothly rounding the rugged promontory on the right, the
steamer was just turning into the highland "reach" at Fort Montgomery
and heading straight away for the landings on the sunset shore. It was
only mid-May, but the winter had been mild, the spring early, and now
the heights on either side were clothed in raiment of the freshest,
coolest green; the vines were climbing in luxuriant leaf all over the
face of the rocky scarp that hemmed the swirling tide of the Hudson; the
radiance of the evening sunshine bathed all the eastern shores in mellow
light and left the dark slopes and deep gorges of the opposite range all
the deeper and darker by contrast. A lively breeze had driven most of
the passengers within doors as they sped through the broad waters of the
Tappan Zee, but, once within the sheltering traverses of Dunderberg and
the heights beyond, many of their number reappeared upon the promenade
deck, and first among them was the bonnie little maid now clinging to
the guard-rail at the very prow, and, heedless of fluttering skirt or
fly-away curl, watching with all her soul in her bright blue eyes for
the first glimpse of the haven where she would be. No eyes on earth look
so eagerly for the grim, gray _façade_ of the riding-hall or the domes
and turrets of the library building as those of a girl who has spent the
previous summer at West Point.

Utterly absorbed in her watch, she gave no heed to other passengers who
presently took their station close at hand. One was a tall, dark-eyed,
dark-haired young lady in simple and substantial travelling-dress. With
her were two men in tweeds and Derby hats, and to these companions she
constantly turned with questions as to prominent objects in the rich and
varied landscape. It was evident that she was seeing for the first time
sights that had been described to her time and again, for she was
familiar with every name. One of the party was a man of over fifty
years,--bronzed of face and gray of hair, but with erect carriage and
piercing black eyes that spoke of vigor, energy, and probably of a life
in the open air. It needed not the tri-colored button of the Loyal
Legion in the lapel of his coat to tell that he was a soldier. Any one
who chose to look--and there were not a few--could speedily have seen,
too, that these were father and daughter.

The other man was still taller than the dark, wiry, slim-built soldier,
but in years he was not more than twenty-eight or nine. His eyes, brows,
hair, and the heavy moustache that drooped over his mouth were all of a
dark, soft brown. His complexion was clear and ruddy; his frame powerful
and athletic. Most of the time he stood a silent but attentive listener
to the eager talk between the young lady and her father, but his kindly
eyes rarely left her face; he was ready to respond when she turned to
question him, and when he spoke it was with the unmistakable intonation
of the South.

The deep, mellow tones of the bell were booming out their landing signal
as the steamer shot into the shadow of a high, rocky cliff. Far aloft on
the overhanging piazzas of a big hotel, fluttering handkerchiefs greeted
the passengers on the decks below. Many eyes were turned thither in
recognition of the salute, but not those of the young girl at the bow.
One might, indeed, have declared her resentful of this intermediate
stop. The instant the gray walls of the riding-school had come into view
she had signalled, eagerly, with a wave of her hand, to a gentleman and
lady seated in quiet conversation under the shelter of the deck.
Presently the former, a burly, broad-shouldered man of forty or
thereabouts, came sauntering forward and stood close behind her.

"Well, Nan! Most there, I see. Think you can hold on five minutes
longer, or shall I toss you over and let you swim for it?"

For answer Miss Nan clasps a wooden pillar in her gray-gloved hands, and
tilts excitedly on the toes of her tiny boots, never once relaxing her
gaze on the dock a mile or more away up-stream.

"Just think of being so near Willy--and all of them--and not seeing one
to speak to until after parade," she finally says.

"Simply inhuman!" answers her companion with commendable gravity, but
with humorous twinkle about his eyes. "Is it worth all the long
journey, and all the excitement in which your mother tells me you've
been plunged for the past month?"

"Worth it, Uncle Jack?" and the blue eyes flash upon him indignantly.
"Worth it? You wouldn't ask if you knew it all, as I do."

"Possibly not," says Uncle Jack, whimsically. "I haven't the advantage
of being a girl with a brother and a baker's dozen of beaux in bell
buttons and gray. I'm only an old fossil of a 'cit,' with a scamp of a
nephew and that limited conception of the delights of West Point which
one can derive from running up there every time that versatile youngster
gets into a new scrape. You'll admit my opportunities have been
frequent."

"It isn't Willy's fault, and you know it, Uncle Jack, though we all know
how good you've been; but he's had more bad luck and--and--injustice
than any cadet in the corps. Lots of his classmates told me so."

"Yes," says Uncle Jack, musingly. "That is what your blessed mother,
yonder, wrote me when I went up last winter, the time Billy submitted
that explanation to the commandant with its pleasing reference to the
fox that had lost its tail--you doubtless recall the incident--and came
within an ace of dismissal in consequence."

"I don't care!" interrupts Miss Nan, with flashing eyes. "Will had
provocation enough to say much worse things; Jimmy Frazer wrote me so,
and said the whole class was sticking up for him."

"I do not remember having had the honor of meeting Jimmy Frazer,"
remarks Uncle Jack, with an aggravating drawl that is peculiar to him.
"Possibly he was one of the young gentlemen who didn't call, owing to
some temporary impediment in the way of light prison----"

"Yes; and all because he took Will's part, as I believe," is the
impetuous reply. "Oh! I'll be so thankful when they're out of it all."

"So will they, no doubt. 'Sticking up'--wasn't that Mr. Frazer's
expression?--for Bill seems to have been an expensive luxury all round.
Wonder if sticking up is something they continue when they get to their
regiments? Billy has two or three weeks yet in which to ruin his chances
of ever reaching one, and he has exhibited astonishing aptitude for
tripping himself up thus far."

"Uncle Jack! How can you speak so of Willy, when he is so devoted to
you? When he gets to his regiment there won't be any Lieutenant Lee to
nag and worry him night and day. _He's_ the cause of all the trouble."

"That so?" drawls Uncle Jack. "I didn't happen to meet Mr. Lee,
either,--he was away on leave; but as Bill and your mother had some such
views, I looked into things a bit. It appears to be a matter of record
that my enterprising nephew had more demerit before the advent of Mr.
Lee than since. As for 'extras' and confinements, his stock was always
big enough to bear the market down to bottom prices."

The boat is once more under way, and a lull in the chat close at hand
induces Uncle Jack to look about him. The younger of the two men lately
standing with the dark-eyed girl has quietly withdrawn, and is now
shouldering his way to a point out of ear-shot. There he calmly turns
and waits; his glance again resting upon her whose side he has so
suddenly quitted. She has followed him with her eyes until he stops;
then with heightened color resumes a low-toned chat with her father.
Uncle Jack is a keen observer, and his next words are inaudible except
to his niece.

"Nan, my child, I apprehend that remarks upon the characteristics of the
officers at the Point had best be confined to the bosom of the family.
We may be in their very midst."

She turns, flushing, and for the first time her blue eyes meet the dark
ones of the older girl. Her cheeks redden still more, and she whirls
about again.

"I can't help it, Uncle Jack," she murmurs. "I'd just like to tell them
all what I think of Will's troubles."

"Oh! Candor is to be admired of all things," says Uncle Jack, airily.
"Still it is just as well to observe the old adage, 'Be sure you're
right,' etc. Now _I_ own to being rather fond of Bill, despite all the
worry he has given your mother, and all the bother he has been to
me----"

"All the worry that others have given _him_, you ought to say, Uncle
Jack."

"W-e-ll, har-d-ly. It didn't seem to me that the corps, as a rule,
thought Billy the victim of persecution."

"They all tell _me_ so, at least," is the indignant outburst.

"Do they, Nan? Well, of course, that settles it. Still, there were a few
who reluctantly admitted having other views when I pressed them
closely."

"Then they were no friends of Willy's, or mine either!"

"Now, do you know, I thought just the other way? I thought one of them,
especially, a very stanch friend of Billy's and yours, too, Nan, but
Billy seems to consider advisers in the light of adversaries."

A moment's pause. Then, with cheeks still red, and plucking at the rope
netting with nervous fingers, Miss Nan essays a tentative. Her eyes are
downcast as she asks,--

"I suppose you mean Mr. Stanley?"

"The very man, Nanette; very much of a man to my thinking."

The bronzed soldier standing near cannot but have heard the name and the
words. His face takes on a glow and the black eyes kindle.

"Mr. Stanley would not say to _me_ that Willy is to blame," pouts the
maiden, and her little foot is beating impatiently tattoo on the deck.

"Neither would I--just now--if I were Mr. Stanley; but all the same, he
decidedly opposed the view that Mr. Lee was 'down on Billy,' as your
mother seems to think."

"That's because Mr. Lee is tactical officer commanding the company, and
Mr. Stanley is cadet captain. Oh! I will take him to task if he has
been--been----"

But she does not finish. She has turned quickly in speaking, her hand
clutching a little knot of bell buttons hanging by a chain at the front
of her dress. She has turned just in time to catch a warning glance in
Uncle Jack's twinkling eyes, and to see a grim smile lurking under the
gray moustache of the gentleman with the Loyal Legion button who is
leading away the tall young lady with the dark hair. In another moment
they have rejoined the third member of their party,--he who first
withdrew,--and it is evident that something has happened which gives
them all much amusement. They are chatting eagerly together, laughing
not a little, although the laughter, like their words, is entirely
inaudible to Miss Nan. But she feels a twinge of indignation when the
tall girl turns and looks directly at her. There is nothing unkindly in
the glance. There even is merriment in the dark, handsome eyes and
lurking among the dimples around that beautiful mouth. Why did those
eyes--so heavily fringed, so thickly shaded--seem to her familiar as old
friends? Nan could have vowed she had somewhere met that girl before,
and now that girl was laughing at her. Not rudely, not aggressively, to
be sure,--she had turned away again the instant she saw that the little
maiden's eyes were upon her,--but all the same, said Nan to herself, she
_was_ laughing. They were all laughing, and it must have been because of
her outspoken defence of Brother Will and equally outspoken defiance of
his persecutors. What made it worse was that Uncle Jack was laughing
too.

"Do you know who they are?" she demands, indignantly.

"Not I, Nan," responds Uncle Jack. "Never saw them before in my life,
but I warrant we see them again, and at the Point, too. Come, child.
There's our bell, and we must start for the gangway. Your mother is
hailing us now. Never mind this time, little woman," he continues,
kindly, as he notes the cloud on her brow. "I don't think any harm has
been done, but it is just as well not to be impetuous in public speech.
Ah! I thought so. They are to get off here with us."

Three minutes more and a little stream of passengers flows out upon the
broad government dock, and, as luck would have it, Uncle Jack and his
charges are just behind the trio in which, by this time, Miss Nan is
deeply, if not painfully, interested. A soldier in the undress uniform
of a corporal of artillery hastens forward and, saluting, stretches
forth his hand to take the satchel carried by the tall man with the
brown moustache.

"The lieutenant's carriage is at the gate," he says, whereat Uncle Jack,
who is conducting her mother just in front, looks back over his shoulder
and nods compassionately at Nan.

"Has any despatch been sent down to meet Colonel Stanley?" she hears the
tall man inquire, and this time Uncle Jack's backward glance is a
combination of mischief and concern.

"Nothing, sir, and the adjutant's orderly is here now. This is all he
brought down," and the corporal hands to the inquirer a note, the
superscription of which the young officer quickly scans; then turns and,
while his soft brown eyes light with kindly interest and he bares his
shapely head, accosts the lady on Uncle Jack's arm,--

"Pardon me, madam. This note must be for you. Mrs. McKay, is it not?"

And as her mother smiles her thanks and the others turn away, Nan's
eager eyes catch sight of Will's well-known writing. Mrs. McKay rapidly
reads it as Uncle Jack is bestowing bags and bundles in the omnibus and
feeing the acceptive porter, who now rushes back to the boat in the nick
of time.

     "Awful sorry I can't get up to the hotel to see you," says the
     note, dolorously, but by no means unexpectedly. "I'm in confinement
     and can't get a permit. Come to the officer-in-charge's office
     right after supper, and he'll let me see you there awhile.
     Stanley's officer of the day, and he'll be there to show the way.
     In haste,
                                                        WILL."

"Now _isn't_ that poor Willy's luck every time!" exclaims Miss Nan, her
blue eyes threatening to fill with tears. "I _do_ think they might let
him off the day we get here."

"Unquestionably," answers Uncle Jack, with great gravity, as he assists
the ladies into the yellow omnibus. "You duly notified the
superintendent of your impending arrival, I suppose?"

Mrs. McKay smiles quietly. Hers is a sweet and gentle face, lined with
many a trace of care and anxiety. Her brother's whimsical ways are old
acquaintances, and she knows how to treat them; but Nan is young,
impulsive, and easily teased. She flares up instantly.

"Of course we _didn't_, Uncle Jack; how utterly absurd it would sound!
But Willy knew we were coming, and _he_ must have told him when he asked
for his permit, and it does seem too hard that he was refused."

"Heartless in the last degree," says Uncle Jack, sympathetically, but
with the same suggestive drawl. "Yonder go the father and sister of the
young gentleman whom you announced your intention to castigate because
he didn't agree that Billy was being abused, Nan. You will have a chance
this very evening, won't you? He's officer of the day, according to
Billy's note, and can't escape. You'll have wound up the whole family by
tattoo. Quite a good day's work. Billy's opposers will do well to take
warning and keep out of the way hereafter," he continues, teasingly.
"Oh--ah--_corporal_!" he calls, "who was the young officer who just
drove off in the carriage with the lady and gentleman?"

"That was Lieutenant Lee, sir."

Uncle Jack turns and contemplates his niece with an expression of the
liveliest admiration. "'Pon my word, Miss Nan, you are a most
comprehensive young person. You've indeed let no guilty man escape."



CHAPTER II.

A CADET SCAPEGRACE.


The evening that opened so clear and sunshiny has clouded rapidly over.
Even as the four gray companies come "trotting" in from parade, and,
with the ease of long habit, quickly forming line in the barrack area,
some heavy rain-drops begin to fall; the drum-major has hurried his band
away; the crowd of spectators, unusually large for so early in the
season, scatters for shelter; umbrellas pop up here and there under the
beautiful trees along the western roadway; the adjutant rushes through
"delinquency list" in a style distinguishable only to his stolid, silent
audience standing immovably before him,--a long perspective of gray
uniforms and glistening white belts. The fateful book is closed with a
snap, and the echoing walls ring to the quick commands of the first
sergeants, at which the bayonets are struck from the rifle-barrels, and
the long line bursts into a living torrent sweeping into the hall-ways
to escape the coming shower.

When the battalion reappears, a few moments later, every man is in his
overcoat, and here and there little knots of upper classmen gather, and
there is eager and excited talk.

A soldierly, dark-eyed young fellow, with the red sash of the officer of
the day over his shoulder, comes briskly out of the hall of the fourth
division. The chevrons of a cadet captain are glistening on his arm, and
he alone has not donned the gray overcoat, although he has discarded the
plumed shako in deference to the coming storm; yet he hardly seems to
notice the downpour of the rain; his face is grave and his lips set and
compressed as he rapidly makes his way through the groups awaiting the
signal to "fall in" for supper.

"Stanley! O Stanley!" is the hail from a knot of classmates, and he
halts and looks about as two or three of the party hasten after him.

"What does Billy say about it?" is the eager inquiry.

"Nothing--new."

"Well, that report as good as finds him on demerit, doesn't it?"

"The next thing to it; though he has been as close to the brink before."

"But--great Scott! He has two weeks yet to run; and Billy McKay can no
more live two weeks without demerit than Patsy, here, without
'spooning.'"

Mr. Stanley's eyes look tired as he glances up from under the visor of
his forage cap. He is not as tall by half a head as the young soldiers
by whom he is surrounded.

"We were talking of his chances at dinner-time," he says, gravely.
"Billy never mentioned this break of his yesterday, and was surprised to
hear the report read out to-night. I believe he had forgotten the whole
thing."

"Who 'skinned' him?--Lee? He was there."

"I don't know; McKay says so, but there were several officers over there
at the time. It is a report he cannot get off, and it comes at a most
unlucky moment."

With this remark Mr. Stanley turns away and goes striding through the
crowded area towards the guard-house. Another moment and there is sudden
drum-beat; the gray overcoats leap into ranks; the subject of the recent
discussion--a jaunty young fellow with laughing blue eyes--comes tearing
out of the fourth division just in time to avoid a "late," and the
clamor of tenscore voices gives place to silence broken only by the
rapid calling of the rolls and the prompt "here"--"here," in response.

If ever there was a pet in the corps of cadets he lived in the person of
Billy McKay. Bright as one of his own buttons; jovial, generous,
impulsive; he had only one enemy in the battalion,--and that one, as he
had been frequently told, was himself. This, however, was a matter which
he could not at all be induced to believe. Of the Academic Board in
general, of his instructors in large measure, but of the four or five
ill-starred soldiers known as "tactical officers" in particular, Mr.
McKay entertained very decided and most unflattering opinions. He had
won his cadetship through rigid competitive examination against all
comers; he was a natural mathematician of whom a professor had said that
he "_could_ stand in the fives and _wouldn't_ stand in the forties;"
years of his boyhood spent in France had made him master of the
colloquial forms of the court language of Europe, yet a dozen classmates
who had never seen a French verb before their admission stood above him
at the end of the first term. He had gone to the first section like a
rocket and settled to the bottom of it like a stick. No subject in the
course was really hard to him, his natural aptitude enabling him to
triumph over the toughest problems. Yet he hated work, and would often
face about with an empty black-board and take a zero and a report for
neglect of studies that half an hour's application would have rendered
impossible. Classmates who saw impending danger would frequently make
stolen visits to his room towards the close of the term and profess to
be baffled by the lesson for the morrow, and Billy would promptly knock
the ashes out of the pipe he was smoking contrary to regulations and lay
aside the guitar on which he had been softly strumming--also contrary to
regulations; would pick up the neglected calculus or mechanics; get
interested in the work of explanation, and end by having learned the
lesson in spite of himself. This was too good a joke to be kept a
secret, and by the time the last year came Billy had found it all out
and refused to be longer hoodwinked.

There was never the faintest danger of his being found deficient in
studies, but there was ever the glaring prospect of his being discharged
"on demerit." Mr. McKay and the regulations of the United States
Military Academy had been at loggerheads from the start.

And yet, frank, jolly, and generous as he was in all intercourse with
his comrades, there was never a time when this young gentleman could be
brought to see that in such matters he was the arbiter of his own
destiny. Like the Irishman whose first announcement on setting foot on
American soil was that he was "agin the government," Billy McKay
believed that regulations were made only to oppress; that the men who
drafted such a code were idiots, and that those whose duty it became to
enforce it were simply spies and tyrants, resistance to whom was innate
virtue. He was forever ignoring or violating some written or unwritten
law of the Academy; was frequently being caught in the act, and was
invariably ready to attribute the resultant report to ill luck which
pursued no one else, or to a deliberate persecution which followed him
forever. Every six months he had been on the verge of dismissal, and
now, a fortnight from the final examination, with a margin of only six
demerit to run on, Mr. Billy McKay had just been read out in the daily
list of culprits or victims as "Shouting from window of barracks to
cadets in area during study hours,--three forty-five and four P.M."

There was absolutely no excuse for this performance. The regulations
enjoined silence and order in barracks during "call to quarters." It had
been raining a little, and he was in hopes there would be no battalion
drill, in which event he would venture on throwing off his uniform and
spreading himself out on his bed with a pipe and a novel,--two things he
dearly loved. Ten minutes would have decided the question legitimately
for him, but, being of impatient temperament, he could not wait, and,
catching sight of the adjutant and the senior captain coming from the
guard-house, Mr. McKay sung out in tones familiar to every man within
ear-shot,--

"Hi, Jim! Is it battalion drill?"

The adjutant glanced quickly up,--a warning glance as he could have
seen,--merely shook his head, and went rapidly on, while his comrade,
the cadet first captain, clinched his fist at the window and growled
between his set teeth, "Be quiet, you idiot!"

But poor Billy persisted. Louder yet he called,--

"Well--say--Jimmy! Come up here after four o'clock. I'll be in
confinement, and can't come out. Want to see you."

And the windows over at the office of the commandant being wide open,
and that official being seated there in consultation with three or four
of his assistants, and as Mr. McKay's voice was as well known to them as
to the corps, there was no alternative. The colonel himself "confounded"
the young scamp for his recklessness, and directed a report to be
entered against him.

And now, as Mr. Stanley is betaking himself to his post at the
guard-house, his heart is heavy within him because of this new load on
his comrade's shoulders.

"How on earth could you have been so careless, Billy?" he had asked him
as McKay, fuming and indignant, was throwing off his accoutrements in
his room on the second floor.

"How'd I know anybody was over there?" was the boyish reply. "It's just
a skin on suspicion anyhow. Lee couldn't have seen me, nor could anybody
else. I stood way back by the clothes-press."

"There's no suspicion about it, Billy. There isn't a man that walks the
area that doesn't know your voice as well as he does Jim Pennock's.
Confound it! You'll get over the limit yet, man, and break your--your
mother's heart."

"Oh, come now, Stan! You've been nagging me ever since last camp. Why'n
thunder can't you see I'm doing my best? Other men don't row me as you
do, or stand up for the 'tacks.' I tell you that fellow Lee never loses
a chance of skinning me: he _takes_ chances, by gad, and I'll make his
eyes pop out of his head when he reads what I've got to say about it."

"You're too hot for reason now, McKay," said Stanley, sadly. "Step out
or you'll get a late for supper. I'll see you after awhile. I gave that
note to the orderly, by the way, and he said he'd take it down to the
dock himself."

"Mother and Nan will probably come to the guard-house right after
supper. Look out for them for me, will you, Stan, until old Snipes gets
there and sends for me?"

And as Mr. Stanley shut the door instantly and went clattering down the
iron stairs, Mr. McKay caught no sign on his face of the sudden flutter
beneath that snugly-buttoned coat.

It was noticed by more than one of the little coterie at his own table
that the officer of the day hurried through his supper and left the
mess-hall long before the command for the first company to rise. It was
a matter well known to every member of the graduating class that, almost
from the day of her arrival during the encampment of the previous
summer, Phil Stanley had been a devoted admirer of Miss Nannie McKay. It
was not at all to be wondered at.

Without being what is called an ideal beauty, there was a fascination
about this winsome little maid which few could resist. She had all her
brother's impulsiveness, all his enthusiasm, and, it may be safely
asserted, all his abiding faith in the sacred and unimpeachable
character of cadet friendships. If she possessed a little streak of
romance that was not discernible in him, she managed to keep it well in
the background; and though she had her favorites in the corps, she was
so frank and cordial and joyous in her manner to all that it was
impossible to say which one, if any, she regarded in the light of a
lover. Whatever comfort her gentle mother may have derived from this
state of affairs, it was "hard lines on Stanley," as his classmates put
it, for there could be little doubt that the captain of the color
company was a sorely-smitten man.

He was not what is commonly called a "popular man" in the corps. The son
of a cavalry officer, reared on the wide frontier and educated only
imperfectly, he had not been able to enter the Academy until nearly
twenty years of age, and nothing but indomitable will and diligence had
carried him through the difficulties of the first half of the course. It
was not until the middle of the third year that the chevrons of a
sergeant were awarded him, and even then the battalion was taken by
surprise. There was no surprise a few months later, however, when he was
promoted over a score of classmates and made captain of his company. It
was an open secret that the commandant had said that if he had it all to
do over again, Mr. Stanley would be made "first captain,"--a rumor that
big John Burton, the actual incumbent of that office, did not at all
fancy. Stanley was "square" and impartial. His company was in admirable
discipline, though many of his classmates growled and wished he were not
"so confoundedly military." The second classmen, always the most
critical judges of the qualifications of their seniors, conceded that he
was more soldierly than any man of his year, but were unanimous in the
opinion that he should show more deference to men of their standing in
the corps. The "yearlings" swore by him in any discussion as to the
relative merits of the four captains; but with equal energy swore at him
when contemplating that fateful volume known as "the skin book." The
fourth classmen--the "plebes"--simply worshipped the ground he trod on,
and as between General Sherman and Philip Stanley, it is safe to say
these youngsters would have determined on the latter as the more
suitable candidate for the office of general-in-chief. Of course they
admired the adjutant,--the plebes always do that,--and not infrequently
to the exclusion of the other cadet officers; but there was something
grand, to them, about this dark-eyed, dark-faced, dignified captain who
never stooped to trifle with them; was always so precise and courteous,
and yet so immeasurably distant. They were ten times more afraid of him
than they had been of Lieutenant Rolfe, who was their "tack" during
camp, or of the great, handsome, kindly-voiced dragoon who succeeded
him, Lieutenant Lee, of the --th Cavalry. They approved of this latter
gentleman because he belonged to the regiment of which Mr. Stanley's
father was lieutenant-colonel, and to which it was understood Mr.
Stanley was to be assigned on his graduation. What they could not at all
understand was that, once graduated, Mr. Stanley could step down from
his high position in the battalion of cadets and become a mere
file-closer. Yes. Stanley was too strict and soldierly to command that
decidedly ephemeral tribute known as "popularity," but no man in the
corps of cadets was more thoroughly respected. If there were flaws in
the armor of his personal character they were not such as to be
vigorously prodded by his comrades. He had firm friends,--devoted
friends, who grew to honor and trust him more with every year; but,
strong though they knew him to be, he had found his conqueror. There was
a story in the first class that in Stanley's old leather writing-case
was a sort of secret compartment, and in this compartment was treasured
"a knot of ribbon blue" that had been worn last summer close under the
dimpled white chin of pretty Nannie McKay.

And now on this moist May evening as he hastens back to barracks, Mr.
Stanley spies a little group standing in front of the guard-house.
Lieutenant Lee is there,--in his uniform now,--and with him are the tall
girl in the simple travelling-dress, and the trim, wiry, gray-moustached
soldier whom we saw on the boat. The rain is falling steadily, which
accounts for and possibly excuses Mr. Lee's retention of the young
lady's arm in his as he holds the umbrella over both; but the colonel no
sooner catches sight of the officer of the day than his own umbrella is
cast aside, and with light, eager, buoyant steps, father and son hasten
to meet each other. In an instant their hands are clasped,--both
hands,--and through moistening eyes the veteran of years of service and
the boy in whom his hopes are centred gaze into each other's faces.

"Phil,--my son!"

"Father!"

No other words. It is the first meeting in two long years. The area is
deserted save by the smiling pair watching from under the dripping
umbrella with eyes nearly as moist as the skies. There is no one to
comment or to scoff. In the father's heart, mingling with the deep joy
at this reunion with his son, there wells up sudden, irrepressible
sorrow. "Ah, God!" he thinks. "Could his mother but have lived to see
him now!" Perhaps Philip reads it all in the strong yet tremulous clasp
of those sinewy brown hands, but for the moment neither speaks again.
There are some joys so deep, some heart longings so overpowering, that
many a man is forced to silence, or to a levity of manner which is
utterly repugnant to him, in the effort to conceal from the world the
tumult of emotion that so nearly makes him weep. Who that has read that
inimitable page will ever forget the meeting of that genial sire and
gallant son in the grimy old railway car filled with the wounded from
Antietam, in Doctor Holmes's "My Search for the Captain?"

When Phil Stanley, still clinging to his father's hand, turns to greet
his sister and her handsome escort, he is suddenly aware of another
group that has entered the area. Two ladies, marshalled by his
classmate, Mr. Pennock, are almost at his side, and one of them is the
blue-eyed girl he loves.



CHAPTER III.

"AMANTIUM IRÆ."


Lovely as is West Point in May, it is hardly the best time for a visit
there if one's object be to see the cadets. From early morn until late
at night every hour is taken up with duties, academic or military.
Mothers, sisters, and sweethearts, whose eyes so eagerly follow the
evolutions of the gray ranks, can only hope for a few words between
drill and dress parade, or else in the shortest half-hour in all the
world,--that which intervenes 'twixt supper and evening "call to
quarters." That Miss Nannie McKay should make frequent and unfavorable
comment on this state of affairs goes without saying; yet, had she been
enabled to see her beloved brother but once a month and her cadet
friends at intervals almost as rare, that incomprehensible young damsel
would have preferred the Point to any other place in the world.

It was now ten days since her arrival, and she had had perhaps three
chats with Willy, who, luckily for him, though he could not realize it,
was spending most of his time "confined to quarters," and consequently
out of much of the temptation he would otherwise have been in. Mrs.
McKay had been able to see very little more of the young man, but she
had the prayerful consolation that if he could only be kept out of
mischief a few days longer he would then be through with it all, out of
danger of dismissal, actually graduated, and once more her own boy to
monopolize as she chose.

It takes most mothers a long, long time to become reconciled to the
complete usurpation of all their former rights by this new parent whom
their boys are bound to serve,--this anything but _Alma_ Mater,--the war
school of the nation. As for Miss Nan, though she made it a point to
declaim vigorously at the fates that prevented her seeing more of her
brother, it was wonderful how well she looked and in what blithe spirits
she spent her days. Regularly as the sun came around, before guard-mount
in the morning and right after supper in the evening, she was sure to be
on the south piazza of the old hotel, and when presently the cadet
uniforms began to appear at the hedge, she, and others, would go
tripping lightly down the path to meet the wearers, and then would
follow the half-hour's walk and chat in which she found such infinite
delight. So, too, could Mr. Stanley, had he been able to appear as her
escort on all occasions; but despite his strong personal inclination and
effort, this was by no means the case. The little lady was singularly
impartial in the distribution of her time, and only by being first
applicant had he secured to himself the one long afternoon that had yet
been vouchsafed them,--the cadet half-holiday of Saturday.

But if Miss Nan found time hanging heavily on her hands at other hours
of the day, there was one young lady at the hotel who did not,--a young
lady whom, by this time, she regarded with constantly deepening
interest,--Miriam Stanley.

Other girls, younger girls, who had found their ideals in the cadet
gray, were compelled to spend hours of the twenty-four in waiting for
the too brief _half_-hour in which it was possible to meet them; but
Miss Stanley was very differently situated. It was her first visit to
the Point. She met, and was glad to meet, all Philip's friends and
comrades; but it was plainly to be seen, said all the girls at Craney's,
that between her and the tall cavalry officer whom they best knew
through cadet descriptions, there existed what they termed an
"understanding," if not an engagement. Every day, when not prevented by
duties, Mr. Lee would come stalking up from barracks, and presently away
they would stroll together,--a singularly handsome pair, as every one
admitted. One morning soon after the Stanleys' arrival he appeared in
saddle on his stylish bay, accompanied by an orderly leading another
horse, side-saddled; and then, as by common impulse, all the girls
promenading the piazzas, as was their wont, with arms entwining each
other's waists, came flocking about the south steps. When Miss Stanley
appeared in her riding-habit and was quickly swung up into saddle by her
cavalier, and then, with a bright nod and smile for the entire group,
she gathered the reins in her practised hand and rode briskly away, the
sentiments of the fair spectators were best expressed, perhaps, in the
remark of Miss McKay,--

"What a shame it is that the cadets can't ride! I mean can't
ride--_that_ way," she explained, with suggestive nod of her curly head
towards the pair just trotting out upon the road around the Plain. "They
ride--lots of them--better than most of the officers."

"Mr. Stanley for instance," suggests a mischievous little minx with
hazel eyes and laughter-loving mouth.

"Yes, Mr. Stanley, or Mr. Pennock, or Mr. Burton, or a dozen others I
could name, not excepting my brother," answers Miss Nan, stoutly,
although those readily flushing cheeks of hers promptly throw out their
signals of perturbation. "Fancy Mr. Lee vaulting over his horse at the
gallop as they do."

"And yet Mr. Lee has taught them so much more than other instructors.
Several cadets have told me so. He always does, first, everything he
requires them to do; so he must be able to make that vault."

"Will doesn't say so by any means," retorts Nannie, with something very
like a pout; and as Will is a prime favorite with the entire party and
the centre of a wide circle of interest, sympathy, and anxiety in those
girlish hearts, their loyalty is proof against opinions that may not
coincide with his. "Miss Mischief" reads temporary defeat in the circle
of bright faces and is stung to new effort,--

"Well! there are cadets whose opinions you value quite as much as you do
your brother's, Nannie, and they have told me."

"Who?" challenges Miss Nan, yet with averted face. Thrice of late she
has disagreed with Mr. Stanley about Willy's troubles; has said things
to him which she wishes she had left unsaid; and for two days now he has
not sought her side as heretofore, though she knows he has been at the
hotel to see his sister, and a little bird has told her he had a long
talk with this same hazel-eyed girl. She wants to know more about
it,--yet does not want to ask.

"Phil Stanley, for one," is the not unexpected answer.

Somebody who appears to know all about it has written that when a girl
is beginning to feel deep interest in a man she will say things
decidedly detrimental to his character solely for the purpose of having
them denied and for the pleasure of hearing him defended. Is it this
that prompts Miss McKay to retort?--

"Mr. Stanley cares too little what his classmates think, and too much of
what Mr. Lee may say or do."

"Mr. Stanley isn't the only one who thinks a deal of Lieutenant Lee," is
the spirited answer. "Mr. Burton says he is the most popular tactical
officer here, and many a cadet--good friends of your brother's,
Nannie--has said the same thing. You don't like him because Will
doesn't."

"I wouldn't like or respect any officer who reports cadets on
suspicion," is the stout reply. "If he did that to any one else I would
despise it as much as I do because Willy is the victim."

The discussion is waxing hot. "Miss Mischief's" blood is up. She likes
Phil Stanley; she likes Mr. Lee; she has hosts of friends in the corps,
and she is just as loyal and quite as pronounced in her views as her
little adversary. They are fond of each other, too, and were great chums
all through the previous summer; but there is danger of a quarrel
to-day.

"I don't think you are just in that matter at all, Nannie. I have heard
cadets say that if they had been in Mr. Lee's place or on
officer-of-the-day duty they would have had to give Will that report you
take so much to heart. Everybody knows his voice. Half the corps heard
him call out to Mr. Pennock."

"I don't believe a single cadet who's a friend of Will's would say such
a thing," bursts in Miss Nan, her eyes blazing.

"He is a friend, and a warm friend, too."

"You said there were several, Kitty, and I don't believe it possible."

"Well. There were two or three. If you don't believe it, you can ask Mr.
Stanley. _He_ said it, and the others agreed."

Fancy the mood in which she meets him this particular evening, when his
card was brought to her door. Twice has "Miss Mischief" essayed to enter
the room and "make up." Conscience has been telling her savagely that in
the impulse and sting of the moment she has given an unfair coloring to
the whole matter. Mr. Stanley had volunteered no such remark as that she
so vehemently quoted. Asked point blank whether he considered as given
"on suspicion" the report which Mrs. McKay and Nannie so resented, he
replied that he did not; and, when further pressed, he said that Will
alone was blamable in the matter: Mr. Lee had no alternative, if it was
Mr. Lee who gave the report, and any other officer would have been
compelled to do the same. All this "Miss Mischief" would gladly have
explained to Nannie could she have gained admission, but the latter "had
a splitting headache," and begged to be excused.

It has been such a lovely afternoon. The halls were filled with cadets
"on permit," when she came out from the dining-room, but nothing but
ill-luck seemed to attend her. The young gentleman who had invited her
to walk to Fort Putnam, most provokingly twisted an ankle at cavalry
drill that very morning, and was sent to hospital. _Now_, if Mr. Stanley
were all devotion, he would promptly tender his services as substitute.
Then she could take him to task and punish him for his disloyalty to
Will. But Mr. Stanley was not to be seen: "Gone off with another girl,"
was the announcement made to her by Mr. Werrick, a youth who dearly
loved a joke, and who saw no need of explaining that the other girl was
his own sister. Sorely disappointed, yet hardly knowing why, she
accepted her mother's invitation to go with her to the barracks where
Will was promenading the area on what Mr. Werrick called "one of his
perennial punishment tours." She went, of course; but the distant sight
of poor Will, duly equipped as a sentry, dismally tramping up and down
the asphalt, added fuel to the inward fire that consumed her. The
mother's heart, too, yearned over her boy,--a victim to cruel
regulations and crueler task-masters. "What was the use of the
government's enticing young men away from their comfortable homes," Mrs.
McKay had once indignantly written, "unless it could make them happy?"
It was a question the "tactical department" could not answer, but it
thought volumes.

But now evening had come, and with it Mr. Stanley's card. Nan's heart
gave a bound, but she went down-stairs with due deliberation. She had
his card in her hand as she reached the hall, and was twisting it in her
fingers. Yes. There he stood on the north piazza, Pennock with him, and
one or two others of the graduating class. They were chatting laughingly
with Miss Stanley, "Miss Mischief," a bevy of girls, and a matron or
two, but she knew well his eyes would be on watch for her. They were. He
saw her instantly; bowed, smiled, but, to her surprise, continued his
conversation with a lady seated near the door. What could it mean?
Irresolute she stood there a moment, waiting for him to come forward;
but though she saw that twice his eyes sought hers, he was still bending
courteously and listening to the voluble words of the somewhat elderly
dame who claimed his attention. Nan began to rebel against that woman
from the bottom of her heart. What was she to do? Here was his card. In
response she had come down to receive him. She meant to be very cool
from the first moment; to provoke him to inquiry as to the cause of such
unusual conduct, and then to upbraid him for his disloyalty to her
brother. She certainly meant that he should feel the weight of her
displeasure; but then--then--after he had been made to suffer, if he was
properly contrite, and said so, and looked it, and begged to be
forgiven, why then, perhaps she might be brought to condone it in a
measure and be good friends again. It was clearly his duty, however, to
come and greet her, not hers to go to the laughing group. The old lady
was the only one among them whom she did not know,--a new arrival. Just
then Miss Stanley looked round, saw her, and signalled smilingly to her
to come and join them. Slowly she walked towards the little party, still
twirling the card in her taper fingers.

"Looking for anybody, Nan?" blithely hails "Miss Mischief." "Who is it?
I see you have his card."

For once Nannie's voice fails her, and she knows not what to say. Before
she can frame an answer there is a rustle of skirts and a light
foot-fall behind her, and she hears the voice of a girl whom she never
has liked one bit.

"Oh! You're here, are you, Mr. Stanley! Why, I've been waiting at least
a quarter of an hour. Did you send up your card?"

"I did; full ten minutes ago. Was it not brought to your room?"

"No, indeed! I've been sitting there writing, and only came down because
I had promised Mr. Fearn that he should have ten minutes, and it is
nearly his time now. Where do you suppose they could have sent it?"

Poor little Nan! It has been a hard day for her, but this is just too
much. She turns quickly, and, hardly knowing whither she goes, dodges
past the party of cadets and girls now blocking the stairway and
preventing flight to her room, hurries out the south door and around to
the west piazza, and there, leaning against a pillar, is striving to
hide her blazing cheeks,--all in less than a minute.

Stanley sees through the entire situation with the quick intuition of a
lover. She has not treated him kindly of late. She has been capricious
and unjust on several occasions, but there is no time to think of that
now. She is in distress, and that is more than enough for him.

"Here comes Mr. Fearn himself to claim his walk, so I will go and find
out about the card," he says, and blesses that little rat of a bell-boy
as he hastens away.

Out on the piazza he finds her alone, yet with half a dozen people
hovering nigh. The hush of twilight is over the beautiful old Point. The
moist breath of the coming night, cool and sweet, floats down upon them
from the deep gorges on the rugged flank of Cro' Nest, and rises from
the thickly lacing branches of the cedars on the river-bank below. A
flawless mirror in its grand and reflected framework of cliff and crag
and beetling precipice, the Hudson stretches away northward unruffled by
the faintest cat's-paw of a breeze. Far beyond the huge black
battlements of Storm King and the purpled scaur of Breakneck the night
lights of the distant city are twinkling through the gathering darkness,
and tiny dots of silvery flame down in the cool depths beneath them
reflect the faint glimmer from the cloudless heaven where--

     "The sentinel stars set their watch in the sky."

The hush of the sacred hour has fallen on every lip save those of the
merry party in the hall, where laugh and chatter and flaring gas-light
bid defiance to influences such as hold their sway over souls brought
face to face with Nature in this, her loveliest haunt on earth.

Phil Stanley's heart is throbbing as he steps quickly to her side. Well,
indeed, she knows his foot-fall; knows he is coming; almost knows _why_
he comes. She is burning with a sense of humiliation, wounded pride,
maidenly wrath, and displeasure. All day long everything has gone agley.
Could she but flee to her room and hide her flaming cheeks and cry her
heart out, it would be relief inexpressible, but her retreat is cut off.
She cannot escape. She cannot face those keen-eyed watchers in the
hall-ways. Oh! it is almost maddening that she should have been so--so
fooled! Every one must know she came down to meet Phil Stanley when his
card was meant for another girl,--that girl of all others! All aflame
with indignation as she is, she yet means to freeze him if she can only
control herself.

"Miss Nannie," he murmurs, quick and low, "I see that a blunder has been
made, but I don't believe the others saw it. Give me just a few minutes.
Come down the walk with me. I cannot talk with you here--now, and there
is so much I want to say." He bends over her pleadingly, but her eyes
are fixed far away up the dark wooded valley beyond the white shafts of
the cemetery, gleaming in the first beams of the rising moon. She makes
no reply for a moment. She does not withdraw them when finally she
answers, impressively,--

"Thank you, Mr. Stanley, but I must be excused from interfering with
your engagements."

"There is no engagement now," he promptly replies; "and I greatly want
to speak with you. Have you been quite kind to me of late? Have I not a
right to know what has brought about the change?"

"You do not seem to have sought opportunity to inquire,"--very cool and
dignified now.

"Pardon me. Three times this week I have asked for a walk, and you have
had previous engagements."

She has torn to bits and thrown away the card that was in her hand. Now
she is tugging at the bunch of bell buttons, each graven with the
monogram of some cadet friend, that hangs as usual by its tiny golden
chain. She wants to say that he has found speedy consolation in the
society of "that other girl" of whom Mr. Werrick spoke, but not for the
world would she seem jealous.

"You could have seen me this afternoon, had there been any matters you
wished explained," she says. "I presume you were more agreeably
occupied."

"I find no delight in formal visits," he answers, quietly; "but my
sister wished to return calls and asked me to show her about the post."

Then it was his sister. Not "that other girl!" Still she must not let
him see it makes her glad. She needs a pretext for her wrath. She must
make him feel it in some way. This is not at all in accordance with the
mental private rehearsals she has been having. There is still that
direful matter of Will's report for "shouting from window of barracks,"
and "Miss Mischief's" equally direful report of Mr. Stanley's remarks
thereon.

"I thought you were a loyal friend of Willy's," she says, turning
suddenly upon him.

"I was--and am," he answers simply.

"And yet I'm told you said it was all his own fault, and that you
yourself would have given him the report that so nearly 'found him on
demerit.' A report on suspicion, too," she adds, with scorn in her tone.

Mr. Stanley is silent a moment.

"You have heard a very unfair account of my words," he says at last. "I
have volunteered no opinions on the subject. In answer to direct
question I have said that it was not justifiable to call that a report
on suspicion."

"But you said you would have given it yourself."

"I said that, as officer of the day, I would have been compelled to do
so. I could not have signed my certificate otherwise."

She turns away in speechless indignation. What makes it all well-nigh
intolerable is that he is by no means on the defensive. He is patient,
gentle, but decidedly superior. Not at all what she wanted. Not at all
eager to explain, argue, or implore. Not at all the tearful penitent she
has pictured in her plans. She must bring him to a realizing sense of
the enormity of his conduct. Disloyalty to Will is treason to her.

"And yet--you say you have kept, and that you value, that knot of blue
ribbon that I gave you--or that you took--last summer. I did not suppose
that you would so soon prove to be--no friend to Willy, or----"

"Or what, Miss Nannie?" he asks. His face is growing white, but he
controls the tremor in his voice. She does not see. Her eyes are
downcast and her face averted now, but she goes on desperately.

"Well, never mind _that_ now; but it seems to me that such friendship
is--simply worthless."

She has taken the plunge and said her say, but the last words are spoken
with sinking inflection, followed instantly by a sinking heart. He makes
no answer whatever. She dares not look up into his face to see the
effect of her stab. He stands there silent only an instant; then raises
his cap, turns, and leaves her.

Sunday comes and goes without a sight of him except in the line of
officers at parade. That night she goes early to her room, and on the
bureau finds a little box securely tied, sealed, and addressed to her in
his well-known hand. It contains a note and some soft object carefully
wrapped in tissue-paper. The note is brief enough:

"It is not easy to part with this, for it is all I have that was yours
to give, but even this must be returned to you after what you said last
night.

"Miss Nannie, you may some time think more highly of my friendship for
your brother than you do now, and then, perhaps, will realize that you
were very unjust. Should that time come I shall be glad to have this
again."

It was hardly necessary to open the little packet as she did. She knew
well enough it could contain only that

     "Knot of ribbon blue."



CHAPTER IV.

"THE WOMAN TEMPTED ME."


June is here. The examinations are in full blast. The Point is thronged
with visitors and every hostelrie in the neighborhood has opened wide
its doors to accommodate the swarms of people interested in the
graduating exercises and eager for the graduating ball. Pretty girls
there are in force, and at Craney's they are living three and four in a
room; the joy of being really there on the Point, near the cadets,
aroused by the morning gun and shrill piping of the reveille, saluted
hourly by the notes of the bugle, enabled to see the gray uniforms half
a dozen times a day and to actually speak or walk with the wearers half
an hour out of twenty-four whole ones, being apparent compensation for
any crowding or discomfort. Indeed, crowded as they are, the girls at
Craney's are objects of boundless envy to those whom the Fates have
consigned to the resorts down around the picturesque but distant
"Falls." There is a little coterie at "Hawkshurst" that is fiercely
jealous of the sisterhood in the favored nook at the north edge of the
Plain, and one of their number, who is believed to have completely
subjugated that universal favorite, Cadet McKay, has been heard to say
that she thought it an outrage that they had to come home so early in
the evening and mope away the time without a single cadet, when up there
at Craney's the halls and piazzas were full of gray-coats and bell
buttons every night until tattoo.

A very brilliant and pretty girl she is, too, and neither Mrs. McKay nor
Nannie can wonder at it that Will's few leisure moments are monopolized.
"You are going to have me all to yourself next week, little mother," he
laughingly explains; "and goodness knows when I'm going to see Miss
Waring again." And though neither mother nor sister is at all satisfied
with the state of affairs, both are too unselfish to interpose. How many
an hour have mothers and, sometimes, sisters waited in loneliness at the
old hotel for boys whom some other fellow's sister was holding in silken
fetters somewhere down in shady "Flirtation!"

It was with relief inexpressible that Mrs. McKay and Uncle Jack had
hailed the coming of the 1st of June. With a margin of only two demerits
Will had safely weathered the reefs and was practically safe,--safe at
last. He had passed brilliantly in engineering; had been saved by his
prompt and ready answers the consequences of a "fess" with clean
black-board in ordnance and gunnery; had won a ringing, though
involuntary, round of applause from the crowded galleries of the
riding-hall by daring horsemanship, and he was now within seven days of
the prized diploma and his commission. "For heaven's sake, Billy,"
pleaded big Burton, the first captain, "don't do any thing to ruin your
chances now! I've just been talking with your mother and Miss Nannie,
and I declare I never saw that little sister of yours looking so white
and worried."

McKay laughs, yet his laugh is not light-hearted. He wonders if Burton
has the faintest intuition that at this moment he is planning an
escapade that means nothing short of dismissal if detected. Down in the
bottom of his soul he knows he is a fool to have made the rash and
boastful pledge to which he now stands committed. Yet he has never
"backed out" before, and now--he would dare a dozen dismissals rather
than that she should have a chance to say, "I knew you would not come."

That very afternoon, just after the ride in the hall before the Board of
Visitors, Miss Waring had been pathetically lamenting that with another
week they were to part, and that she had seen next to nothing of him
since her arrival.

"If you only _could_ get down to Hawkshurst!" she cried. "I'm sure when
my cousin Frank was in the corps he used to 'run it' down to Cozzens's
to see Cousin Kate,--and that was what made her Cousin Kate to me," she
adds, with sudden dropping of the eyelids that is wondrously effective.

"Easily done!" recklessly answers McKay, whose boyish heart is set to
hammer-like beating by the closing sentence. "I didn't know you sat up
so late there, or I would have come before. Of course I _have_ to be
here at 'taps.' No one can escape that."

"Oh,--but really, Mr. McKay, I did not mean it! I would not have you run
such a risk for worlds! I meant--some other way." And so she protests,
although her eyes dance with excitement and delight. What a feather this
in her cap of coquetry! What a triumph over the other girls,--especially
that hateful set at Craney's! What a delicious confidence to impart to
all the little coterie at Hawkshurst! How they must envy her the
romance, the danger, the daring, the devotion of such an adventure--for
her sake! Of late years such tales had been rare. Girls worth the
winning simply would not permit so rash a project, and their example
carried weight. But here at "Hawkshurst" was a lively young brood,
chaperoned by a matron as wild as her charges and but little older, and
eager one and all for any glory or distinction that could pique the
pride or stir the envy of "that Craney set." It was too much for a girl
of Sallie Waring's type. Her eyes have a dangerous gleam, her cheeks a
witching glow; she clings tighter to his arm as she looks up in his
face.

"And yet--wouldn't it be lovely?--To think of seeing you there!--are you
sure there'd be no danger?"

"Be on the north piazza about quarter of eleven," is the prompt reply.
"I'll wear a dark suit, eye-glass, brown moustache, etc. Call me Mr.
Freeman while strangers are around. There goes the parade drum. _Au
revoir!_" and he darts away. Cadet Captain Stanley, inspecting his
company a few moments later, stops in front and gravely rebukes him,--

"You are not properly shaved, McKay."

"I shaved this morning," is the somewhat sullen reply, while an angry
flush shoots up towards the blue eyes.

"No razor has touched your upper lip, however, and I expect the class to
observe regulations in this company, demerit or no demerit," is the
firm, quiet answer, and the young captain passes on to the next man.
McKay grits his teeth.

"Only a week more of it, thank God!" he mutters, when sure that Stanley
is beyond ear-shot.

Three hours more and "taps" is sounded. All along the brilliant _façade_
of barracks there is sudden and simultaneous "dousing of the glim" and a
rush of the cadets to their narrow nests. There is a minute of banging
doors and hurrying footsteps, and gruff queries of "All in?" as the
cadet officers flit from room to room in each division to see that
lights are out and every man in bed. Then forth they come from every
hall-way; tripping lightly down the stone steps and converging on the
guard-house, where stand at the door-way the dark forms of the officer
in charge and the cadet officer of the day. Each in turn halts, salutes,
and makes his precise report; and when the last subdivision is reported,
the executive officer is assured that the battalion of cadets is present
in barracks, and at the moment of inspection at least, in bed.
Presumably, they remain so.

Two minutes after inspection, however, Mr. McKay is out of bed again and
fumbling about in his alcove. His room-mate sleepily inquires from
beyond the partition what he wants in the dark, but is too long
accustomed to his vagaries to expect definite information. When Mr.
McKay slips softly out into the hall, after careful _reconnaissance_ of
the guard-house windows, his chum is soundly asleep and dreaming of no
worse freak on Billy's part than a raid around barracks.

It is so near graduation that the rules are relaxed, and in every first
classman's room the tailor's handiwork is hanging among the gray
uniforms. It is a dark suit of this civilian dress that Billy dons as
he emerges from the blankets. A natty Derby is perched upon his curly
pate, and a _monocle_ hangs by its string. But he cannot light his gas
and arrange the soft brown moustache with which he proposes to decorate
his upper lip. He must run into Stanley's,--the "tower" room, at the
north end of his hall.

Phil looks up from the copy of "Military Law" which he is diligently
studying. As "inspector of subdivision," his light is burned until
eleven.

"You _do_ make an uncommonly swell young cit, Billy," he says,
pleasantly. "Doesn't he, Mack?" he continues, appealing to his
room-mate, who, lying flat on his back with his head towards the light
and a pair of muscular legs in white trousers displayed on top of a pile
of blankets, is striving to make out the vacancies in a recent Army
Register. "Mack" rolls over and lazily expresses his approval.

"I'd do pretty well if I had my moustache out; I meant to get the start
of you fellows, but you're so meanly jealous, you blocked the game,
Stan."

All the rancor is gone now. He well knows that Stanley was right.

"Sorry to have had to 'row' you about that, Billy," says the captain,
gently. "You know I can't let one man go and not a dozen others."

"Oh, hang it all! What's the difference when time's so nearly up?"
responds McKay, as he goes over to the little wood-framed mirror that
stands on the iron mantel. "Here's a substitute, though! How's this for
a moustache?" he asks, as he turns and faces them. Then he starts for
the door. Almost in an instant Stanley is up and after him. Just at the
head of the iron stairs he hails and halts him.

"Billy! You are not going out of barracks?"

Unwillingly McKay yields to the pressure of the firm hand laid on his
shoulder, and turns.

"Suppose I were, Stanley. What danger is there? Lee inspected last
night, and even he wouldn't make such a plan to trip me. Who ever heard
of a 'tack's' inspecting after taps two successive nights?"

"There's no reason why it should not be done, and several reasons why it
should," is the uncompromising reply. "Don't risk your commission now,
Billy, in any mad scheme. Come back and take those things off. Come!"

"Blatherskite! Don't hang on to me like a pick-pocket, Stan. Let me go,"
says McKay, half vexed, half laughing. "I've _got_ to go, man," he says,
more seriously. "I've promised."

A sudden light seems to come to Stanley. Even in the feeble gleam from
the gas-jet in the lower hall McKay can see the look of consternation
that shoots across his face.

"You don't mean--you're not going down to Hawkshurst, Billy?"

"Why not to Hawkshurst, if anywhere at all?" is the sullen reply.

"Why? Because you are risking your whole future,--your profession, your
good name, McKay. You're risking your mother's heart for the sport of a
girl who is simply toying with you----"

"Take care, Stanley. Say what you like to me about myself, but not a
word about her."

"This is no time for sentiment, McKay. I have known Miss Waring three
years; you, perhaps three weeks. I tell you solemnly that if she has
tempted you to 'run it' down there to see her it is simply to boast of a
new triumph to the silly pack by whom she is surrounded. I tell you
she----"

"You tell me nothing! I don't allow any man to speak in that way of a
woman who is my friend," says Billy, with much majesty of mien. "Take
your hand off, Stanley," he adds, coldly. "I might have had some respect
for your counsel if you had had the least--for my feelings." And
wrenching his shoulder away, McKay speeds quickly down the stairs,
leaving his comrade speechless and sorrowing in the darkness above.

In the lower hall he stops and peers cautiously over towards the
guard-house. The lights are burning brilliantly up in the room of the
officer in charge, and the red sash of the officer of the day shows
through the open door-way beneath. Now is his time, for there is no one
looking. One quick leap through the dim stream of light from the lantern
at his back and he will be in the dark area, and can pick his noiseless
way to the shadows beyond. It is an easy thing to gain the foot-path
beyond the old retaining wall back of the guard-house, scud away under
the trees along the winding ascent towards Fort Putnam, until he meets
the back-road half-way up the heights; then turn southward through the
rocky cuts and forest aisles until he reaches the main highway; then
follow on through the beautiful groves, through the quiet village,
across the bridge that spans the stream above the falls, and then, only
a few hundred yards beyond, there lies Hawkshurst and its bevy of
excited, whispering, applauding, delighted girls. If he meet officers,
all he has to do is put on a bold face and trust to his disguise. He
means to have a glorious time and be back, tingling with satisfaction on
his exploit, by a little after midnight. In five minutes his quarrel
with Stanley is forgotten, and, all alert and eager, he is half-way up
the heights and out of sight or hearing of the barracks.

The roads are well-nigh deserted. He meets one or two squads of soldiers
coming back from "pass" at the Falls, but no one else. The omnibuses and
carriages bearing home those visitors who have spent the evening
listening to the band at the Point are all by this time out of the way,
and it is early for officers to be returning from evening calls at the
lower hotel. The chances are two to one that he will pass the village
without obstacle of any kind. Billy's spirits rise with the occasion,
and he concludes that a cigarette is the one thing needful to complete
his disguise and add to the general nonchalance of his appearance.
Having no matches he waits until he reaches the northern outskirts of
the Falls, and then steps boldly into the first bar he sees and helps
himself.

Coming forth again he throws wide open the swinging screen doors, and a
broad belt of light is flashed across the dusty highway just in front of
a rapidly-driven carriage coming north. The mettlesome horses swerve and
shy. The occupants are suddenly whirled from their reposeful attitudes,
though, fortunately, not from their seats. A "top hat" goes spinning out
into the roadway, and a fan flies through the midst of the glare. The
driver promptly checks his team and backs them just as Billy, all
impulsive courtesy, leaps out into the street; picks up the hat with one
hand, the fan with the other, and restores them with a bow to their
owners. Only in the nick of time does he recollect himself and crush
down the jovial impulse to hail by name Colonel Stanley and his daughter
Miriam. The sight of a cavalry uniform and Lieutenant Lee's tall figure
on the forward seat has, however, its restraining influence, and he
turns quickly away--unrecognized.

But alas for Billy! Only two days before had the distribution been made,
and every man in the graduating class was already wearing the beautiful
token of their brotherhood. The civilian garb, the Derby hat, the
_monocle_, the stick, the cigarette, and the false moustache were all
very well in their way, but in the beam of light from the windows of
that ill-starred saloon there flashed upon his hand a gem that two pairs
of quick, though reluctant eyes could not and did not fail to see,--the
_class ring_ of 187-.



CHAPTER V.

A MIDNIGHT INSPECTION.


There was a sense of constraint among the occupants of Colonel Stanley's
carriage as they were driven back to the Point. They had been calling on
old friends of his among the pretty villas below the Falls; had been
chatting joyously until that sudden swerve that pitched the colonel's
hat and Miriam's fan into the dust, and the veteran cavalryman could not
account for the lull that followed. Miriam had instantly grasped the
situation. All her father's stories of cadet days had enabled her to
understand at once that here was a cadet--a classmate of
Philip's--"running it" in disguise. Mr. Lee, of course, needed no
information on the subject. What she hoped was, that he had not seen;
but the cloud on his frank, handsome face still hovered there, and she
knew him too well not to see that he understood everything. And now what
was his duty? Something told her that an inspection of barracks would be
made immediately upon his return to the Point, and in that way the name
of the absentee be discovered. She knew the regulation every cadet was
expected to obey and every officer on honor to enforce. She knew that
every cadet found absent from his quarters after taps was called upon by
the commandant for prompt account of his whereabouts, and if unable to
say that he was on cadet limits during the period of his absence,
dismissal stared him in the face.

The colonel did most of the talking on the way back to the south gate.
Once within the portals he called to the driver to stop at the Mess.
"I'm thirsty," said the jovial warrior, "and I want a julep and a fresh
cigar. You, too, might have a claret punch, Mimi; you are drooping a
little to-night. What is it, daughter,--tired?"

"Yes, tired and a little headachy." Then sudden thought occurs to her.
"If you don't mind I think I will go right on to the hotel. Then you and
Mr. Lee can enjoy your cigars at leisure." She knows well that Romney
Lee is just the last man to let her drive on unescorted. She can hold
him ten or fifteen minutes, at least, and by that time if the reckless
boy down the road has taken warning and scurried back he can reach the
barracks before inspection is made.

"Indeed, Miss Miriam, I'm not to be disposed of so summarily," he
promptly answers. "I'll see you safely to the hotel. You'll excuse me,
colonel?"

"Certainly, certainly, Lee. I suppose I'll see you later," responds the
veteran. They leave him at the Mess and resume their way, and Lee takes
the vacated seat by her side. There is something he longs to say to
her,--something that has been quivering on his lips and throbbing at his
heart for many a long day. She is a queenly woman,--this dark-eyed,
stately army girl. It is only two years since, her school-days finished,
she has returned to her father's roof on the far frontier and resumed
the gay garrison life that so charmed her when a child. _Then_ a loving
mother had been her guide, but during her long sojourn at school the
blow had fallen that so wrenched her father's heart and left her
motherless. Since her graduation she alone has been the joy of the old
soldier's home, and sunshine and beauty have again gladdened his life.
She would be less than woman did she not know that here now was another
soldier, brave, courteous, and gentle, who longed to win her from that
home to his own,--to call her by the sacred name of wife. She knew how
her father trusted and Phil looked up to him. She knew that down in her
own heart of hearts there was pleading for him even now, but as yet no
word has been spoken. She is not the girl to signal, "speak, and the
prize is yours." He has looked in vain for a symptom that bids him hope
for more than loyal friendship.

But to-night as they reach the brightly-lighted piazza at Craney's it is
she who bids him stay.

"Don't go just yet," she falters.

"I feared you were tired and wished to go to your room," he answers,
gently.

"Would you mind asking if there are letters for me?" she says. It is
anything to gain time, and he goes at her behest, but--oh, luckless
fate!--'tis a false move.

She sees him stride away through the groups on the piazza; sees the
commandant meet him with one of his assistants; sees that there is
earnest consultation in low tone, and that then the others hasten down
the steps and disappear in the darkness. She hears him say, "I'll follow
in a moment, sir," and something tells her that what she dreads has come
to pass. Presently he returns to her with the information that there are
no letters; then raises his cap, and, in the old Southern and cadet
fashion, extends his hand.

"You are not going, Mr. Lee?" again she falters.

"I have to, Miss Stanley."

Slowly she puts forth her hand and lays it in his.

"I--I wish you did not have to go. _Tell_ me," she says, impulsively,
imploringly, "are you going to inspect?"

He bows his head.

"It is already ordered, Miss Miriam," he says; "I must go at once.
Good-night."

Dazed and distressed she turns at once, and is confronted by a pallid
little maid with wild, blue eyes.

"Oh, Miss Stanley!" is the wail that greets her. "I could not help
hearing, and--if it should be Willy!"

"Come with me, Nannie," she whispers, as her arm enfolds her. "Come to
my room."

Meantime, there has been a breeze at the barracks. A batch of yearlings,
by way of celebrating their release from plebedom, have hit on a
time-honored scheme. Just about the same moment that disclosed to the
eyes of Lieutenant Lee the class ring gleaming on the finger of that
nattily-dressed young civilian, his comrade, the dozing officer in
charge, was started to his feet by a thunder-clap, a vivid flash that
lighted up the whole area of barracks, and an explosion that rattled the
plaster in the guard-house chimneys. One thing the commandant wouldn't
stand was disorder after "taps," and, in accordance with strict
instructions, Lieutenant Lawrence sent a drummer-boy at once to find the
colonel and tell him what had taken place, while he himself stirred up
the cadet officer of the day and began an investigation. Half the corps
by this time were up and chuckling with glee at their darkened windows;
and as these subdued but still audible demonstrations of sympathy and
satisfaction did not cease on his arrival, the colonel promptly sent for
his entire force of assistants to conduct the inspection already
ordered. Already one or two "bull's-eyes" were flitting out from the
officers' angle.

But the piece of boyish mischief that brings such keen delight to the
youngsters in the battalion strikes terror to the heart of Philip
Stanley. He knows all too well that an immediate inspection will be the
result, and then, what is to become of McKay? With keen anxiety, he
goes to the hall window overlooking the area, and watches the course of
events. A peep into McKay's room shows that he is still absent and that
his room-mate, if disturbed at all by the "yearling fireworks," has gone
to sleep again. Stanley sees the commandant stride under the gas-lamp in
the area; sees the gathering of the "bull's-eyes," and his heart
well-nigh fails him. Still he watches until there can be no doubt that
the inspection is already begun. Then, half credulous, all delighted, he
notes that it is not Mr. Lee, but young Mr. Lawrence, the officer in
charge, who is coming straight towards "B" Company, lantern in hand. Not
waiting for the coming of the former, the colonel has directed another
officer--not a company commander--to inspect for him.

There is but one way to save Billy now.

In less than half a minute Stanley has darted into McKay's room; has
slung his chevroned coat under the bed; has slipped beneath the sheet
and coverlet, and now, breathlessly, he listens. He hears the inspector
moving from room to room on the ground floor; hears him spring up the
iron stair; hears him enter his own,--the tower room at the north end of
the hall,--and there he stops, surprised, evidently, to find Cadet
Captain Stanley absent from his quarters. Then his steps are heard
again. He enters the opposite room at the north end. That is all right!
and now he's coming here. "Now for it!" says Stanley to himself, as he
throws his white-sleeved arm over his head just as he has so often seen
Billy do, and turning his face to the wall, burrows deep in the pillow
and pulls the sheet well up to his chin. The door softly opens; the
"bull's-eye" flashes its gleam first on one bed, then on the other. "All
right here," is the inspector's mental verdict as he pops out again
suddenly as he entered. Billy McKay, the scapegrace, is safe and Stanley
has time to think over the situation.

At the very worst, as he will be able to say he was "visiting in
barracks" when found absent, his own punishment will not be serious. But
this is not what troubles him. Demerit for the graduating class ceases
to count after the 1st of June, and the individual sense of honor and
duty is about the only restraint against lapses of discipline. Stanley
hates to think that others may now believe him deaf to this obligation.
He would far rather have had this happen when demerit and "confinements"
in due proportion had been his award, but there is no use repining. It
is a sacrifice to save--her brother.

When half an hour later his classmate, the officer of the day, enters
the tower room in search of him, Stanley is there and calmly says, "I
was visiting in barracks," in answer to his question; and finally, when
morning comes, Mr. Billy McKay nearly sleeps through reveille as a
consequence of his night-prowling; but his absence, despite the
simultaneous inspection of every company in barracks, has not been
detected. With one exception every bed has had its apparently soundly
sleeping occupant. The young scamps who caused all the trouble have
escaped scot-free, and the corps can hardly believe their own ears, and
Billy McKay is stunned and perplexed when it is noised abroad that the
only man "hived absent" was the captain of Company "B."

It so happens that both times he goes to find Stanley that day he misses
him. "The commandant sent for him an hour ago," says Mr. McFarland, his
room-mate, "and I'm blessed if I know what keeps him. Something about
last night's doings, I'm afraid."

This, in itself, is enough to make him worry, but the next thing he
hears is worse. Just at evening call to quarters, Jim Burton comes to
his room.

"Have you heard anything about this report of Stanley's last night?" he
asks, and McKay, ordinarily so frank, is guarded now in his reply. For
half an hour he has been pacing his room alone. McFarland's revelations
have set him to thinking. It is evident that the colonel's suspicions
are aroused. It is probable that it is known that some cadet was
"running it" the night before. From the simple fact that he is not
already in arrest he knows that Mr. Lee did not recognize him, yet the
secret has leaked out in some way, and an effort is being made to
discover the culprit. Already he has begun to wonder if the game was
really worth the candle. He saw her, 'tis true, and had half an hour's
whispered chat with her, interrupted not infrequently by giggling and
impetuous rushes from the other girls. They had sworn melodramatically
never to reveal that it was he who came, but Billy begins to have his
doubts. "It ends my career if I'm found out," he reflects, "whereas they
can't do much to Stan for visiting." And thus communing with himself, he
has decided to guard his secret against all comers,--at least for the
present. And so he is non-committal in his reply to Burton.

"What about it?" he asks.

"Why, it's simply this, Billy: Little Magee, the fifer, is on orderly
duty to-day, and he heard much of the talk, and I got it out of him.
Somebody was running it last night, and was seen down by Cozzens's gate.
Stanley was the only absentee, hence Stanley would naturally be the man
suspected, but he says he wasn't out of the barracks. The conclusion is
inevitable that he was filling the other fellow's place, and the colonel
is hopping mad. It looks as though there were collusion between them.
Now, Billy, all I've got to say is that the man he's shielding ought to
step forward and relieve him at once. There comes the sentry and I must
go."

Relieve him? Yes; but what means that for me? thinks poor McKay.
Dismissal; a heart break for mother. No! It is too much to face; he must
think it over. He never goes near Stanley all that night. He fears to
meet him, or the morrow. His heart misgives him when he is told that
there has been a long conference in the office. He turns white with
apprehension when they fall in for parade, and he notes that it is
Phillips, their first lieutenant, who draws sword and takes command of
the company; but a few moments later his heart gives one wild bound,
then seems to sink into the ground beneath his feet, when the adjutant
drops the point of his sword, lets it dangle by the gold knot at his
wrist, whips a folded paper from his sash, and far over the plain his
clear young voice proclaims the stern order:

"Cadet Captain Stanley is hereby placed in arrest and confined to his
quarters. Charge--conniving at concealing the absence of a cadet from
inspection after 'taps,' eleven--eleven-fifteen P.M., on the 7th
instant.

"By order of Lieutenant-Colonel Putnam."



CHAPTER VI.

THE LAST DANCE.


The blithest day of all the year has come. The graduating ball takes
place to-night. The Point is thronged with joyous visitors, and yet over
all there hovers a shadow. In the midst of all this gayety and
congratulation there hides a core of sorrow. Voices lower and soft eyes
turn in sympathy when certain sad faces are seen. There is one subject
on which the cadets simply refuse to talk, and there are two of the
graduating class who do not appear at the hotel at all. One is Mr.
McKay, whose absence is alleged to be because of confinements he has to
serve; the other is Philip Stanley, still in close arrest, and the
latter has cancelled his engagements for the ball.

There had been a few days in which Miss McKay, forgetting or having
obtained absolution for her unguarded remarks on the promenade deck of
the steamer, had begun to be seen a great deal with Miss Stanley. She
had even blushingly shaken hands with big Lieutenant Lee, whose kind
brown eyes were full of fun and playfulness whenever he greeted her. But
it was noticed that something, all of a sudden, had occurred to mar the
growing intimacy; then that the once blithe little lady was looking
white and sorrowful; that she avoided Miss Stanley for two whole days,
and that her blue eyes watched wistfully for some one who did not
come,--"Mr. Stanley, no doubt," was the diagnosis of the case by "Miss
Mischief" and others.

Then, like a thunder-clap, came the order for Phil Stanley's arrest, and
then there were other sad faces. Miriam Stanley's dark eyes were not
only troubled, but down in their depths was a gleam of suppressed
indignation that people knew not how to explain. Colonel Stanley, to
whom every one had been drawn from the first, now appeared very stern
and grave; the joy had vanished from his face. Mrs. McKay was flitting
about the parlors tearfully thankful that "it wasn't her boy." Nannie
had grown whiter still, and very "absent" and silent. Mr. Lee did not
come at all.

Then there was startling news! An outbreak, long smouldering, had just
occurred at the great reservation of the Spirit Wolf; the agent and
several of his men had been massacred, their women carried away into a
captivity whose horrors beggar all description, and two troops--hardly
sixscore men--of Colonel Stanley's regiment were already in pursuit.
Leaving his daughter to the care of an old friend at Craney's, and after
a brief interview with his boy at barracks, the old soldier who had come
eastward with such glad anticipation turned promptly back to the field
of duty. He had taken the first train and was already beyond the
Missouri. Almost immediately after the colonel's departure, Mr. Lee had
come to the hotel and was seen to have a brief but earnest talk with
Miss Stanley on the north piazza,--a talk from which she had gone
direct to her room and did not reappear for hours, while he, who
usually had a genial, kindly word for every one, had turned abruptly
down the north steps as though to avoid the crowded halls and piazzas,
and so returned to the barracks.

But now, this lovely June morning the news from the far West is still
more direful. Hundreds of savages have taken the war-path, and murder is
the burden of every tale from around their reservation, but--this is the
day of "last parade" and the graduating ball, and people cannot afford
time to think of such grewsome matter. All the same, they note that Mr.
Lee comes no more to the hotel, and a rumor is in circulation that he
has begged to be relieved from duty at the Point and ordered to join his
troop now in the field against hostile Indians.

Nannie McKay is looking like a pathetic shadow of her former self as she
comes down-stairs to fulfil an engagement with a cadet admirer. She
neglects no duty of the kind towards Willy's friends and hers, but she
is drooping and listless. Uncle Jack is worried about her; so, too, is
mamma, though the latter is so wrapped up in the graduation of her boy
that she has little time to think of pallid cheeks and mournful eyes. It
is all arranged that they are to sail for Europe the 1st of July, and
the sea air, the voyage across, the new sights and associations on the
other side, will "bring her round again," says that observant
"avuncular" hopefully. He is compelled to be at his office in the city
much of the time, but comes up this day as a matter of course, and has a
brief chat with his graceless nephew at the guard-house. Billy's utter
lack of spirits sets Uncle Jack to thinking. The boy says he can "tell
him nothing just now," and Uncle Jack feels well assured that he has a
good deal to tell. He goes in search of Lieutenant Lee, for whom he has
conceived a great fancy, but the big lieutenant has gone to the city on
business. In the crowded hall at the hotel he meets Miriam Stanley, and
her face gives him another pound of trouble to carry.

"You are going to the ball, though?" he hears a lady say to her, and
Miriam shakes her head.

Ball, indeed!--or last parade, either! She knows she cannot bear to see
the class march to the front, and her brother not there. She cannot bear
the thought of even looking on at the ball, if Philip is to be debarred
from attending. Her thoughts have been very bitter for a few days past.
Her father's intense but silent distress and regret; Philip's certain
detention after the graduation of his class; his probable court-martial
and loss of rank; the knowledge that he had incurred it all to save
McKay (and everybody by this time felt that it _must_ be Billy McKay,
though no one could prove it), all have conspired to make her very
unhappy and very unjust to Mr. Lee. Philip has told her that Mr. Lee had
no alternative in reporting to the commandant his discovery "down the
road," but she had believed herself of sufficient value in that
officer's brown eyes to induce him to at least postpone any mention of
that piece of accidental knowledge; and though, in her heart of hearts,
she knows she respects him the more because she could not prevail
against his sense of duty, she is stung to the quick, and, womanlike,
has made him feel it.

It must be in sympathy with her sorrows that, late this afternoon, the
heavens open and pour their floods upon the plain. Hundreds of people
are bemoaning the fact that now there can be no graduating parade. Down
in barracks the members of the class are busily packing trunks, trying
on civilian garb, and rushing about in much excitement. In more senses
than one Phil Stanley's room is a centre of gravity. The commandant at
ten o'clock had sent for him and given him final opportunity to state
whose place he occupied during the inspection of that now memorable
night, and he had respectfully but firmly declined. There was then no
alternative but the withdrawal of his diploma and his detention at the
Point to await the action of the Secretary of War upon the charges
preferred against him. "The Class," of course, knew by this time that
McKay was the man whom he had saved, for after one day of torment and
indecision that hapless youth had called in half a dozen of his comrades
and made a clean breast of it. It was then his deliberate intention to
go to the commandant and beg for Stanley's release, and to offer himself
as the culprit. But Stanley had thought the problem out and gravely
interposed. It could really do no practical good to him and would only
result in disaster to McKay. No one could have anticipated the luckless
chain of circumstances that had led to his own arrest, but now he must
face the consequences. After long consultation the young counsellors had
decided on the plan. "There is only one thing for us to do: keep the
matter quiet. There is only one thing for Billy to do: keep a stiff
upper lip; graduate with the class, then go to Washington with 'Uncle
Jack,' and bestir their friends in Congress,"--not just then assembled,
but always available. There was never yet a time when a genuine "pull"
from Senate and House did not triumph over the principles of military
discipline.

A miserable man is Billy! For a week he has moped in barracks, forbidden
by Stanley and his advisers to admit anything, yet universally suspected
of being the cause of all the trouble. He, too, wishes to cancel his
engagements for the graduating ball, and thinks something ought to be
done to those young idiots of yearlings who set off the torpedo.
"Nothing could have gone wrong but for them," says he; but the wise
heads of the class promptly snub him into silence. "You've simply got to
do as we say in this matter, Billy. You've done enough mischief
already." And so it results that the message he sends by Uncle Jack is:
"Tell mother and Nan I'll meet them at the 'hop.' My confinements end at
eight o'clock, but there's no use in my going to the hotel and tramping
through the mud." The truth is, he cannot bear to meet Miriam Stanley,
and 'twould be just his luck.

One year ago no happier, bonnier, brighter face could have been seen at
the Point than that of Nannie McKay. To-night, in all the throng of fair
women and lovely girls, gathered with their soldier escort in the great
mess-hall, there is none so sad. She tries hard to be chatty and
smiling, but is too frank and honest a little soul to have much success.
The dances that Phil Stanley had engaged months and months ago are
accredited now to other names, and blissful young fellows in gray and
gold come successively to claim them. But deep down in her heart she
remembers the number of each. It was he who was to have been her escort.
It was he who made out her card and gave it to her only a day or two
before that fatal interview. It was he who was to have had the last
waltz--the very last--that he would dance in the old cadet gray; and
though new names have been substituted for his in other cases, this
waltz she meant to keep. Well knowing that there would be many to beg
for it, she has written Willy's name for "Stanley," and duly warned him
of the fact. Then, when it comes, she means to escape to the
dressing-room, for she is promptly told that her brother is engaged to
Miss Waring for that very waltz. Light as are her feet, she never yet
has danced with so heavy a heart. The rain still pours, driving
everybody within doors. The heat is intense. The hall is crowded, and it
frequently happens that partners cannot find her until near the end of
their number on that dainty card. But every one has something to say
about Phil Stanley and the universal regret at his absence. It is
getting to be more than she can bear,--this prolonged striving to
respond with proper appreciation and sympathy, yet not say too
much,--not betray the secret that is now burning, throbbing in her
girlish heart. He does not dream it, but there, hidden beneath the soft
lace upon her snowy neck, lies that "knot of ribbon blue" which she so
laughingly had given him, at his urging, the last day of her visit the
previous year; the knot which he had so loyally treasured and then so
sadly returned. A trifling, senseless thing to make such an ado about,
but these hearts are young and ardent, and this romance of his has many
a counterpart, the memory of which may bring to war-worn, grizzled
heads to-day a blush almost of shame, and would surely bring to many an
old and sometimes aching heart a sigh. Hoping against hope, poor Nannie
has thought it just possible that at the last moment the authorities
would relent and he be allowed to attend. If so,--if so, angry and
justly angered though he might be, cut to the heart though he expressed
himself, has she not here the means to call him back?--to bid him come
and know how contrite she is? Hour after hour she glances at the broad
archway at the east, yearning to see his dark, handsome face among the
new-comers,--all in vain. Time and again she encounters Sallie Waring,
brilliant, bewitching, in the most ravishing of toilets, and always with
half a dozen men about her. Twice she notices Will among them with a
face gloomy and rebellious, and, hardly knowing why, she almost hates
her.

At last comes the waltz that was to have been Philip's,--the waltz she
has saved for his sake though he cannot claim it. Mr. Pennock, who has
danced the previous galop with her, sees the leader raising his baton,
bethinks him of his next partner, and leaves her at the open window
close to the dressing-room door. There she can have a breath of fresh
air, and, hiding behind the broad backs of several bulky officers and
civilians, listen undisturbed to the music she longed to enjoy with him.
Here, to her surprise, Will suddenly joins her.

"I thought you were engaged to Miss Waring for this," she says.

"I was," he answers, savagely; "but I'm well out of it. I resigned in
favor of a big 'cit' who's worth only twenty thousand a year, Nan, and
she has been engaged to him all this time and never let me know until
to-night."

"_Willy!_" she gasps. "Oh! I'm so glad--sorry, I mean! I never _did_
like her."

"_I_ did, Nan, more's the pity. I'm not the first she's made a fool of;"
and he turns away, hiding the chagrin in his young face. They are
practically alone in this sheltered nook. Crowds are around them, but
looking the other way. The rain is dripping from the trees without and
pattering on the stone flags. McKay leans out into the night, and the
sister's loving heart yearns over him in his trouble.

"Willy," she says, laying the little white-gloved hand on his arm, "it's
hard to bear, but she isn't worthy _any_ man's love. Twice I've heard in
the last two days that she makes a boast of it that 'twas to see her
that some one risked his commission and so--kept Mr. Stanley from being
here to-night. Willy, _do_ you know who it was? _Don't_ you think he
ought to have come forward like a gentleman, days ago, and told the
truth? _Will!_ What is it? _Don't_ look so! Speak to me, Willy,--your
little Nan. Was there ever a time, dear, when my whole heart wasn't open
to you in love and sympathy?"

And now, just at this minute, the music begins again. Soft, sweet, yet
with such a strain of pathos and of sadness running through every chord;
it is the loveliest of all the waltzes played in his "First Class
Camp,"--the one of all others he most loved to hear. Her heart almost
bursts now to think of him in his lonely room, beyond hearing of the
melody that is so dear to him, that is now so passionately dear to
her,--"Love's Sigh." Doubtless, Philip had asked the leader days ago to
play it here and at no other time. It is more than enough to start the
tears long welling in her eyes. For an instant it turns her from thought
of Willy's own heartache.

"Will!" she whispers, desperately. "This was to have been Philip
Stanley's waltz--and I want you to take--something to him for me."

He turns back to her again, his hands clinched, his teeth set, still
thinking only of his own bitter humiliation,--of how that girl has
fooled and jilted him,--of how for her sake he had brought all this
trouble on his stanchest friend.

"Phil Stanley!" he exclaims. "By heaven! it makes me nearly mad to think
of it!--and all for her sake,--all through me. Oh, Nan! Nan! I _must_
tell you! It was for me,--to save me that----"

"_Willy!_" and there is almost horror in her wide blue eyes.
"_Willy!_" she gasps--"oh, _don't_--don't tell me _that_!
Oh, it isn't _true_? Not you--not you, Willy. Not my brother! Oh,
quick! Tell me."

Startled, alarmed, he seizes her hand.

"Little sister! What--what has happened--what is----"

But there is no time for more words. The week of misery; the piteous
strain of the long evening; the sweet, sad, wailing melody,--his
favorite waltz; the sudden, stunning revelation that it was for Willy's
sake that he--her hero--was now to suffer, he whose heart she had
trampled on and crushed! It is all more than mortal girl can bear. With
the beautiful strains moaning, whirling, ringing, surging through her
brain, she is borne dizzily away into darkness and oblivion.

       *     *     *     *     *

There follows a week in which sadder faces yet are seen about the old
hotel. The routine of the Academy goes on undisturbed. The graduating
class has taken its farewell of the gray walls and gone upon its way.
New faces, new voices are those in the line of officers at parade. The
corps has pitched its white tents under the trees beyond the grassy
parapet of Fort Clinton, and, with the graduates and furlough-men gone,
its ranks look pitifully thinned. The throng of visitors has vanished.
The halls and piazzas at Craney's are well-nigh deserted, but among the
few who linger there is not one who has not loving inquiry for the young
life that for a brief while has fluttered so near the grave. "Brain
fever," said the doctors to Uncle Jack, and a new anxiety was lined in
his kindly face as he and Will McKay sped on their mission to the
Capitol. They had to go, though little Nan lay sore stricken at the
Point.

But youth and elasticity triumph. The danger is passed. She lies now,
very white and still, listening to the sweet strains of the band
trooping down the line this soft June evening. Her mother, worn with
watching, is resting on the lounge. It is Miriam Stanley who hovers at
the bedside. Presently the bugles peal the retreat; the sunset gun booms
across the plain; the ringing voice of the young adjutant comes floating
on the southerly breeze, and, as she listens, Nannie follows every
detail of the well-known ceremony, wondering how it _could_ go on day
after day with no Mr. Pennock to read the orders; with no "big Burton"
to thunder his commands to the first company; with no Philip Stanley to
march the colors to their place on the line. "Where is _he_?" is the
question in the sweet blue eyes that so wistfully seek his sister's
face; but she answers not. One by one the first sergeants made their
reports; and now--that ringing voice again, reading the orders of the
day. How clear it sounds! How hushed and still the listening Point!

"Head-quarters of the Army," she hears. "Washington, June 15, 187-.
Special orders, Number--.

"_First._ Upon his own application, First Lieutenant George Romney Lee,
--th Cavalry, is hereby relieved from duty at the U. S. Military
Academy, and will join his troop now in the field against hostile
Indians.

"_Second._ Upon the recommendation of the Superintendent U. S. Military
Academy, the charges preferred against Cadet Captain Philip S. Stanley
are withdrawn. Cadet Stanley will be considered as graduated with his
class on the 12th instant, will be released from arrest, and authorized
to avail himself of the leave of absence granted his class."

Nannie starts from her pillow, clasping in her thin white fingers the
soft hand that would have restrained her.

"Miriam!" she cries. "Then--will he go?"

The dark, proud face bends down to her; clasping arms encircle the
little white form, and Miriam Stanley's very heart wails forth in
answer,--

"Oh, Nannie! He is almost there by this time,--both of them. They left
to join the regiment three days ago; their orders came by telegraph."

Another week, and Uncle Jack is again with them. The doctors agree that
the ocean voyage is now not only advisable, but necessary. They are to
move their little patient to the city and board their steamer in a day
or two. Will has come to them, full of disgust that he has been assigned
to the artillery, and filling his mother's heart with dismay because he
is begging for a transfer to the cavalry, to the --th Regiment,--of all
others,--now plunged in the whirl of an Indian war. Every day the papers
come freighted with rumors of fiercer fighting; but little that is
reliable can be heard from "Sabre Stanley" and his column. They are far
beyond telegraphic communication, hemmed in by "hostiles" on every side.

Uncle Jack is an early riser. Going down for his paper before breakfast,
he is met at the foot of the stairs by a friend who points to the
head-lines of the _Herald_, with the simple remark, "Isn't this hard?"

It is brief enough, God knows.

"A courier just in from Colonel Stanley's camp brings the startling news
that Lieutenant Philip Stanley, --th Cavalry, with two scouts and a
small escort, who left here Sunday, hoping to push through to the Spirit
Wolf, were ambushed by the Indians in Black Cañon. Their bodies, scalped
and mutilated, were found Wednesday night."

Where, then, was Romney Lee?



CHAPTER VII.

BLACK CAÑON.


The red sun is going down behind the line of distant buttes, throwing
long shadows out across the grassy upland. Every crest and billow of the
prairie is bathed in crimson and gold, while the "breaks" and ravines
trending southward grow black and forbidding in their contrasted gloom.
Far over to the southeast, in dazzling radiance, two lofty peaks, still
snow-clad, gleam against the summer sky, and at their feet dark waves of
forest-covered foot-hills drink in the last rays of the waning sunshine
as though hoarding its treasured warmth against the chill of coming
night. Already the evening air, rare and exhilarating at this great
altitude, loses the sun-god's touch and strikes upon the cheek keen as
the ether of the limitless heavens. A while ago, only in the distant
valley winding to the south could foliage be seen. Now, all in those
depths is merged in sombre shade, and not a leaf or tree breaks for
miles the grand monotony. Close at hand a host of tiny mounds, each
tipped with reddish gold, and some few further ornamented by miniature
sentry, alert and keen-eyed, tell of a prairie township already laid out
and thickly populated; and at this moment every sentry is chipping his
pert, querulous challenge until the disturbers of the peace are close
upon him, then diving headlong into the bowels of the earth.

A dun cloud of dust rolls skyward along a well-worn cavalry trail, and
is whirled into space by the hoofs of sixty panting chargers trotting
steadily south. Sixty sunburned, dust-covered troopers ride grimly on,
following the lead of a tall soldier whose kind brown eyes peer
anxiously from under his scouting-hat. It is just as they pass the
village of the prairie dogs that he points to the low valley down to the
front and questions the "plainsman" who lopes along by his side,--

"That Black Cañon down yonder?"

"That's it, lieutenant: I didn't think you could make it to-night."

"We _had_ to," is the simple reply as again the spur touches the jaded
flank and evokes only a groan in response.

"How far from here to--the Springs?" he presently asks again.

"Box Elder?--where they found the bodies?--'bout five mile, sir."

"Where away was that signal smoke we saw at the divide?"

"Must have been from those bluffs--east of the Springs, sir."

Lieutenant Lee whips out his watch and peers at the dial through the
twilight. The cloud deepens on his haggard, handsome face. Eight
o'clock, and they have been in saddle almost incessantly since yesterday
afternoon, weighed down with the tidings of the fell disaster that has
robbed them of their comrades, and straining every nerve to reach the
scene.

Only five days before, as he stepped from the railway car at the supply
station, a wagon-train had come in from the front escorted by Mr. Lee's
own troop; his captain with it, wounded. Just as soon as it could reload
with rations and ammunition the train was to start on its eight days'
journey to the Spirit Wolf, where Colonel Stanley and the --th were
bivouacked and scouring the neighboring mountains. Already a battalion
of infantry was at the station, another was on its way, and supplies
were being hurried forward. Captain Gregg brought the first reliable
news. The Indians had apparently withdrawn from the road. The
wagon-train had come through unmolested, and Colonel Stanley was
expecting to push forward into their fastnesses farther south the moment
he could obtain authority from head-quarters. With these necessary
orders two couriers had started just twelve hours before. The captain
was rejoiced to see his favorite lieutenant and to welcome Philip
Stanley to the regiment. "Everybody seemed to feel that you too would be
coming right along," he said; "but, Phil, my boy, I'm afraid you're too
late for the fun. You cannot catch the command before it starts from
Spirit Wolf."

And yet this was just what Phil had tried to do. Lee knew nothing of his
plan until everything had been arranged between the young officer and
the major commanding the temporary camp at the station. Then it was too
late to protest. While it was Mr. Lee's duty to remain and escort the
train, Philip Stanley, with two scouts and half a dozen troopers, had
pushed out to overtake the regiment two hundred miles away. Forty-eight
hours later, as the wagon-train with its guard was slowly crawling
southward, it was met by a courier with ghastly face. He was one of
three who had started from the ruined agency together. They met no
Indians, but at Box Elder Springs had come upon the bodies of a little
party of soldiers stripped, scalped, gashed, and mutilated,--nine in
all. There could be little doubt that they were those of poor Philip and
his new-found comrades. The courier had recognized two of the bodies as
those of Forbes and Whiting,--the scouts who had gone with the party;
the others he did not know at all.

Parking his train then and there, sending back to the railway for an
infantry company to hasten forward and take charge of it, Mr. Lee never
hesitated as to his own course. He and his troop pushed on at once. And
now, worn, weary, but determined, the little command is just in sight of
the deep ravine known to frontiersmen for years as Black Cañon. It was
through here that Stanley and his battalion had marched a fortnight
since. It was along this very trail that Phil and his party, pressing
eagerly on to join the regiment, rode down into its dark depths and were
ambushed at the Springs. From all indications, said the courier, they
must have unsaddled for a brief rest, probably just at nightfall; but
the Indians had left little to aid them in forming an opinion. Utterly
unnerved by the sight, his two associates had turned back to rejoin
Stanley's column, while he, the third, had decided to make for the
railway. Unless those men, too, had been cut off, the regiment by this
time knew of the tragic fate of some of their comrades, but the colonel
was mercifully spared all dread that one of the victims was his only
son.

Nine were in the party when they started. Nine bodies were lying there
when the couriers reached the Springs, and now nine are lying here
to-night when, just after moonrise, Romney Lee dismounts and bends sadly
over them, one after another. The prairie wolves have been here first,
adding mutilation to the butchery of their human prototypes. There is
little chance, in this pallid light and with these poor remnants, to
make identification a possibility. All vestiges of uniform, arms, and
equipment have been carried away, and such underclothing as remains has
been torn to shreds by the herd of snarling, snapping brutes which is
driven off only by the rush of the foremost troopers, and is now
dispersed all over the cañon and far up the heights beyond the outposts,
yelping indignant protest.

There can be no doubt as to the number slain. All the nine are here, and
Mr. Lee solemnly pencils the despatch that is to go back to the railway
so soon as a messenger and his horse can get a few hours' needed rest.
Before daybreak the man is away, meeting on his lonely ride other
comrades hurrying to the front, to whom he briefly gives confirmation of
the first report. Before the setting of the second sun he has reached
his journey's end, and the telegraph is flashing the mournful details to
the distant East, and so, when the "Servia" slowly glides from her
moorings and turns her prow towards the sparkling sea, Nannie McKay is
sobbing her heart out alone in her little white state-room, crushing
with her kisses, bathing with her tears, the love-knot she had given her
soldier boy less than a year before.

Another night comes around. Tiny fires are glowing down in the dark
depths of Black Cañon, showing red through the frosty gleam of the
moonlight. Under the silvery rays nine new-made graves are ranked along
the turf, guarded by troopers whose steeds are browsing close at hand.
Silence and sadness reign in the little bivouac where Lee and his
comrades await the coming of the train they had left three days before.
It will be here on the morrow, early, and then they must push ahead and
bear their heavy tidings to the regiment. He has written one sorrowing
letter--and what a letter to have to write to the woman he loves!--to
tell Miriam that he has been unable to identify any one of the bodies as
that of her gallant young brother, yet is compelled to believe him to
lie there, one of the stricken nine. And now he must face the father
with this bitter news! Romney Lee's sore heart fails him at the
prospect, and he cannot sleep. Good heaven! _Can_ it be that three weeks
only have passed away since the night of that lovely yet ill-fated
carriage-ride down through Highland Falls, down beyond picturesque
Hawkshurst?

Out on the bluffs, though he cannot see them, and up and down the cañon,
vigilant sentries guard this solemn bivouac. No sign of Indian has been
seen except the hoof-prints of a score of ponies and the bloody relics
of their direful visit. No repetition of the signal-smokes has greeted
their watchful eyes. It looks as though this outlying band of warriors
had noted his coming, had sent up their warning to others of their
tribe, and then scattered for the mountains at the south. All the same,
as he rode the bluff lines at nightfall, Mr. Lee had charged the
sentries to be alert with eye and ear, and to allow none to approach
unchallenged.

The weary night wears on. The young moon has ridden down in the west and
sunk behind that distant bluff line. All is silent as the graves around
which his men are slumbering, and at last, worn with sorrow and vigil,
Lee rolls himself in his blanket and, still booted and spurred,
stretches his feet towards the little watch-fire, and pillows his head
upon the saddle. Down the stream the horses are already beginning to tug
at their lariats and struggle to their feet, that they may crop the
dew-moistened bunch grass. Far out upon the chill night air the yelping
challenge of the coyotes is heard, but the sentries give no sign.
Despite grief and care, Nature asserts her sway and is fast lulling Lee
to sleep, when, away up on the heights to the northwest, there leaps out
a sudden lurid flash and, a second after, the loud ring of the cavalry
carbine comes echoing down the cañon. Lee springs to his feet and seizes
his rifle. The first shot is quickly followed by a second; the men are
tumbling up from their blankets and, with the instinct of old
campaigners, thrusting cartridges into the opened chambers.

"Keep your men together here, sergeant," is the brief order, and in a
moment more Lee is spurring upward along an old game trail. Just under
the crest he overtakes a sergeant hurrying northward.

"What is it? Who fired?" he asks.

"Morris fired, sir: I don't know why. He is the farthest post up the
bluffs."

Together they reach a young trooper, crouching in the pallid dawn behind
a jagged parapet of rock, and eagerly demanded the cause of the alarm.
The sentry is quivering with excitement.

"An Indian, sir! Not a hundred yards out there! I seen him plain enough
to swear to it. He rose up from behind that point yonder and started out
over the prairie, and I up and fired."

"Did you challenge?"

"No, sir," answers the young soldier, simply. "He was going away. He
couldn't understand me if I had,--leastwise I couldn't 'a understood
him. He ran like a deer the moment I fired, and was out of sight almost
before I could send another shot."

Lee and the sergeant push out along the crest, their arms at "ready,"
their keen eyes searching every dip in the surface. Close to the edge of
the cañon, perhaps a hundred yards away, they come upon a little ledge,
behind which, under the bluff, it is possible for an Indian to steal
unnoticed towards their sentries and to peer into the depths below. Some
one has been here within a few minutes, watching, stretched prone upon
the turf, for Lee finds it dry and almost warm, while all around the
bunch grass is heavy with dew. Little by little as the light grows
warmer in the east and aids them in their search, they can almost trace
the outline of a recumbent human form. Presently the west wind begins to
blow with greater strength, and they note the mass of clouds, gray and
frowning, that is banked against the sky. Out on the prairie not a
moving object can be seen, though the eye can reach a good rifle-shot
away. Down in the darkness of the cañon the watch-fires still smoulder
and the men still wait. There comes no further order from the heights.
Lee, with the sergeant, is now bending over faint footprints just
discernible in the pallid light.

Suddenly up he starts and gazes eagerly out to the west. The sergeant,
too, at the same instant, leaps towards his commander. Distant, but
distinct, two quick shots have been fired far over among those tumbling
buttes and ridges lying there against the horizon. Before either man
could speak or question, there comes another, then another, then two or
three in quick succession, the sound of firing thick and fast.

"It's a fight, sir, sure!" cries the sergeant, eagerly.

"To horse, then,--quick!" is the answer, as the two soldiers bound back
to the trail.

"Saddle up, men!" rings the order, shouted down the rocky flanks of the
ravine. There is instant response in the neigh of excited horses, the
clatter of iron-shod hoofs. Through the dim light the men go rushing,
saddles and bridles in hand, each to where he has driven his own picket
pin. Promptly the steeds are girthed and bitted. Promptly the men come
running back to the bivouac, seizing and slinging carbines, then leading
into line. A brief word of command, another of caution, and then the
whole troop is mounted and, following its leader, rides ghost-like up a
winding ravine that enters the cañon from the west and goes spurring to
the high plateau beyond. Once there the eager horses have ample room;
the springing turf invites their speed. "Front into line" they sweep at
rapid gallop, and then, with Lee well out before them, with carbines
advanced, with hearts beating high, with keen eyes flashing, and every
ear strained for sound of the fray, away they bound. There's a fight
ahead! Some one needs their aid, and there's not a man in all old "B"
troop who does not mean to avenge those new-made graves. Up a little
slope they ride, all eyes fixed on Lee. They see him reach the ridge,
sweep gallantly over, then, with ringing cheer, turn in saddle, wave his
revolver high in air, clap spur to his horse's flank and go darting down
the other side.

"Come _on_, lads!"

Ay, on it is! One wild race for the crest, one headland charge down the
slope beyond, and they are rolling over a band of yelling, scurrying,
savage horsemen, whirling them away over the opposite ridge, driving
them helter-skelter over the westward prairie, until all who escape the
shock of the onset or the swift bullet in the raging chase finally
vanish from their sight; and then, obedient to the ringing "recall" of
the trumpet, slowly they return, gathering again in the little ravine;
and there, wondering, rejoicing, jubilant, they cluster at the entrance
of a deep cleft in the rocks, where, bleeding from a bullet-wound in the
arm, but with a world of thankfulness and joy in his handsome face,
their leader stands, clasping Philip Stanley, pallid, faint, well-nigh
starved, but--God be praised!--safe and unscathed.



CHAPTER VIII.

CAPTURED.


How the tidings of that timely rescue thrill through every heart at old
Fort Warrener! There are gathered the wives and children of the
regiment. There is the colonel's home, silent and darkened for that one
long week, then ringing with joy and congratulation, with gladness and
thanksgiving. Miriam again is there, suddenly lifted from the depths of
sorrow to a wealth of bliss she had no words to express. Day and night
the little army coterie flocked about her to hear again and again the
story of Philip's peril and his final rescue, and then to exclaim over
Romney Lee's gallantry and devotion. It was all so bewildering. For a
week they had mourned their colonel's only son as dead and buried. The
wondrous tale of his discovery sounded simply fabulous, and yet was
simply true. Hurrying forward from the railway, the little party had
been joined by two young frontiersmen eager to obtain employment with
the scouts of Stanley's column. Halting just at sunset for brief rest at
Box Elder Springs, the lieutenant with Sergeant Harris had climbed the
bluffs to search for Indian signal fires. It was nearly dark when on
their return they were amazed to hear the sound of fire-arms in the
cañon, and were themselves suddenly attacked and completely cut off from
their comrades. Stanley's horse was shot; but Sergeant Harris, though
himself wounded, helped his young officer to mount behind him, and
galloped back into the darkness, where they evaded their pursuers by
turning loose their horse and groping in among the rocks. Here they hid
all night and all next day in the deep cleft where Lee had found them,
listening to the shouts and signals of a swarm of savage foes. At last
the sounds seemed to die away, the Indians to disappear, and then
hunger, thirst, and the feverish delirium of the sergeant, who was
tortured for want of water, drove Stanley forth in hopes of reaching
the cañon. Fired at, as he supposed, by Indians, he was speedily back in
his lair again, but was there almost as speedily tracked and besieged.
For a while he was able to keep the foe at bay, but Lee had come just in
the nick of time; only two cartridges were left, and poor Harris was
nearly gone.

A few weeks later, while the --th is still on duty rounding up the
Indians in the mountains, the wounded are brought home to Warrener.
There are not many, for only the first detachment of two small troops
had had any serious engagement; but the surgeons say that Mr. Lee's arm
is so badly crippled that he can do no field work for several months,
and he had best go in to the railway. And now he is at Warrener; and
here, one lovely moonlit summer's evening, he is leaning on the gate in
front of the colonel's quarters, utterly regardless of certain
injunctions as to avoiding exposure to the night air. Good Mrs. Wilton,
the major's wife,--who, army fashion, is helping Miriam keep house in
her father's absence,--has gone in before "to light up," she says,
though it is too late for callers; and they have been spending a long
evening at Captain Gregg's, "down the row." It is Miriam who keeps the
tall lieutenant at the gate. She has said good-night, yet lingers. He
has been there several days, his arm still in its sling, and not once
has she had a word with him alone till now. Some one has told her that
he has asked for leave of absence to go East and settle some business
affairs he had to leave abruptly when hurrying to take part in the
campaign. If this be true is it not time to be making her peace?

The moonlight throws a brilliant sheen on all surrounding objects, yet
she stands in the shade, bowered in a little archway of vines that
overhangs the gate. He has been strangely silent during the brief walk
homeward, and now, so far from following into the shadows as she half
hoped he might do, he stands without, the flood of moonlight falling
full upon his stalwart figure. Two months ago he would not thus have
held aloof, yet now he is half extending his hand as though in adieu.
She cannot fathom this strange silence on the part of him who so long
has been devoted as a lover. She knows well it cannot be because of her
injustice to him at the Point that he is unrelenting now. Her eyes have
told him how earnestly she repents: and does he not always read her
eyes? Only in faltering words, in the presence of others all too
interested, has she been able to speak her thanks for Philip's rescue.
She cannot see now that what he fears from her change of mood is that
gratitude for her brother's safety, not a woman's response to the
passionate love in his deep heart, is the impulse of this sweet,
half-shy, half-entreating manner. He cannot sue for love from a girl
weighted with a sense of obligation. He knows that lingering here is
dangerous, yet he cannot go. When friends are silent 'tis time for chats
to close: but there is a silence that at such a time as this only bids a
man to speak, and speak boldly. Yet Lee is dumb.

Once--over a year ago--he had come to the colonel's quarters to seek
permission to visit the neighboring town on some sudden errand. She had
met him at the door with the tidings that her father had been feeling
far from well during the morning, and was now taking a nap.

"Won't I do for commanding officer this time?" she had laughingly
inquired.

"I would ask no better fate--for all time," was his prompt reply, and he
spoke too soon. Though neither ever forgot the circumstance, she would
never again permit allusion to it. But to-night it is uppermost in her
mind. She _must_ know if it be true that he is going.

"Tell me," she suddenly asks, "have you applied for leave of absence?"

"Yes," he answers, simply.

"And you are going--soon?"

"I am going to-morrow," is the utterly unlooked-for reply.

"To-morrow! Why--Mr. Lee!"

There can be no mistaking the shock it gives her, and still he stands
and makes no sign. It is cruel of him! What has she said or done to
deserve penance like this? He is still holding out his hand as though in
adieu, and she lays hers, fluttering, in the broad palm.

"I--I thought all applications had to be made to--your commanding
officer," she says at last, falteringly, yet archly.

"Major Wilton forwarded mine on Monday. I asked him to say nothing about
it. The answer came by wire to-day."

"Major Wilton is _post_ commander; but--did you not--a year----?"

"Did I not?" he speaks in eager joy. "Do you mean you have not
forgotten _that_? Do you mean that now--for all time--my first
allegiance shall be to you, Miriam?"

No answer for a minute; but her hand is still firmly clasped in his. At
last,--

"Don't you think you ought to have asked me, before applying for leave
to go?"

Mr. Lee is suddenly swallowed up in the gloom of that shaded bower under
the trellis-work, though a radiance as of mid-day is shining through his
heart.

But soon he has to go. Mrs. Wilton is on the veranda, urging them to
come in out of the chill night air. Those papers on his desk must be
completed and filed this very night. He told her this.

"To-morrow, early, I will be here," he murmurs. "And now, good-night, my
own."

But she does not seek to draw her hand away. Slowly he moves back into
the bright moonbeams and she follows part way. One quick glance she
gives as her hand is released and he raises his forage cap. It is _such_
a disadvantage to have but one arm at such a time! She sees that Mrs.
Wilton is at the other end of the veranda.

"Good-night," she whispers. "I--know you _must_ go."

"I must. There is so much to be done."

"I--thought"--another quick glance at the piazza--"that a soldier, on
leaving, should--salute his commanding officer?"

And Romney Lee is again in shadow and--in sunshine.

       *     *     *     *     *

Late that autumn, in one of his infrequent letters to his devoted
mother, Mr. McKay finds time to allude to the news of Lieutenant Lee's
approaching marriage to Miss Stanley.

"Phil is, of course, immensely pleased," he writes, "and from all I hear
I suppose Mr. Lee is a very different fellow from what we thought six
months ago. Pennock says I always had a wrong idea of him; but Pennock
thinks all my ideas about the officers appointed over me are absurd. He
likes old Pelican, our battery commander, who is just the crankiest,
crabbedest, sore-headedest captain in all the artillery, and that is
saying a good deal. I wish I'd got into the cavalry at the start; but
there's no use in trying now. The --th is the only regiment I wanted;
but they have to go to reveille and stables before breakfast, which
wouldn't suit me at all.

"Hope Nan's better. A winter in the Riviera will set her up again.
Stanley asks after her when he writes, but he has rather dropped me of
late. I suppose it's because I was too busy to answer, though he ought
to know that in New York harbor a fellow has no time for scribbling,
whereas, out on the plains they have nothing else to do. He sent me his
picture a while ago, and I tell you he has improved wonderfully. Such a
swell moustache! I meant to have sent it over for you and Nan to see,
but I've mislaid it somewhere."

Poor little Nan! She would give many of her treasures for one peep at
the coveted picture that Will holds so lightly. There had been temporary
improvement in her health at the time Uncle Jack came with the joyous
tidings that Stanley was safe after all; but even the Riviera fails to
restore her wonted spirits. She droops visibly during the long winter.
"She grows so much older away from Willy," says the fond mamma, to whom
proximity to that vivacious youth is the acme of earthly bliss. Uncle
Jack grins and says nothing. It is dawning upon him that something is
needed besides the air and sunshine of the Riviera to bring back the
dancing light in those sweet blue eyes and joy to the wistful little
face.

"The time to see the Yosemite and 'the glorious climate of California'
is April, not October," he suddenly declares, one balmy morning by the
Mediterranean; "and the sooner we get back to Yankeedom the better
'twill suit me."

And so it happens that, early in the month of meteorological smiles and
tears, the trio are speeding westward far across the rolling prairies:
Mrs. McKay deeply scandalized at the heartless conduct of the War
Department in refusing Willy a two-months' leave to go with them; Uncle
Jack quizzically disposed to look upon that calamity as a not utterly
irretrievable ill; and Nan, fluttering with hope, fear, joy, and dread,
all intermingled; for is not _he_ stationed at Cheyenne? All these long
months has she cherished that little knot of senseless ribbon. If she
had sent it to him within the week of his graduation, perhaps it would
not have seemed amiss; but after that, after all he had been through in
the campaign,--the long months of silence,--he might have changed, and,
for very shame, she cannot bring herself to give a signal he would
perhaps no longer wish to obey. Every hour her excitement and
nervousness increase; but when the conductor of the Pullman comes to
say that Cheyenne is really in sight, and the long whistle tells that
they are nearing the dinner station of those days, Nan simply loses
herself entirely. There will be half an hour, and Philip actually there
to see, to hear, to answer. She hardly knows whether she is of this
mortal earth when Uncle Jack comes bustling in with the gray-haired
colonel, when she feels Miriam's kiss upon her cheek, when Mr. Lee,
handsomer and kindlier than ever, bends down to take her hand; but she
looks beyond them all for the face she longs for,--and it is not there.
The car seems whirling around when, from over her shoulder, she hears,
in the old, well-remembered tones, a voice that redoubles the throb of
her little heart.

"Miss Nannie!"

And there--bending over her, his face aglow, and looking marvellously
well in his cavalry uniform--is Philip Stanley. She knows not what she
says. She has prepared something proper and conventional, but it has all
fled. She looks one instant up into his shining eyes, and there is no
need to speak at all. Every one else is so busy that no one sees, no one
knows, that he is firmly clinging to her hand, and that she shamelessly
and passively submits.

A little later--just as the train is about to start--they are standing
at the rear door of the sleeper. The band of the --th is playing some
distance up the platform,--a thoughtful device of Mr. Lee's to draw the
crowd that way,--and they are actually alone. An exquisite happiness is
in her eyes as she peers up into the love-light in his strong, steadfast
face. _Something_ must have been said; for he draws her close to his
side and bends over her as though all the world were wrapped up in this
dainty little morsel of womanhood. Suddenly the great train begins
slowly to move. Part they must now, though it be only for a time. He
folds her quickly, unresisting, to his breast. The sweet blue eyes begin
to fill.

"My darling,--my little Nannie," he whispers, as his lips kiss away the
gathering tears. "There is just an instant. What is it you tell me you
have kept for me?"

"This," she answers, shyly placing in his hand a little packet wrapped
in tissue-paper. "Don't look at it yet! Wait!--But--I wanted to send
it--the very next day, Philip."

Slowly he turns her blushing face until he can look into her eyes. The
glory in his proud, joyous gaze is a delight to see. "My own little
girl," he whispers, as his lips meet hers. "I know it is my love-knot."



THE WORST MAN IN THE TROOP.


Just why that young Irishman should have been so balefully branded was
more than the first lieutenant of the troop could understand. To be
sure, the lieutenant's opportunities for observation had been limited.
He had spent some years on detached service in the East, and had joined
his comrades in Arizona but a fortnight ago, and here he was already
becoming rapidly initiated in the science of scouting through
mountain-wilds against the wariest and most treacherous of foemen,--the
Apaches of our Southwestern territory.

Coming, as he had done, direct from a station and duties where
full-dress uniform, lavish expenditure for kid gloves, bouquets, and
Lubin's extracts were matters of daily fact, it must be admitted that
the sensations he experienced on seeing his detachment equipped for the
scout were those of mild consternation. That much latitude as to
individual dress and equipment was permitted he had previously been
informed; that "full dress," and white shirts, collars, and the like
would be left at home, he had sense enough to know; but that every
officer and man in the command would be allowed to discard any and all
portions of the regulation uniform and appear rigged out in just such
motley guise as his poetic or practical fancy might suggest, had never
been pointed out to him; and that he, commanding his troop while a
captain commanded the little battalion, could by any military
possibility take his place in front of his men without his sabre, had
never for an instant occurred to him. As a consequence, when he bolted
into the mess-room shortly after daybreak on a bright June morning with
that imposing but at most times useless item of cavalry equipment
clanking at his heels, the lieutenant gazed with some astonishment upon
the attire of his brother-officers there assembled, but found himself
the butt of much good-natured and not over-witty "chaff," directed
partially at the extreme newness and neatness of his dark-blue flannel
scouting-shirt and high-top boots, but more especially at the glittering
sabre swinging from his waist-belt.

"Billings," said Captain Buxton, with much solemnity, "while you have
probably learned through the columns of a horror-stricken Eastern press
that we scalp, alive or dead, all unfortunates who fall into our
clutches, I assure you that even for that purpose the cavalry sabre has,
in Arizona at least, outlived its usefulness. It is too long and clumsy,
you see. What you really want for the purpose is something like
this,"--and he whipped out of its sheath a rusty but keen-bladed Mexican
_cuchillo_,--"something you can wield with a deft turn of the wrist, you
know. The sabre is apt to tear and mutilate the flesh, especially when
you use both hands." And Captain Buxton winked at the other subaltern
and felt that he had said a good thing.

But Mr. Billings was a man of considerable good nature and ready
adaptability to the society or circumstances by which he might be
surrounded. "Chaff" was a very cheap order of wit, and the serenity of
his disposition enabled him to shake off its effect as readily as water
is scattered from the plumage of the duck.

"So you don't wear the sabre on a scout? So much the better. I have my
revolvers and a Sharp's carbine, but am destitute of anything in the
knife line." And with that Mr. Billings betook himself to the duty of
despatching the breakfast that was already spread before him in an array
tempting enough to a frontier appetite, but little designed to attract a
_bon vivant_ of civilization. Bacon, _frijoles_, and creamless coffee
speedily become ambrosia and nectar under the influence of mountain-air
and mountain-exercise; but Mr. Billings had as yet done no climbing. A
"buck-board" ride had been his means of transportation to the
garrison,--a lonely four-company post in a far-away valley in
Northeastern Arizona,--and in the three or four days of intense heat
that had succeeded his arrival exercise of any kind had been out of the
question. It was with no especial regret, therefore, that he heard the
summons of the captain, "Hurry up, man; we must be off in ten minutes."
And in less than ten minutes the lieutenant was on his horse and
superintending the formation of his troop.

If Mr. Billings was astonished at the garb of his brother-officers at
breakfast, he was simply aghast when he glanced along the line of
Company "A" (as his command was at that time officially designated) and
the first sergeant rode out to report his men present or accounted for.
The first sergeant himself was got up in an old gray-flannel shirt, open
at and disclosing a broad, brown throat and neck; his head was crowned
with what had once been a white felt _sombrero_, now tanned by desert
sun, wind, and dirt into a dingy mud-color; his powerful legs were
encased in worn deer-skin breeches tucked into low-topped, broad-soled,
well-greased boots; his waist was girt with a rude "thimble-belt," in
the loops of which were thrust scores of copper cartridges for carbine
and pistol; his carbine, and those of all the command, swung in a
leather loop athwart the pommel of the saddle; revolvers in all manner
of cases hung at the hip, the regulation holster, in most instances,
being conspicuous by its absence. Indeed, throughout the entire command
the remarkable fact was to be noted that a company of regular cavalry,
taking the field against hostile Indians, had discarded pretty much
every item of dress or equipment prescribed or furnished by the
authorities of the United States, and had supplied themselves with an
outfit utterly ununiform, unpicturesque, undeniably slouchy, but not
less undeniably appropriate and serviceable. Not a forage-cap was to be
seen, not a "campaign-hat" of the style then prescribed by a board of
officers that might have known something of hats, but never could have
had an idea on the subject of campaigns. Fancy that black enormity of
weighty felt, with flapping brim well-nigh a foot in width, absorbing
the fiery heat of an Arizona sun, and concentrating the burning rays
upon the cranium of its unhappy wearer! No such head-gear would our
troopers suffer in the days when General Crook led them through the
cañons and deserts of that inhospitable Territory. Regardless of
appearances or style himself, seeking only comfort in his dress, the
chief speedily found means to indicate that, in Apache-campaigning at
least, it was to be a case of "_inter arma silent leges_" in dead
earnest; for, freely translated, the old saw read, "No red-tape when
Indian-fighting."

Of much of this Lieutenant Billings was only partially informed, and so,
as has been said, he was aghast when he marked the utter absence of
uniform and the decidedly variegated appearance of his troop. Deerskin,
buckskin, canvas, and flannels, leggings, moccasins, and the like,
constituted the bill of dress, and old soft felt hats, originally white,
the head-gear. If spurs were worn at all, they were of the Mexican
variety, easy to kick off, but sure to stay on when wanted. Only two men
wore carbine sling-belts, and Mr. Billings was almost ready to hunt up
his captain and inquire if by any possibility the men could be
attempting to "put up a joke on him," when the captain himself appeared,
looking little if any more like the ideal soldier than his men, and the
perfectly satisfied expression on his face as he rode easily around,
examining closely the horses of the command, paying especial attention
to their feet and the shoes thereof, convinced the lieutenant that all
was as it was expected to be, if not as it should be, and he swallowed
his surprise and held his peace. Another moment, and Captain Wayne's
troop came filing past in column of twos, looking, if anything, rougher
than his own.

"You follow right after Wayne," said Captain Buxton; and with no further
formality Mr. Billings, in a perfunctory sort of way, wheeled his men to
the right by fours, broke into column of twos, and closed up on the
leading troop.

Buxton was in high glee on this particular morning in June. He had done
very little Indian scouting, had been but moderately successful in what
he had undertaken, and now, as luck would have it, the necessity arose
for sending something more formidable than a mere detachment down into
the Tonto Basin, in search of a powerful band of Apaches who had broken
loose from the reservation and were taking refuge in the foot-hills of
the Black Mesa or among the wilds of the Sierra Ancha. As senior captain
of the two, Buxton became commander of the entire force,--two
well-filled troops of regular cavalry, some thirty Indian allies as
scouts, and a goodly-sized train of pack-mules, with its full complement
of packers, _cargadors_, and blacksmiths. He fully anticipated a lively
fight, possibly a series of them, and a triumphant return to his post,
where hereafter he would be looked up to and quoted as an expert and
authority on Apache-fighting. He knew just where the hostiles lay, and
was going straight to the point to flatten them out forthwith; and so
the little command moved off under admirable auspices and in the best of
spirits.

It was a four-days' hard march to the locality where Captain Buxton
counted on finding his victims; and when on the fourth day, rather tired
and not particularly enthusiastic, the command bivouacked along the
banks of a mountain-torrent, a safe distance from the supposed location
of the Indian stronghold, he sent forward his Apache Mojave allies to
make a stealthy reconnoissance, feeling confident that soon after
nightfall they would return with the intelligence that the enemy were
lazily resting in their "rancheria," all unsuspicious of his approach,
and that at daybreak he would pounce upon and annihilate them.

Soon after nightfall the scouts did return, but their intelligence was
not so gratifying: a small--a _very_ small--band of renegades had been
encamped in that vicinity some weeks before, but not a "hostile" or sign
of a hostile was to be found. Captain Buxton hardly slept that night,
from disappointment and mortification, and when he went the following
day to investigate for himself he found that he had been on a false
scent from the start, and this made him crabbed. A week's hunt through
the mountains resulted in no better luck, and now, having had only
fifteen days' rations at the outset, he was most reluctantly and
savagely marching homeward to report his failure.

But Mr. Billings had enjoyed the entire trip. Sleeping in the open air
without other shelter than their blankets afforded, scouting by day in
single file over miles of mere game-trails, up hill and down dale
through the wildest and most dolefully-picturesque scenery he "at least"
had ever beheld, under frowning cliffs and beetling crags, through dense
forests of pine and juniper, through mountain-torrents swollen with the
melting snows of the crests so far above them, through cañons, deep,
dark, and gloomy, searching ever for traces of the foe they were ordered
to find and fight forthwith, Mr. Billings and his men, having no
responsibility upon their shoulders, were happy and healthy as possible,
and consequently in small sympathy with their irate leader.

Every afternoon when they halted beside some one of the hundreds of
mountain-brooks that came tumbling down from the gorges of the Black
Mesa, the men were required to look carefully at the horses' backs and
feet, for mountain Arizona is terrible on shoes, equine or human. This
had to be done before the herds were turned out to graze with their
guard around them; and often some of the men would get a wisp of straw
or a suitable wipe of some kind, and thoroughly rub down their steeds.
Strolling about among them, as he always did at this time, our
lieutenant had noticed a slim but trimly-built young Irishman whose care
of and devotion to his horse it did him good to see. No matter how long
the march, how severe the fatigue, that horse was always looked after,
his grazing-ground pre-empted by a deftly-thrown picket-pin and lariat
which secured to him all the real estate that could be surveyed within
the circle of which the pin was the centre and the lariat the
radius-vector.

Between horse and master the closest comradeship seemed to exist; the
trooper had a way of softly singing or talking to his friend as he
rubbed him down, and Mr. Billings was struck with the expression and
taste with which the little soldier--for he was only five feet
five--would render "Molly Bawn" and "Kitty Tyrrell." Except when thus
singing or exchanging confidences with his steed, he was strangely
silent and reserved; he ate his rations among the other men, yet rarely
spoke with them, and he would ride all day through country marvellous
for wild beauty and be the only man in the command who did not allow
himself to give vent to some expression of astonishment or delight.

"What is that man's name?" asked Mr. Billings of the first sergeant one
evening.

"O'Grady, sir," replied the sergeant, with his soldierly salute; and a
little later, as Captain Buxton was fretfully complaining to his
subaltern of the ill fortune that seemed to overshadow his best efforts,
the latter, thinking to cheer him and to divert his attention from his
trouble, referred to the troop:

"Why, captain, I don't think I ever saw a finer set of men than you
have--anywhere. Now, _there's_ a little fellow who strikes me as being a
perfect light-cavalry soldier." And the lieutenant indicated his young
Irishman.

"You don't mean O'Grady?" asked the captain in surprise.

"Yes, sir,--the very one."

"Why, he's the worst man in the troop."

For a moment Mr. Billings knew not what to say. His captain had spoken
with absolute harshness and dislike in his tone of the one soldier of
all others who seemed to be the most quiet, attentive, and alert of the
troop. He had noticed, too, that the sergeants and the men generally, in
speaking to O'Grady, were wont to fall into a kindlier tone than usual,
and, though they sometimes squabbled among themselves over the choice of
patches of grass for their horses, O'Grady's claim was never questioned,
much less "jumped." Respect for his superior's rank would not permit the
lieutenant to argue the matter; but, desiring to know more about the
case, he spoke again:

"I am very sorry to hear it. His care of his horse and his quiet ways
impressed me so favorably."

"Oh, yes, d--n him!" broke in Captain Buxton. "Horses and whiskey are
the only things on earth he cares for. As to quiet ways, there isn't a
worse devil at large than O'Grady with a few drinks in him. When I came
back from two years' recruiting detail he was a sergeant in the troop. I
never knew him before, but I soon found he was addicted to drink, and
after a while had to 'break' him; and one night when he was raising hell
in the quarters, and I ordered him into the dark cell, he turned on me
like a tiger. By Jove! if it hadn't been for some of the men he would
have killed me,--or I him. He was tried by court-martial, but most of
the detail was made up of infantrymen and staff-officers from Crook's
head-quarters, and, by ----! they didn't seem to think it any sin for a
soldier to threaten to cut his captain's heart out, and Crook himself
gave me a sort of a rap in his remarks on the case, and--well, they just
let O'Grady off scot-free between them, gave him some little fine, and
did more harm than good. He's just as surly and insolent now when I
speak to him as he was that night when drunk. Here, I'll show you." And
with that Captain Buxton started off towards the herd, Mr. Billings
obediently following, but feeling vaguely ill at ease. He had never met
Captain Buxton before, but letters from his comrades had prepared him
for experiences not altogether pleasant. A good soldier in some
respects, Captain Buxton bore the reputation of having an almost
ungovernable temper, of being at times brutally violent in his language
and conduct towards his men, and, worse yet, of bearing ill-concealed
malice, and "nursing his wrath to keep it warm" against such of his
enlisted men as had ever ventured to appeal for justice. The captain
stopped on reaching the outskirts of the quietly-grazing herd.

"Corporal," said he to the non-commissioned officer in charge, "isn't
that O'Grady's horse off there to the left?"

"Yes, sir."

"Go and tell O'Grady to come here."

The corporal saluted and went off on his errand.

"Now, Mr. Billings," said the captain, "I have repeatedly given orders
that my horses must be side-lined when we are in the hostiles' country.
Just come here to the left." And he walked over towards a handsome,
sturdy little California horse of a bright bay color. "Here, you see, is
O'Grady's horse, and not a side-line: that's his way of obeying orders.
More than that, he is never content to have his horse in among the
others, but must always get away outside, just where he is most apt to
be run off by any Indian sharp and quick enough to dare it. Now, here
comes O'Grady. Watch him, if you want to see him in his true light."

Standing beside his superior, Mr. Billings looked towards the
approaching trooper, who, with a quick, springy step, advanced to within
a few yards of them, then stopped short and, erect and in silence,
raised his hand in salute, and with perfectly respectful demeanor looked
straight at his captain.

In a voice at once harsh and distinctly audible over the entire bivouac,
with frowning brow and angry eyes, Buxton demanded,--

"O'Grady, where are your side-lines?"

"Over with my blankets, sir."

"Over with your blankets, are they? Why in ----, sir, are they not here
on your horse, where they ought to be?" And the captain's voice waxed
harsher and louder, and his manner more threatening.

"I understood the captain's orders to be that they need not go on till
sunset," replied the soldier, calmly and respectfully, "and I don't like
to put them on that sore place, sir, until the last moment."

"Don't like to? No sir, I know d--d well you don't like to obey this or
any other order I ever gave, and wherever you find a loop-hole through
which to crawl, and you think you can sneak off unpunished, by ----,
sir, I suppose you will go on disobeying orders. Shut up, sir! not a
d--d word!" for tears of mortification were starting to O'Grady's eyes,
and with flushing face and trembling lip the soldier stood helplessly
before his troop-commander, and was striving to say a word in further
explanation.

"Go and get your side-lines at once and bring them here; go at once,
sir," shouted the captain; and with a lump in his throat the trooper
saluted, faced about, and walked away.

"He's milder-mannered than usual, d--n him!" said the captain, turning
towards his subaltern, who had stood a silent and pained witness of the
scene. "He knows he is in the wrong and has no excuse; but he'll break
out yet. Come! step out, you O'Grady!" he yelled after the
rapidly-walking soldier. "Double time, sir. I can't wait here all
night." And Mr. Billings noted that silence had fallen on the bivouac so
full of soldier-chaff and laughter but a moment before, and that the men
of both troops were intently watching the scene already so painful to
him.

Obediently O'Grady took up the "dog-trot" required of him, got his
side-lines, and, running back, knelt beside his horse, and with
trembling hands adjusted them, during which performance Captain Buxton
stood over him, and, in a tone that grew more and more that of a bully
as he lashed himself up into a rage, continued his lecture to the man.

The latter finally rose, and, with huge beads of perspiration starting
out on his forehead, faced his captain.

"May I say a word, sir?" he asked.

"You may now; but be d--d careful how you say it," was the reply, with a
sneer that would have stung an abject slave into a longing for revenge,
and that grated on Mr. Billings's nerves in a way that made him clinch
his fists and involuntarily grit his teeth. Could it be that O'Grady
detected it? One quick, wistful, half-appealing glance flashed from the
Irishman's eyes towards the subaltern, and then, with evident effort at
composure, but with a voice that trembled with the pent-up sense of
wrong and injustice, O'Grady spoke:

"Indeed, sir, I had no thought of neglecting orders. I always care for
my horse; but it wasn't sunset when the captain came out----"

"Not sunset!" broke in Buxton, with an outburst of profanity. "Not
sunset! why, it's well-nigh dark now, sir, and every man in the troop
had side-lined his horse half an hour ago. D--n your insolence, sir!
your excuse is worse than your conduct. Mr. Billings, see to it, sir,
that this man walks and leads his horse in rear of the troop all the way
back to the post. I'll see, by ----! whether he can be taught to obey
orders." And with that the captain turned and strode away.

The lieutenant stood for an instant stunned,--simply stunned.
Involuntarily he made a step towards O'Grady; their eyes met; but the
restraint of discipline was upon both. In that brief meeting of their
glances, however, the trooper read a message that was unmistakable.

"Lieutenant----" he said, but stopped abruptly, pointed aloft over the
trees to the eastward with his right hand, dashed it across his eyes,
and then, with hurried salute and a choking sort of gurgle in his
throat, he turned and went back to his comrades.

Mr. Billings gazed after the retreating form until it disappeared among
the trees by the brook-side; then he turned to see what was the meaning
of the soldier's pointing over towards the _mesa_ to the east.

Down in the deep valley in which the little command had halted for the
night the pall of darkness had indeed begun to settle; the bivouac-fires
in the timber threw a lurid glare upon the groups gathering around them
for supper, and towards the west the rugged upheavals of the Mazatzal
range stood like a black barrier against the glorious hues of a bank of
summer cloud. All in the valley spoke of twilight and darkness: the
birds were still, the voices of the men subdued. So far as local
indications were concerned, it _was_--as Captain Buxton had
insisted--almost dark. But square over the gilded tree-tops to the east,
stretching for miles and miles to their right and left, blazed a
vertical wall of rock crested with scrub-oak and pine, every boulder,
every tree, glittering in the radiant light of the invisibly setting
sun. O'Grady had _not_ disobeyed his orders.

Noting this, Mr. Billings proceeded to take a leisurely stroll through
the peaceful herd, carefully inspecting each horse as he passed. As a
result of his scrutiny, he found that, while most of the horses were
already encumbered with their annoying hobble, in "A" Troop alone there
were at least a dozen still unfettered, notably the mounts of the
non-commissioned officers and the older soldiers. Like O'Grady, they did
not wish to inflict the side-line upon their steeds until the last
moment. Unlike O'Grady, they had not been called to account for it.

When Mr. Billings was summoned to supper, and he rejoined his
brother-officers, it was remarked that he was more taciturn than usual.
After that repast had been appreciatively disposed of, and the little
group with lighted pipes prepared to spend an hour in chat and
contentment, it was observed that Mr. Billings did not take part in the
general talk, but that he soon rose, and, out of ear-shot of the
officers' camp-fire, paced restlessly up and down, with his head bent
forward, evidently plunged in thought.

By and by the half-dozen broke up and sought their blankets. Captain
Buxton, somewhat mollified by a good supper, was about rolling into his
"Navajo," when Mr. Billings stepped up:

"Captain, may I ask for information as to the side-line order? After you
left this evening, I found that there must be some misunderstanding
about it."

"How so?" said Buxton, shortly.

"In this, captain;" and Mr. Billings spoke very calmly and distinctly.
"The first sergeant, several other non-commissioned officers and
men,--more than a dozen, I should say,--did not side-line their horses
until half an hour after you spoke to O'Grady, and the first sergeant
assured me, when I called him to account for it, that your orders were
that it should be done at sunset."

"Well, by ----! it was after sunset--at least it was getting mighty
dark--when I sent for that black-guard O'Grady," said Buxton,
impetuously, "and there is no excuse for the rest of them."

"It was beginning to grow dark down in this deep valley, I know, sir;
but the tree-tops were in a broad glare of sunlight while we were at the
herd, and those cliffs for half an hour longer."

"Well, Mr. Billings, I don't propose to have any hair-splitting in the
management of my troop," said the captain, manifestly nettled. "It was
practically sunset to us when the light began to grow dim, and my men
know it well enough." And with that he rolled over and turned his back
to his subaltern.

Disregarding the broad hint to leave, Mr. Billings again spoke:

"Is it your wish, sir, that any punishment should be imposed on the men
who were equally in fault with O'Grady?"

Buxton muttered something unintelligible from under his blankets.

"I did not understand you, sir," said the lieutenant, very civilly.

Buxton savagely propped himself up on one elbow, and blurted out,--

"No, Mr. Billings! no! When I want a man punished I'll give the order
myself, sir."

"And is it still your wish, sir, that I make O'Grady walk the rest of
the way?"

For a moment Buxton hesitated; his better nature struggled to assert
itself and induce him to undo the injustice of his order; but the "cad"
in his disposition, the weakness of his character, prevailed. It would
never do to let his lieutenant get the upper hand of him, he argued, and
so the reply came, and came angrily.

"Yes, of course; he deserves it anyhow, by ----! and it'll do him good."

Without another word Mr. Billings turned on his heel and left him.

The command returned to garrison, shaved its stubbly beard of two weeks'
growth, and resumed its uniform and the routine duties of the post.
Three days only had it been back when Mr. Billings, marching on as
officer of the day, and receiving the prisoners from his predecessor,
was startled to hear the list of names wound up with "O'Grady," and when
that name was called there was no response.

The old officer of the day looked up inquiringly: "Where is O'Grady,
sergeant?"

"In the cell, sir, unable to come out."

"O'Grady was confined by Captain Buxton's order late last night," said
Captain Wayne, "and I fancy the poor fellow has been drinking heavily
this time."

A few minutes after, the reliefs being told off, the prisoners sent out
to work, and the officers of the day, new and old, having made their
reports to the commanding officer, Mr. Billings returned to the
guard-house, and, directing his sergeant to accompany him, proceeded to
make a deliberate inspection of the premises. The guard-room itself was
neat, clean, and dry; the garrison prison-room was well ventilated, and
tidy as such rooms ever can be made; the Indian prison-room, despite the
fact that it was empty and every shutter was thrown wide open to the
breeze, had that indefinable, suffocating odor which continued
aboriginal occupancy will give to any apartment; but it was the cells
Mr. Billings desired to see, and the sergeant led him to a row of
heavily-barred doors of rough unplaned timber, with a little grating in
each, and from one of these gratings there peered forth a pair of
feverishly-glittering eyes, and a face, not bloated and flushed, as with
recent and heavy potations, but white, haggard, twitching, and a husky
voice in piteous appeal addressed the sergeant:

"Oh, for God's sake, Billy, get me something, or it'll kill me!"

"Hush, O'Grady," said the sergeant: "here's the officer of the day."

Mr. Billings took one look at the wan face only dimly visible in that
prison-light, for the poor little man shrank back as he recognized the
form of his lieutenant:

"Open that door, sergeant."

With alacrity the order was obeyed, and the heavy door swung back upon
its hinges.

"O'Grady," said the officer of the day, in a tone gentle as that he
would have employed in speaking to a woman, "come out here to me. I'm
afraid you are sick."

Shaking, trembling, twitching in every limb, with wild, dilated eyes and
almost palsied step, O'Grady came out.

"Look to him a moment, sergeant," said Mr. Billings, and, bending low,
he stepped into the cell. The atmosphere was stifling, and in another
instant he backed out into the hall-way. "Sergeant, was it by the
commanding officer's order that O'Grady was put in there?"

"No, sir; Captain Buxton's."

"See that he is not returned there during my tour, unless the orders
come from Major Stannard. Bring O'Grady into the prison-room."

Here in the purer air and brighter light he looked carefully over the
poor fellow, as the latter stood before him quivering from head to foot
and hiding his face in his shaking hands. Then the lieutenant took him
gently by the arm and led him to a bunk:

"O'Grady, man, lie down here. I'm going to get something that will help
you. Tell me one thing: how long had you been drinking before you were
confined?"

"About forty-eight hours, sir, off and on."

"How long since you ate anything?"

"I don't know, sir; not for two days, I think."

"Well, try and lie still. I'm coming back to you in a very few minutes."

And with that Mr. Billings strode from the room, leaving O'Grady, dazed,
wonder-stricken, gazing stupidly after him.

The lieutenant went straight to his quarters, took a goodly-sized goblet
from the painted pine sideboard, and with practised hand proceeded to
mix therein a beverage in which granulated sugar, Angostura bitters, and
a few drops of lime-juice entered as minor ingredients, and the coldest
of spring-water and a brimming measure of whiskey as constituents of
greater quality and quantity. Filling with this mixture a small
leather-covered flask, and stowing it away within the breast-pocket of
his blouse, he returned to the guard-house, musing as he went, "'If this
be treason,' said Patrick Henry, 'make the most of it.' If this be
conduct prejudicial, etc., say I, do your d--dest. That man would be in
the horrors of jim-jams in half an hour more if it were not for this."
And so saying to himself, he entered the prison-room, called to the
sergeant to bring him some cold water, and then approached O'Grady, who
rose unsteadily and strove to stand attention, but the effort was too
much, and again he covered his face with his arms, and threw himself in
utter misery at the foot of the bunk.

Mr. Billings drew the flask from his pocket, and, touching O'Grady's
shoulder, caused him to raise his head:

"Drink this, my lad. I would not give it to you at another time, but you
need it now."

Eagerly it was seized, eagerly drained, and then, after he had swallowed
a long draught of the water, O'Grady slowly rose to his feet, looking,
with eyes rapidly softening and losing their wild glare, upon the young
officer who stood before him. Once or twice he passed his hands across
his forehead, as though to sweep away the cobwebs that pressed upon his
brain, but for a moment he did not essay a word. Little by little the
color crept back to his cheek; and, noting this, Mr. Billings smiled
very quietly, and said, "Now, O'Grady, lie down; you will be able to
sleep now until the men come in at noon; then you shall have another
drink, and you'll be able to eat what I send you. If you cannot sleep,
call the sergeant of the guard; or if you want anything, I'll come to
you."

Then, with tears starting to his eyes, the soldier found words: "I thank
the lieutenant. If I live a thousand years, sir, this will never be
forgotten,--never, sir! I'd have gone crazy without your help, sir."

Mr. Billings held out his hand, and, taking that of his prisoner, gave
it a cordial grip: "That's all right, O'Grady. Try to sleep now, and
we'll pull you through. Good-by, for the present." And, with a heart
lighter, somehow, than it had been of late, the lieutenant left.

At noon that day, when the prisoners came in from labor and the
officer's of the day inspected their general condition before permitting
them to go to their dinner, the sergeant of the guard informed him that
O'Grady had slept quietly almost all the morning, but was then awake and
feeling very much better, though still weak and nervous.

"Do you think he can walk over to my quarters?" asked Mr. Billings.

"He will try it, sir, or anything the lieutenant wants him to try."

"Then send him over in about ten minutes."

Home once more, Mr. Billings started a tiny blaze in his oil-stove, and
soon had a kettle of water boiling merrily. Sharp to time a member of
the guard tapped at the door, and, on being bidden "Come in," entered,
ushering in O'Grady; but meantime, by the aid of a little pot of
meat-juice and some cayenne pepper, a glass of hot soup or beef-tea had
been prepared, and, with some dainty slices of potted chicken and the
accompaniments of a cup of fragrant tea and some ship-biscuit, was in
readiness on a little table in the back room.

Telling the sentinel to remain in the shade on the piazza, the
lieutenant proceeded first to make O'Grady sit down in a big wicker
arm-chair, for the man in his broken condition was well-nigh exhausted
by his walk across the glaring parade in the heat of an Arizona noonday
sun. Then he mixed and administered the counterpart of the beverage he
had given his prisoner-patient in the morning, only in point of potency
it was an evident falling off, but sufficient for the purpose, and in a
few minutes O'Grady was able to swallow his breakfast with evident
relish, meekly and unhesitatingly obeying every suggestion of his
superior.

His breakfast finished, O'Grady was then conducted into a cool, darkened
apartment, a back room in the lieutenant's quarters.

"Now, pull off your boots and outer clothing, man, spread yourself on
that bed, and go to sleep, if you can. If you can't, and you want to
read, there are books and papers on that shelf; pin up the blanket on
the window, and you'll have light enough. You shall not be disturbed,
and I know you won't attempt to leave."

"Indeed, sir, I won't," began O'Grady, eagerly; but the lieutenant had
vanished, closing the door after him, and a minute later the soldier had
thrown himself upon the cool, white bed, and was crying like a tired
child.

Three or four weeks after this incident, to the small regret of his
troop and the politely-veiled indifference of the commissioned element
of the garrison, Captain Buxton concluded to avail himself of a
long-deferred "leave," and turned over his company property to Mr.
Billings in a condition that rendered it necessary for him to do a thing
that "ground" him, so to speak: he had to ask several favors of his
lieutenant, between whom and himself there had been no cordiality since
the episode of the bivouac, and an open rupture since Mr. Billings's
somewhat eventful tour as officer of the day, which has just been
described.

It appeared that O'Grady had been absent from no duty (there were no
drills in that scorching June weather), but that, yielding to the advice
of his comrades, who knew that he had eaten nothing for two days and was
drinking steadily into a condition that would speedily bring punishment
upon him, he had asked permission to be sent to the hospital, where,
while he could get no liquor, there would be no danger attendant upon
his sudden stop of all stimulant. The first sergeant carried his request
with the sick-book to Captain Buxton, O'Grady meantime managing to take
two or three more pulls at the bottle, and Buxton, instead of sending
him to the hospital, sent for him, inspected him, and did what he had no
earthly authority to do, directed the sergeant of the guard to confine
him at once in the dark cell.

"It will be no punishment as he is now," said Buxton to himself, "but it
will be hell when he wakes."

And so it had been; and far worse it probably would have been but for
Mr. Billings's merciful interference.

Expecting to find his victim in a condition bordering upon the abject
and ready to beg for mercy at any sacrifice of pluck or pride, Buxton
had gone to the guard-house soon after retreat and told the sergeant
that he desired to see O'Grady, if the man was fit to come out.

What was his surprise when the soldier stepped forth in his trimmest
undress uniform, erect and steady, and stood unflinchingly before
him!--a day's rest and quiet, a warm bath, wholesome and palatable food,
careful nursing, and the kind treatment he had received having brought
him round with a sudden turn that he himself could hardly understand.

"How is this?" thundered Buxton. "I ordered you kept in the dark cell."

"The officer of the day ordered him released, sir," said the sergeant of
the guard.

And Buxton, choking with rage, stormed into the mess-room, where the
younger officers were at dinner, and, regardless of the time, place, or
surroundings, opened at once upon his subaltern:

"Mr. Billings, by whose authority did you release O'Grady from the dark
cell?"

Mr. Billings calmly applied his napkin to his moustache, and then as
calmly replied, "By my own, Captain Buxton."

"By ----! sir, you exceeded your authority."

"Not at all, captain; on the contrary, you exceeded yours."

At this Buxton flew into a rage that seemed to deprive him of all
control over his language. Oaths and imprecations poured from his lips;
he raved at Billings, despite the efforts of the officers to quiet him,
despite the adjutant's threat to report his language at once to the
commanding officer.

Mr. Billings paid no attention whatever to his accusations, but went on
eating his dinner with an appearance of serenity that only added fuel to
his captain's fire. Two or three officers rose and left the table in
disgust, and just how far the thing might have gone cannot be accurately
told, for in less than three minutes there came a quick, bounding step
on the piazza, the clank and rattle of a sabre, and the adjutant fairly
sprang back into the room:

"Captain Buxton, you will go at once to your quarters in close arrest,
by order of Major Stannard."

Buxton knew his colonel and that little fire-eater of an adjutant too
well to hesitate an instant. Muttering imprecations on everybody, he
went.

The next morning, O'Grady was released and returned to duty. Two days
later, after a long and private interview with his commanding officer,
Captain Buxton appeared with him at the officers' mess at dinner-time,
made a formal and complete apology to Lieutenant Billings for his
offensive language, and to the mess generally for his misconduct; and so
the affair blew over; and, soon after, Buxton left, and Mr. Billings
became commander of Troop "A."

And now, whatever might have been his reputation as to sobriety before,
Private O'Grady became a marked man for every soldierly virtue. Week
after week he was to be seen every fourth or fifth day, when his guard
tour came, reporting to the commanding officer for duty as "orderly,"
the nattiest, trimmest soldier on the detail.

"I always said," remarked Captain Wayne, "that Buxton alone was
responsible for that man's downfall; and this proves it. O'Grady has all
the instincts of a gentleman about him, and now that he has a gentleman
over him he is himself again."

One night, after retreat-parade, there was cheering and jubilee in the
quarters of Troop "A." Corporal Quinn had been discharged by expiration
of term of service, and Private O'Grady was decorated with his chevrons.
When October came, the company muster-roll showed that he had won back
his old grade; and the garrison knew no better soldier, no more
intelligent, temperate, trustworthy non-commissioned officer, than
Sergeant O'Grady. In some way or other the story of the treatment
resorted to by his amateur medical officer had leaked out. Whether
faulty in theory or not, it was crowned with the verdict of success in
practice; and, with the strong sense of humor which pervades all
organizations wherein the Celt is represented as a component part, Mr.
Billings had been lovingly dubbed "Doctor" by his men, and there was one
of their number who would have gone through fire and water for him.

One night some herdsmen from up the valley galloped wildly into the
post. The Apaches had swooped down, run off their cattle, killed one of
the cowboys, and scared off the rest. At daybreak the next morning
Lieutenant Billings, with Troop "A" and about a dozen Indian scouts, was
on the trail, with orders to pursue, recapture the cattle, and punish
the marauders.

To his disgust, Mr. Billings found that his allies were not of the
tribes who had served with him in previous expeditions. All the trusty
Apache Mojaves and Hualpais were off with other commands in distant
parts of the Territory. He had to take just what the agent could give
him at the reservation,--some Apache Yumas, who were total strangers to
him. Within forty-eight hours four had deserted and gone back; the
others proved worthless as trailers, doubtless intentionally, and had it
not been for the keen eye of Sergeant O'Grady it would have been
impossible to keep up the pursuit by night; but keep it up they did, and
just at sunset, one sharp autumn evening, away up in the mountains, the
advance caught sight of the cattle grazing along the shores of a placid
little lake, and, in less time than it takes to write it, Mr. Billings
and his command tore down upon the quarry, and, leaving a few men to
"round up" the herd, were soon engaged in a lively running fight with
the fleeing Apaches which lasted until dark, when the trumpet sounded
the recall, and, with horses somewhat blown, but no casualties of
importance, the command reassembled and marched back to the
grazing-ground by the lake. Here a hearty supper was served out, the
horses were rested, then given a good "feed" of barley, and at ten
o'clock Mr. Billings with his second lieutenant and some twenty men
pushed ahead in the direction taken by the Indians, leaving the rest of
the men under experienced non-commissioned officers to drive the cattle
back to the valley.

That night the conduct of the Apache Yuma scouts was incomprehensible.
Nothing would induce them to go ahead or out on the flanks; they cowered
about the rear of column, yet declared that the enemy could not be
hereabouts. At two in the morning Mr. Billings found himself well
through a pass in the mountains, high peaks rising to his right and
left, and a broad valley in front. Here he gave the order to unsaddle
and camp for the night.

At daybreak all were again on the alert: the search for the trail was
resumed. Again the Indians refused to go out without the troops; but the
men themselves found the tracks of Tonto moccasins along the bed of a
little stream purling through the cañon, and presently indications that
they had made the ascent of the mountain to the south. Leaving a guard
with his horses and pack-mules, the lieutenant ordered up his men, and
soon the little command was silently picking its way through rock and
boulder, scrub-oak and tangled juniper and pine. Rougher and steeper
grew the ascent; more and more the Indians cowered, huddling together in
rear of the soldiers. Twice Mr. Billings signalled a halt, and, with his
sergeants, fairly drove the scouts up to the front and ordered them to
hunt for signs. In vain they protested, "No sign,--no Tonto here," their
very looks belied them, and the young commander ordered the search to be
continued. In their eagerness the men soon leaped ahead of the wretched
allies, and the latter fell back in the same huddled group as before.

After half an hour of this sort of work, the party came suddenly upon a
point whence it was possible to see much of the face of the mountain
they were scaling. Cautioning his men to keep within the concealment
afforded by the thick timber, Mr. Billings and his comrade-lieutenant
crept forward and made a brief reconnoissance. It was evident at a
glance that the farther they went the steeper grew the ascent and the
more tangled the low shrubbery, for it was little better, until, near
the summit, trees and underbrush, and herbage of every description,
seemed to cease entirely, and a vertical cliff of jagged rocks stood
sentinel at the crest, and stretched east and west the entire length of
the face of the mountain.

"By Jove, Billings! if they are on top of that it will be a nasty place
to rout them out of," observed the junior.

"I'm going to find out where they are, anyhow," replied the other. "Now
those infernal Yumas have _got_ to scout, whether they want to or not.
You stay here with the men, ready to come the instant I send or signal."

In vain the junior officer protested against being left behind; he was
directed to send a small party to see if there were an easier way up the
hill-side farther to the west, but to keep the main body there in
readiness to move whichever way they might be required. Then, with
Sergeant O'Grady and the reluctant Indians, Mr. Billings pushed up to
the left front, and was soon out of sight of his command. For fifteen
minutes he drove his scouts, dispersed in skirmish order, ahead of him,
but incessantly they sneaked behind rocks and trees out of his sight;
twice he caught them trying to drop back, and at last, losing all
patience, he sprang forward, saying, "Then _come_ on, you whelps, if you
cannot lead," and he and the sergeant hurried ahead. Then the Yumas
huddled together again and slowly followed.

Fifteen minutes more, and Mr. Billings found himself standing on the
edge of a broad shelf of the mountain,--a shelf covered with huge
boulders of rock tumbled there by storm and tempest, riven by
lightning-stroke or the slow disintegration of nature from the bare,
glaring, precipitous ledge he had marked from below. East and west it
seemed to stretch, forbidding and inaccessible. Turning to the sergeant,
Mr. Billings directed him to make his way off to the right and see if
there were any possibility of finding a path to the summit; then looking
back down the side, and marking his Indians cowering under the trees
some fifty yards away, he signalled "come up," and was about moving
farther to his left to explore the shelf, when something went whizzing
past his head, and, embedding itself in a stunted oak behind him, shook
and quivered with the shock,--a Tonto arrow. Only an instant did he see
it, photographed as by electricity upon the retina, when with a sharp
stinging pang and whirring "whist" and thud a second arrow, better
aimed, tore through the flesh and muscles just at the outer corner of
his left eye, and glanced away down the hill. With one spring he gained
the edge of the shelf, and shouted to the scouts to come on. Even as he
did so, bang! bang! went the reports of two rifles among the rocks, and,
as with one accord, the Apache Yumas turned tail and rushed back down
the hill, leaving him alone in the midst of hidden foes. Stung by the
arrow, bleeding, but not seriously hurt, he crouched behind a rock, with
carbine at ready, eagerly looking for the first sign of an enemy. The
whiz of another arrow from the left drew his eyes thither, and quick as
a flash his weapon leaped to his shoulder, the rocks rang with its
report, and one of the two swarthy forms he saw among the boulders
tumbled over out of sight; but even as he threw back his piece to
reload, a rattling volley greeted him, the carbine dropped to the
ground, a strange, numbed sensation had seized his shoulder, and his
right arm, shattered by a rifle-bullet, hung dangling by the flesh,
while the blood gushed forth in a torrent.

Defenceless, he sprang back to the edge; there was nothing for it now
but to run until he could meet his men. Well he knew they would be
tearing up the mountain to the rescue. Could he hold out till then?
Behind him with shout and yells came the Apaches, arrow and bullet
whistling over his head; before him lay the steep descent,--jagged
rocks, thick, tangled bushes: it was a desperate chance; but he tried
it, leaping from rock to rock, holding his helpless arm in his left
hand; then his foot slipped: he plunged heavily forward; quickly the
nerves threw out their signal for support to the muscles of the
shattered member, but its work was done, its usefulness destroyed.
Missing its support, he plunged heavily forward, and went crashing down
among the rocks eight or ten feet below, cutting a jagged gash in his
forehead, while the blood rained down into his eyes and blinded him; but
he struggled up and on a few yards more; then another fall, and,
well-nigh senseless, utterly exhausted, he lay groping for his
revolver,--it had fallen from its case. Then--all was over.

Not yet; not yet. His ear catches the sound of a voice he knows well,--a
rich, ringing, Hibernian voice it is: "Lieutenant, _lieutenant_!
_Where_ are ye?" and he has strength enough to call, "This way,
sergeant, this way," and in another moment O'Grady, with blended anguish
and gratitude in his face, is bending over him. "Oh, thank God you're not
kilt, sir!" (for when excited O'Grady _would_ relapse into the brogue);
"but are ye much hurt?"

"Badly, sergeant, since I can't fight another round."

"Then put your arm round my neck, sir," and in a second the little
Patlander has him on his brawny back. But with only one arm by which to
steady himself, the other hanging loose, the torture is inexpressible,
for O'Grady is now bounding down the hill, leaping like a goat from rock
to rock, while the Apaches with savage yells come tearing after them.
Twice, pausing, O'Grady lays his lieutenant down in the shelter of some
large boulder, and, facing about, sends shot after shot up the hill,
checking the pursuit and driving the cowardly footpads to cover. Once he
gives vent to a genuine Kilkenny "hurroo" as a tall Apache drops his
rifle and plunges head foremost among the rocks with his hands
convulsively clasped to his breast. Then the sergeant once more picks up
his wounded comrade, despite pleas, orders, or imprecations, and rushes
on.

"I cannot stand it, O'Grady. Go and save yourself. You _must_ do it. I
_order_ you to do it." Every instant the shots and arrows whiz closer,
but the sergeant never winces, and at last, panting, breathless, having
carried his chief full three hundred yards down the rugged slope, he
gives out entirely, but with a gasp of delight points down among the
trees:

"Here come the boys, sir."

Another moment, and the soldiers are rushing up the rocks beside them,
their carbines ringing like merry music through the frosty air, and the
Apaches are scattering in every direction.

"Old man, are you much hurt?" is the whispered inquiry his
brother-officer can barely gasp for want of breath, and, reassured by
the faint grin on Mr. Billings's face, and a barely audible "Arm
busted,--that's all; pitch in and use them up," he pushes on with his
men.

In ten minutes the affair is ended. The Indians have been swept away
like chaff; the field and the wounded they have abandoned are in the
hands of the troopers; the young commander's life is saved; and then,
and for long after, the hero of the day is Buxton's _bête noire_, "the
worst man in the troop."



VAN.


He was the evolution of a military horse-trade,--one of those periodical
swappings required of his dragoons by Uncle Sam on those rare occasions
when a regiment that has been dry-rotting half a decade in Arizona is at
last relieved by one from the Plains. How it happened that we of the
Fifth should have kept him from the clutches of those sharp
horse-fanciers of the Sixth is more than I know. Regimental tradition
had it that we got him from the Third Cavalry when it came our turn to
go into exile in 1871. He was the victim of some temporary malady at the
time,--one of those multitudinous ills to which horse-flesh is heir,--or
he never would have come to us. It was simply impossible that anybody
who knew anything about horses should trade off such a promising young
racer so long as there remained an unpledged pay-account in the
officers' mess. Possibly the arid climate of Arizona had disagreed with
him and he had gone amiss, as would the mechanism of some of the best
watches in the regiment, unable to stand the strain of anything so hot
and high and dry. Possibly the Third was so overjoyed at getting out of
Arizona on any terms that they would gladly have left their eye-teeth in
pawn. Whatever may have been the cause, the transfer was an accomplished
fact, and Van was one of some seven hundred quadrupeds, of greater or
less value, which became the property of the Fifth Regiment of Cavalry,
U.S.A., in lawful exchange for a like number of chargers left in the
stables along the recently-built Union Pacific to await the coming of
their new riders from the distant West.

We had never met in those days, Van and I. "Compadres" and chums as we
were destined to become, we were utterly unknown and indifferent to each
other; but in point of regimental reputation at the time, Van had
decidedly the best of it. He was a celebrity at head-quarters, I a
subaltern at an isolated post. He had apparently become acclimated, and
was rapidly winning respect for himself and dollars for his backers; I
was winning neither for anybody, and doubtless losing both,--they go
together, somehow. Van was living on metaphorical clover down near
Tucson; I was roughing it out on the rocks of the Mogollon. Each after
his own fashion served out his time in the grim old Territory, and at
last "came marching home again;" and early in the summer of the
Centennial year, and just in the midst of the great Sioux war of 1876,
Van and I made each other's acquaintance.

What I liked about him was the air of thoroughbred ease with which he
adapted himself to his surroundings. He was in swell society on the
occasion of our first meeting, being bestridden by the colonel of the
regiment. He was dressed and caparisoned in the height of martial
fashion; his clear eyes, glistening coat, and joyous bearing spoke of
the perfection of health; his every glance and movement told of elastic
vigor and dauntless spirit. He was a horse with a pedigree,--let alone
any self-made reputation,--and he knew it; more than that, he knew that
I was charmed at the first greeting; probably he liked it, possibly he
liked me. What he saw in me I never discovered. Van, though
demonstrative eventually, was reticent and little given to verbal
flattery. It was long indeed before any degree of intimacy was
established between us: perhaps it might never have come but for the
strange and eventful campaign on which we were so speedily launched.
Probably we might have continued on our original status of dignified and
distant acquaintance. As a member of the colonel's household he could
have nothing in common with me or mine, and his acknowledgment of the
introduction of my own charger--the cavalryman's better half--was of
that airy yet perfunctory politeness which is of the club clubby.
Forager, my gray, had sought acquaintance in his impulsive frontier
fashion when summoned to the presence of the regimental commander, and,
ranging alongside to permit the shake of the hand with which the colonel
had honored his rider, he himself had with equine confidence addressed
Van, and Van had simply continued his dreamy stare over the springy
prairie and taken no earthly notice of him. Forager and I had just
joined regimental head-quarters for the first time, as was evident, and
we were both "fresh." It was not until the colonel good-naturedly
stroked the glossy brown neck of his pet and said, "Van, old boy, this
is Forager, of 'K' Troop," that Van considered it the proper thing to
admit my fellow to the outer edge of his circle of acquaintance. My gray
thought him a supercilious snob, no doubt, and hated him. He hated him
more before the day was half over, for the colonel decided to gallop
down the valley to look at some new horses that had just come, and
invited me to go. Colonels' invitations are commands, and we went,
Forager and I, though it was weariness and vexation of spirit to both.
Van and his rider flew easily along, bounding over the springy
turf with long, elastic stride, horse and rider taking the rapid
motion as an every-day matter, in a cool, imperturbable,
this-is-the-way-we-always-do-it style; while my poor old troop-horse, in
answer to pressing knee and pricking spur, strove with panting breath
and jealously bursting heart to keep alongside. The foam flew from his
fevered jaws and flecked the smooth flank of his apparently unconscious
rival; and when at last we returned to camp, while Van, without a turned
hair or an abnormal heave, coolly nodded off to his stable, poor
Forager, blown, sweating, and utterly used up, gazed revengefully after
him an instant and then reproachfully at me. He had done his best, and
all to no purpose. That confounded clean-cut, supercilious beast had
worn him out and never tried a spurt.

It was then that I began to make inquiries about that airy fellow Van,
and I soon found he had a history. Like other histories, it may have
been a mere codification of lies; but the men of the Fifth were ready to
answer for its authenticity, and Van fully looked the character they
gave him. He was now in his prime. He had passed the age of tell-tale
teeth and was going on between eight and nine, said the knowing ones,
but he looked younger and felt younger. He was at heart as full of fun
and frolic as any colt, but the responsibilities of his position
weighed upon him at times and lent to his elastic step the grave dignity
that should mark the movements of the first horse of the regiment.

And then Van was a born aristocrat. He was not impressive in point of
size; he was rather small, in fact; but there was that in his bearing
and demeanor that attracted instant attention. He was beautifully
built,--lithe, sinewy, muscular, with powerful shoulders and solid
haunches; his legs were what Oscar Wilde might have called poems, and
with better reason than when he applied the epithet to those of Henry
Irving: they were straight, slender, and destitute of those heterodox
developments at the joints that render equine legs as hideous
deformities as knee-sprung trousers of the present mode. His feet and
pasterns were shapely and dainty as those of the _señoritas_ (only for
pastern read ankle) who so admired him on _festa_ days at Tucson, and
who won such stores of _dulces_ from the scowling gallants who had with
genuine Mexican pluck backed the Sonora horses at the races. His color
was a deep, dark chocolate-brown; a most unusual tint, but Van was proud
of its oddity, and his long, lean head, his pretty little pointed ears,
his bright, flashing eye and sensitive nostril, one and all spoke of
spirit and intelligence. A glance at that horse would tell the veriest
greenhorn that speed, bottom, and pluck were all to be found right
there; and he had not been in the regiment a month before the knowing
ones were hanging about the Mexican sports and looking out for a chance
for a match; and Mexicans, like Indians, are consummate horse-racers.

Not with the "greasers" alone had tact and diplomacy to be brought into
play. Van, though invoiced as a troop-horse sick, had attracted the
attention of the colonel from the very start, and the colonel had
speedily caused him to be transferred to his own stable, where,
carefully tended, fed, groomed, and regularly exercised, he speedily
gave evidence of the good there was in him. The colonel rarely rode in
those days, and cavalry-duties in garrison were few. The regiment was in
the mountains most of the time, hunting Apaches, but Van had to be
exercised every day; and exercised he was. "Jeff," the colonel's
orderly, would lead him sedately forth from his paddock every morning
about nine, and ride demurely off towards the quartermaster's stables in
rear of the garrison. Keen eyes used to note that Van had a way of
sidling along at such times as though his heels were too impatient to
keep at their appropriate distance behind the head, and "Jeff's" hand on
the bit was very firm, light as it was.

"Bet you what you like those 'L' Company fellows are getting Van in
training for a race," said the quartermaster to the adjutant one bright
morning, and the chuckle with which the latter received the remark was
an indication that the news was no news to him.

"If old Coach don't find it out too soon, some of these swaggering
_caballeros_ around here are going to lose their last winnings," was his
answer. And, true to their cavalry instincts, neither of the
staff-officers saw fit to follow Van and his rider beyond the gate to
the _corrals_.

Once there, however, Jeff would bound off quick as a cat, Van would be
speedily taken in charge by a squad of old dragoon sergeants, his
cavalry bridle and saddle exchanged for a light racing-rig, and Master
Mickey Lanigan, son and heir of the regimental saddle-sergeant, would be
hoisted into his throne, and then Van would be led off, all plunging
impatience now, to an improvised race-track across the _arroyo_, where
he would run against his previous record, and where old horses from the
troop-stables would be spurred into occasional spurts with the champion,
while all the time vigilant "non-coms" would be thrown out as pickets
far and near, to warn off prying Mexican eyes and give notice of the
coming of officers. The colonel was always busy in his office at that
hour, and interruptions never came. But the race did, and more than one
race, too, occurring on Sundays, as Mexican races will, and well-nigh
wrecking the hopes of the garrison on one occasion because of the
colonel's sudden freak of holding a long mounted inspection on that day.
Had he ridden Van for two hours under his heavy weight and housings that
morning, all would have been lost. There was terror at Tucson when the
cavalry trumpets blew the call for mounted inspection, full dress, that
placid Sunday morning, and the sporting sergeants were well-nigh crazed.
Not an instant was to be lost. Jeff rushed to the stable, and in five
minutes had Van's near fore foot enveloped in a huge poultice, much to
Van's amaze and disgust, and when the colonel came down,

     Booted and spurred and prepared for a ride,

there stood Jeff in martial solemnity, holding the colonel's other
horse, and looking, as did the horse, the picture of dejection.

"What'd you bring me that infernal old hearse-horse for?" said the
colonel. "Where's Van?"

"In the stable, dead lame, general," said Jeff, with face of woe, but
with diplomatic use of the brevet. "Can't put his nigh fore foot to the
ground, sir. I've got it poulticed, sir, and he'll be all right in a day
or two----"

"Sure it ain't a nail?" broke in the colonel, to whom nails in the foot
were sources of perennial dread.

"Perfectly sure, general," gasped Jeff. "D--d sure!" he added, in a tone
of infinite relief, as the colonel rode out on the broad parade.
"'Twould 'a' been nails in the coffins of half the Fifth Cavalry if it
_had_ been."

But that afternoon, while the colonel was taking his siesta, half the
populace of the good old Spanish town of Tucson was making the air blue
with _carambas_ when Van came galloping under the string an easy winner
over half a score of Mexican steeds. The "dark horse" became a
notoriety, and for once in its history head-quarters of the Fifth
Cavalry felt the forthcoming visit of the paymaster to be an object of
indifference.

Van won other races in Arizona. No more betting could be got against him
around Tucson; but the colonel went off on leave, and he was borrowed
down at Camp Bowie awhile, and then transferred to Crittenden,--only
temporarily, of course, for no one at head-quarters would part with him
for good. Then, when the regiment made its homeward march across the
continent in 1875, Van somehow turned up at the _festa_ races at
Albuquerque and Santa Fé, though the latter was off the line of march by
many miles. Then he distinguished himself at Pueblo by winning a
handicap sweepstakes where the odds were heavy against him. And so it
was that when I met Van at Fort Hays in May, 1876, he was a celebrity.
Even then they were talking of getting him down to Dodge City to run
against some horses on the Arkansaw; but other and graver matters turned
up. Van had run his last race.

Early that spring, or rather late in the winter, a powerful expedition
had been sent to the north of Fort Fetterman in search of the hostile
bands led by that dare-devil Sioux chieftain Crazy Horse. On "Patrick's
Day in the morning," with the thermometer indicating 30° below, and in
the face of a biting wind from the north and a blazing glare from the
sheen of the untrodden snow, the cavalry came in sight of the Indian
encampment down in the valley of Powder River. The fight came off then
and there, and, all things considered, Crazy Horse got the best of it.
He and his people drew away farther north to join other roving bands.
The troops fell back to Fetterman to get a fresh start; and when spring
fairly opened, old "Gray Fox," as the Indians called General Crook,
marched a strong command up to the Big Horn Mountains, determined to
have it out with Crazy Horse and settle the question of supremacy before
the end of the season. Then all the unoccupied Indians in the North
decided to take a hand. All or most of them were bound by treaty
obligations to keep the peace with the government that for years past
had fed, clothed, and protected them. Nine-tenths of those who rushed to
the rescue of Crazy Horse and his people had not the faintest excuse
for their breach of faith; but it requires neither eloquence nor excuse
to persuade the average Indian to take the war-path. The reservations
were beset by vehement old strifemongers preaching a crusade against the
whites, and by early June there must have been five thousand eager young
warriors, under such leaders as Crazy Horse, Gall, Little Big Man, and
all manner of Wolves, Bears, and Bulls, and prominent among
the later that head-devil, scheming, lying, wire-pulling,
big-talker-but-no-fighter, Sitting Bull,--"Tatanka-e-Yotanka",--five
thousand fierce and eager Indians, young and old, swarming through the
glorious upland between the Big Horn and the Yellowstone, and more
a-coming.

Crook had reached the head-waters of Tongue River with perhaps twelve
hundred cavalry and infantry, and found that something must be done to
shut off the rush of reinforcements from the southeast. Then it was that
we of the Fifth, far away in Kansas, were hurried by rail through Denver
to Cheyenne, marched thence to the Black Hills to cut the trails from
the great reservations of Red Cloud and Spotted Tail to the disputed
ground of the Northwest; and here we had our own little personal tussle
with the Cheyennes, and induced them to postpone their further progress
towards Sitting Bull and to lead us back to the reservation. It was
here, too, we heard how Crazy Horse had pounced on Crook's columns on
the bluffs of the Rosebud that sultry morning of the 17th of June and
showed the Gray Fox that he and his people were too weak in numbers to
cope with them. It was here, too, worse luck, we got the tidings of the
dread disaster of the Sunday one week later, and listened in awed
silence to the story of Custer's mad attack on ten times his weight in
foes--and the natural result. Then came our orders to hasten to the
support of Crook, and so it happened that July found us marching for the
storied range of the Big Horn, and the first week in August landed us,
blistered and burned with sun-glare and stifling alkali-dust, in the
welcoming camp of Crook.

Then followed the memorable campaign of 1876. I do not mean to tell its
story here. We set out with ten days' rations on a chase that lasted ten
weeks. We roamed some eighteen hundred miles over range and prairie,
over "bad lands" and worse waters. We wore out some Indians, a good many
soldiers, and a great many horses. We sometimes caught the Indians, and
sometimes they caught us. It was hot, dry summer weather when we left
our wagons, tents, and extra clothing; it was sharp and freezing before
we saw them again; and meantime, without a rag of canvas or any covering
to our backs except what summer-clothing we had when we started, we had
tramped through the valleys of the Rosebud, Tongue, and Powder Rivers,
had loosened the teeth of some men with scurvy before we struck the
Yellowstone, had weeded out the wounded and ineffective there and sent
them to the East by river, had taken a fresh start and gone rapidly on
in pursuit of the scattering bands, had forded the Little Missouri near
where the Northern Pacific now spans the stream, run out of rations
entirely at the head of Heart River, and still stuck to the trail and
the chase, headed southward over rolling, treeless prairies, and for
eleven days and nights of pelting, pitiless rain dragged our way
through the bad-lands, meeting and fighting the Sioux two lively days
among the rocks of Slim Buttes, subsisting meantime partly on what game
we could pick up, but mainly upon our poor, famished, worn-out,
staggering horses. It is hard truth for cavalryman to tell, but the
choice lay between them and our boots and most of us had no boots left
by the time we sighted the Black Hills. Once there, we found provisions
and plenty; but never, I venture to say, never was civilized army in
such a plight as was the command of General George Crook when his
brigade of regulars halted on the north bank of the Belle Fourche in
September, 1876. Officers and men were ragged, haggard, half starved,
worn down to mere skin and bone; and the horses,--ah, well, only half of
them were left: hundreds had dropped starved and exhausted on the line
of march, and dozens had been killed and eaten. We had set out blithe
and merry, riding jauntily down the wild valley of the Tongue. We
straggled in towards the Hills, towing our tottering horses behind us:
they had long since grown too weak to carry a rider.

Then came a leisurely saunter through the Hills. Crook bought up all the
provisions to be had in Deadwood and other little mining towns, turned
over the command to General Merritt, and hastened to the forts to
organize a new force, leaving to his successor instructions to come in
slowly, giving horses and men time to build up. Men began "building up"
fast enough; we did nothing but eat, sleep, and hunt grass for our
horses for whole weeks at a time; but our horses,--ah, that was
different. There was no grain to be had for them. They had been starving
for a month, for the Indians had burned the grass before us wherever we
went, and here in the pine-covered hills what grass could be found was
scant and wiry,--not the rich, juicy, strength-giving bunch grass of the
open country. Of my two horses, neither was in condition to do military
duty when we got to Whitewood. I was adjutant of the regiment, and had
to be bustling around a good deal; and so it happened that one day the
colonel said to me, "Well, here's Van. He can't carry my weight any
longer. Suppose you take him and see if he won't pick up." And that
beautiful October day found the racer of the regiment, though the ghost
of his former self, transferred to my keeping.

All through the campaign we had been getting better acquainted, Van and
I. The colonel seldom rode him, but had him led along with the
head-quarters party in the endeavor to save his strength. A big,
raw-boned colt, whom he had named "Chunka Witko," in honor of the Sioux
"Crazy Horse," the hero of the summer, had the honor of transporting the
colonel over most of those weary miles, and Van spent the long days on
the muddy trail in wondering when and where the next race was to come
off, and whether at this rate he would be fit for a finish. One day on
the Yellowstone I had come suddenly upon a quartermaster who had a peck
of oats on his boat. Oats were worth their weight in greenbacks, but so
was plug tobacco. He gave me half a peck for all the tobacco in my
saddle-bags, and, filling my old campaign hat with the precious grain, I
sat me down on a big log by the flowing Yellowstone and told poor old
"Donnybrook" to pitch in. "Donnybrook" was a "spare horse" when we
started on the campaign, and had been handed over to me after the fight
on the War Bonnet, where Merritt turned their own tactics on the
Cheyennes. He was sparer still by this time; and later, when we got to
the muddy banks of the "Heecha Wapka," there was nothing to spare of
him. The head-quarters party had dined on him the previous day, and only
groaned when that Mark Tapley of a surgeon remarked that if this was
Donnybrook Fare it was tougher than all the stories ever told of it.
Poor old Donnybrook! He had recked not of the coming woe that blissful
hour by the side of the rippling Yellowstone. His head was deep in my
lap, his muzzle buried in oats; he took no thought for the morrow,--he
would eat, drink, and be merry, and ask no questions as to what was to
happen; and so absorbed were we in our occupation--he in his happiness,
I in the contemplation thereof--that neither of us noticed the rapid
approach of a third party until a whinny of astonishment sounded close
beside us, and Van, trailing his lariat and picket-pin after him, came
trotting up, took in the situation at a glance, and, unhesitatingly
ranging alongside his comrade of coarser mould and thrusting his velvet
muzzle into my lap, looked wistfully into my face with his great soft
brown eyes and pleaded for his share. Another minute, and, despite the
churlish snappings and threatening heels of Donnybrook, Van was supplied
with a portion as big as little Benjamin's, and, stretching myself
beside him on the sandy shore, I lay and watched his enjoyment. From
that hour he seemed to take me into his confidence, and his was a
friendship worth having. Time and again on the march to the Little
Missouri and southward to the Hills he indulged me with some slight but
unmistakable proof that he held me in esteem and grateful remembrance.
It may have been only a bid for more oats, but he kept it up long after
he knew there was not an oat in Dakota,--that part of it, at least. But
Van was awfully pulled down by the time we reached the pine-barrens up
near Deadwood. The scanty supply of forage there obtained (at starvation
price) would not begin to give each surviving horse in the three
regiments a mouthful. And so by short stages we plodded along through
the picturesque beauty of the wild Black Hills, and halted at last in
the deep valley of French Creek. Here there was grass for the horses and
rest for the men.

For a week now Van had been my undivided property, and was the object of
tender solicitude on the part of my German orderly, "Preuss," and
myself. The colonel had chosen for his house the foot of a big pine-tree
up a little ravine, and I was billeted alongside a fallen ditto a few
yards away. Down the ravine, in a little clump of trees, the
head-quarters stables were established, and here were gathered at
nightfall the chargers of the colonel and his staff. Custer City, an
almost deserted village, lay but a few miles off to the west, and
thither I had gone the moment I could get leave, and my mission was
oats. Three stores were still open, and, now that the troops had come
swarming down, were doing a thriving business. Whiskey, tobacco, bottled
beer, canned lobster, canned anything, could be had in profusion, but
not a grain of oats, barley, or corn. I went over to a miner's
wagon-train and offered ten dollars for a sack of oats. The boss
teamster said he would not sell oats for a cent apiece if he had them,
and so sent me back down the valley sore at heart, for I knew Van's
eyes, those great soft brown eyes, would be pleading the moment I came
in sight; and I knew more,--that somewhere the colonel had "made a
raise," that he _had_ one sack, for Preuss had seen it, and Chunka Witko
had had a peck of oats the night before and another that very morning.
Sure enough, Van was waiting, and the moment he saw me coming up the
ravine he quit his munching at the scanty herbage, and, with ears erect
and eager eyes, came quickly towards me, whinnying welcome and inquiry
at the same instant. Sugar and hard-tack, delicacies he often fancied in
prosperous times, he took from my hand even now; he was too truly a
gentleman at heart to refuse them when he saw they were all I had to
give; but he could not understand why the big colt should have his oats
and he, Van, the racer and the hero of two months ago, should starve,
and I could not explain it.

That night Preuss came up and stood attention before my fire, where I
sat jotting down some memoranda in a note-book:

"Lieutenant, I kent shtaendt ut no longer yet. Dot scheneral's horse he
git oats ag'in diesen abent, unt Ven, he git noddings, unt he look, unt
look. He ot dot golt unt den ot me look, unt I _couldn't_ shtaendt ut,
lieutenant----"

And Preuss stopped short and winked hard and drew his ragged
shirt-sleeve across his eyes.

Neither could I "shtaendt ut." I jumped up and went to the colonel and
begged a hatful of his precious oats, not for my sake, but for Van's.
"Self-preservation is the first law of nature," and your own horse
before that of all the world is the cavalryman's creed. It was a heap to
ask, but Van's claim prevailed, and down the dark ravine "in the
gloaming" Preuss and I hastened with eager steps and two hats full of
oats; and that rascal Van heard us laugh, and answered with impatient
neigh. He knew we had not come empty-handed this time.

Next morning, when every sprig and leaf was glistening in the brilliant
sunshine with its frosty dew, Preuss led Van away up the ravine to
picket him on a little patch of grass he had discovered the day before
and as he passed the colonel's fire a keen-eyed old veteran of the
cavalry service, who had stopped to have a chat with our chief, dropped
the stick on which he was whittling and stared hard at our attenuated
racer.

"Whose horse is that, orderly?" he asked.

"De _etschudant's_, colonel," said Preuss, in his labored dialect.

"The adjutant's! Where did he get him? Why, that horse is a runner!"
said "Black Bill," appreciatively.

And pretty soon Preuss came back to me, chuckling. He had not smiled for
six weeks.

"Ven--he veels pully dis morning," he explained. "Dot Colonel Royle he
shpeak mit him unt pet him, unt Ven, he laeff unt gick up mit his hint
lecks. He git vell bretty gwick yet."

Two days afterwards we broke up our bivouac on French Creek, for every
blade of grass was eaten off, and pushed over the hills to its near
neighbor, Amphibious Creek, an eccentric stream whose habit of diving
into the bowels of the earth at unexpected turns and disappearing from
sight entirely, only to come up surging and boiling some miles farther
down the valley, had suggested its singular name. "It was half land,
half water," explained the topographer of the first expedition that had
located and named the streams in these jealously-guarded haunts of the
red men. Over on Amphibious Creek we were joined by a motley gang of
recruits just enlisted in the distant cities of the East and sent out to
help us fight Indians. One out of ten might know how to load a gun, but
as frontier soldiers not one in fifty was worth having. But they brought
with them capital horses, strong, fat, grain-fed, and these we
campaigners levied on at once. Merritt led the old soldiers and the new
horses down into the valley of the Cheyenne on a chase after some
scattering Indian bands, while "Black Bill" was left to hammer the
recruits into shape and teach them how to care for invalid horses. Two
handsome young sorrels had come to me as my share of the plunder, and
with these for alternate mounts I rode the Cheyenne raid, leaving Van to
the fostering care of the gallant old cavalryman who had been so struck
with his points the week previous.

One week more, and the reunited forces of the expedition, Van and all,
trotted in to "round up" the semi-belligerent warriors at the Red Cloud
agency on White River, and, as the war-ponies and rifles of the scowling
braves were distributed among the loyal scouts, and dethroned
Machpealota (old Red Cloud) turned over the government of the great
Sioux nation, Ogallallas and all, to his more reliable rival,
Sintegaliska,--Spotted Tail,--Van surveyed the ceremony of abdication
from between my legs, and had the honor of receiving an especial pat and
an admiring "_Washtay_" from the new chieftain and lord of the loyal
Sioux. His highness Spotted Tail was pleased to say that he wouldn't
mind swapping four of his ponies for Van, and made some further remarks
which my limited knowledge of the Brulé Dakota tongue did not enable me
to appreciate as they deserved. The fact that the venerable chieftain
had hinted that he might be induced to throw in a spare squaw "to boot"
was therefore lost, and Van was saved. Early November found us, after an
all-summer march of some three thousand miles, once more within sight
and sound of civilization. Van and I had taken station at Fort D. A.
Russell, and the bustling prairie city of Cheyenne lay only three miles
away. Here it was that Van became my pet and pride. Here he lived his
life of ease and triumph, and here, gallant fellow, he met his knightly
fate.

Once settled at Russell, all the officers of the regiment who were
blessed with wives and children were speedily occupied in getting their
quarters ready for their reception; and late in November my own little
household arrived and were presented to Van. He was then domesticated in
a rude but comfortable stable in rear of my little army-house, and there
he slept, was groomed and fed, but never confined. He had the run of our
yard, and, after critical inspection of the wood-shed, the coal-hole,
and the kitchen, Van seemed to decide upon the last-named as his
favorite resort. He looked with curious and speculative eyes upon our
darky cook on the arrival of that domestic functionary, and seemed for
once in his life to be a trifle taken aback by the sight of her woolly
pate and Ethiopian complexion. Hannah, however, was duly instructed by
her mistress to treat Van on all occasions with great consideration, and
this to Hannah's darkened intellect meant unlimited loaf-sugar. The
adjutant could not fail to note that Van was almost always to be seen
standing at the kitchen door, and on those rare occasions when he
himself was permitted to invade those premises he was never surprised to
find Van's shapely head peering in at the window, or head, neck, and
shoulders bulging in at the wood-shed beyond.

Yet the ex-champion and racer did not live an idle existence. He had his
hours of duty, and keenly relished them. Office-work over at
orderly-call, at high noon it was the adjutant's custom to return to his
quarters and speedily to appear in riding-dress on the front piazza. At
about the same moment Van, duly caparisoned, would be led forth from his
paddock, and in another moment he and his rider would be flying off
across the breezy level of the prairie. Cheyenne, as has been said, lay
just three miles away, and thither Van would speed with long, elastic
strides, as though glorying in his powers. It was at once his exercise
and his enjoyment, and to his rider it was the best hour of the day. He
rode alone, for no horse at Russell could keep alongside. He rode at
full speed, for in all the twenty-four that hour from twelve to one was
the only one he could call his own for recreation and for healthful
exercise. He rode to Cheyenne that he might be present at the event of
the day,--the arrival of the trans-continental train from the East. He
sometimes rode beyond, that he might meet the train when it was belated
and race it back to town; and this--_this_ was Van's glory. The rolling
prairie lay open and free on each side of the iron track, and Van soon
learned to take his post upon a little mound whence the coming of the
"express" could be marked, and, as it flared into sight from the
darkness of the distant snow-shed, Van, all a-tremble with excitement,
would begin to leap and plunge and tug at the bit and beg for the word
to go. Another moment, and, carefully held until just as the puffing
engine came well alongside, Van would leap like arrow from the string,
and away we would speed, skimming along the springy turf. Sometimes the
engineer would curb his iron horse and hold him back against the
"down-grade" impetus of the heavy Pullmans far in rear; sometimes he
would open his throttle and give her full head, and the long train would
seem to leap into space, whirling clouds of dust from under the whirling
wheels, and then Van would almost tear his heart out to keep alongside.

Month after month through the sharp mountain winter, so long as the snow
was not whirling through the air in clouds too dense to penetrate, Van
and his master had their joyous gallops. Then came the spring, slow,
shy, and reluctant as the springtide sets in on that high plateau in
mid-continent, and Van had become even more thoroughly domesticated. He
now looked upon himself as one of the family, and he knew the
dining-room window, and there, thrice each day and sometimes at odd
hours between, he would take his station while the household was at
table and plead with those great soft brown eyes for sugar.
Commissary-bills ran high that winter, and cut loaf-sugar was an item of
untold expenditure. He had found a new ally and friend,--a little girl
with eyes as deep and dark as and browner than his own, a winsome little
maid of three, whose golden, sunshiny hair floated about her bonny head
and sweet serious face like a halo of light from another world. Van
"took to her" from the very first. He courted the caress of her little
hand, and won her love and trust by the discretion of his movements when
she was near. As soon as the days grew warm enough, she was always out
on the front piazza when Van and I came home from our daily gallop, and
then she would trot out to meet us and be lifted to her perch on the
pommel; and then, with mincing gait, like lady's palfrey, stepping as
though he might tread on eggs and yet not crush them, Van would take the
little one on her own share of the ride. And so it was that the loyal
friendship grew and strengthened. The one trick he had was never
ventured upon when she was on his back, even after she became accustomed
to riding at rapid gait and enjoying the springy canter over the prairie
before Van went back to his stable. It was a strange trick: it proved a
fatal one.

No other horse I ever rode had one just like it. Running at full speed,
his hoofs fairly flashing through the air and never seeming to touch the
ground, he would suddenly, as it were, "change step" and gallop
"disunited," as we cavalrymen would say. At first I thought it must be
that he struck some rolling stone, but soon I found that when bounding
over the soft turf it was just the same; and the men who knew him in
the days of his prime in Arizona had noted it there. Of course there was
nothing to do for it but make him change back as quick as possible on
the run, for Van was deaf to remonstrance and proof against the rebuke
of spur. Perhaps he could not control the fault; at all events he did
not, and the effect was not pleasant. The rider felt a sudden jar, as
though the horse had come down stiff-legged from a hurdle-leap; and
sometimes it would be so sharp as to shake loose the forage-cap upon his
rider's head. He sometimes did it when going at easy lope, but never
when his little girl-friend was on his back; then he went on springs of
air.

One bright May morning all the different "troops," as the
cavalry-companies are termed, were out at drill on the broad prairie.
The colonel was away, the officer of the day was out drilling his own
company, the adjutant was seated in his office hard at work over
regimental papers, when in came the sergeant of the guard, breathless
and excited.

"Lieutenant," he cried, "six general prisoners have escaped from the
guard-house. They have got away down the creek towards town."

In hurried question and answer the facts were speedily brought out. Six
hard customers, awaiting sentence after trial for larceny, burglary,
assault with intent to kill, and finally desertion, had been cooped up
together in an inner room of the ramshackle old wooden building that
served for a prison, had sawed their way through to open air, and,
timing their essay by the sound of the trumpets that told them the whole
garrison would be out at morning drill, had slipped through the gap at
the right moment, slid down the hill into the creek-bottom, and then
scurried off townward. A sentinel down near the stables had caught sight
of them, but they were out of view long before his shouts had summoned
the corporal of the guard.

No time was to be lost. They were malefactors and vagabonds of the worst
character. Two of their number had escaped before and had made it their
boast that they could break away from the Russell guard at any time.
Directing the sergeant to return to his guard, and hurriedly scribbling
a note to the officer of the day, who had his whole troop with him in
the saddle out on the prairie, and sending it by the hand of the
sergeant-major, the adjutant hurried to his own quarters and called for
Van. The news had reached there already. News of any kind travels like
wildfire in a garrison, and Van was saddled and bridled before the
adjutant reached the gate.

"Bring me my revolver and belt,--quick," he said to the servant, as he
swung into saddle. The man darted into the house and came back with the
belt and holster.

"I was cleaning your 'Colt,' sir," he said, "but here's the Smith &
Wesson," handing up the burnished nickel-plated weapon then in use
experimentally on the frontier. Looking only to see that fresh
cartridges were in each chamber and that the hammer was on the
safety-notch, the adjutant thrust it into the holster, and in an instant
he and Van flew through the east gate in rapid pursuit.

Oh, how gloriously Van ran that day! Out on the prairie the gay guidons
of the troops were fluttering in the brilliant sunshine; here, there,
everywhere, the skirmish-lines and reserves were dotting the plain; the
air was ringing with the merry trumpet-calls and the stirring words of
command. Yet men forgot their drill and reined up on the line to watch
Van as he flashed by, wondering, too, what could take the adjutant off
at such an hour and at such a pace.

"What's the row?" shouted the commanding officer of one company.

"Prisoners loose," was the answer shouted back, but only indistinctly
heard. On went Van like one inspired, and as we cleared the drill-ground
and got well out on the open plain in long sweeping curve, we changed
our course, aiming more to the right, so as to strike the valley west of
the town. It was possible to get there first and head them off. Then
suddenly I became aware of something jolting up and down behind me. My
hand went back in search: there was no time to look: the prairie just
here was cut up with little gopher-holes and criss-crossed by tiny
canals from the main _acequia_, or irrigating ditch. It was that
wretched Smith & Wesson bobbing up and down in the holster. The Colt
revolver of the day was a trifle longer, and my man in changing pistols
had not thought to change holsters. This one, made for the Colt, was too
long and loose by half an inch, and the pistol was pounding up and down
with every stride. Just ahead of us came the flash of the sparkling
water in one of the little ditches. Van cleared it in his stride with no
effort whatever. Then, just beyond,--oh, fatal trick!--seemingly when in
mid-air he changed step, striking the ground with a sudden shock that
jarred us both and flung the downward-pointed pistol up against the
closely-buttoned holster-flap. There was a sharp report, and my heart
stood still an instant. I knew--oh, well I knew it was the death-note of
my gallant pet. On he went, never swaying, never swerving, never
slackening his racing speed; but, turning in the saddle and glancing
back, I saw, just back of the cantle, just to the right of the spine in
the glossy brown back, that one tiny, grimy, powder-stained hole. I knew
the deadly bullet had ranged downward through his very vitals. I knew
that Van had run his last race, was even now rushing towards a goal he
would never reach. Fast as he might fly, he could not leave Death
behind.

The chase was over. Looking back, I could see the troopers already
hastening in pursuit, but we were out of the race. Gently, firmly I drew
the rein. Both hands were needed, for Van had never stopped here, and
some strange power urged him on now. Full three hundred yards he ran
before he would consent to halt. Then I sprang from the saddle and ran
to his head. His eyes met mine. Soft and brown, and larger than ever,
they gazed imploringly. Pain and bewilderment, strange, wistful
pleading, but all the old love and trust, were there as I threw my arms
about his neck and bowed his head upon my breast. I could not bear to
meet his eyes. I could not look into them and read there the deadly pain
and faintness that were rapidly robbing them of their lustre, but that
could not shake their faith in his friend and master. No wonder mine
grew sightless as his own through swimming tears. I who had killed him
could not face his last conscious gaze.

One moment more, and, swaying, tottering first from side to side, poor
Van fell with heavy thud upon the turf. Kneeling, I took his head in my
arms and strove to call back one sign of recognition; but all that was
gone. Van's spirit was ebbing away in some fierce, wild dream: his
glazing eyes were fixed on vacancy; his breath came in quick, convulsive
gasps; great tremors shook his frame, growing every instant more
violent. Suddenly a fiery light shot into his dying eyes. The old high
mettle leaped to vivid life, and then, as though the flag had dropped,
the starting-drum had tapped, Van's fleeting spirit whirled into his
dying race. Lying on his side, his hoofs flew through the air, his
powerful limbs worked back and forth swifter than ever in their swiftest
gallop, his eyes were aflame, his nostrils wide distended, his chest
heaving, and his magnificent machinery running like lightning. Only for
a minute, though,--only for one short, painful minute. It was only a
half-mile dash,--poor old fellow!--only a hopeless struggle against a
rival that never knew defeat. Suddenly all ceased as suddenly as all
began. One stiffening quiver, one long sigh, and my pet and pride was
gone. Old friends were near him even then. "I was with him when he won
his first race at Tucson," said old Sergeant Donnelly, who had ridden to
our aid, "and I knowed then he would die racing."



THE END.


PRINTED BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY, PHILADELPHIA.



Transcriber's note


Some of the spellings and hyphenations in the original are unusual;
they have not been changed. Minor punctuation errors have been corrected
without notice.  A few obvious typographical errors have been
corrected and are listed below.

Page 107: "would he hurried to their support" changed to "would be
hurried to their support".

Page 160: "See knew how her father trusted" changed to "She knew how her
father trusted".

Page 197: "The car-seems whirling" changed to "The car seems whirling".

Page 227: "jagged rocks stook" changed to "jagged rocks stood".





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Starlight Ranch - and Other Stories of Army Life on the Frontier" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home