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Title: Laramie; or, The Queen of Bedlam.
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.

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Libraries.)



"LARAMIE;"

OR,

THE QUEEN OF BEDLAM.

A

STORY OF THE SIOUX WAR OF 1876.



BY

CAPTAIN CHARLES KING, U.S.A.,

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



PHILADELPHIA:
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.
1889.

Copyright, 1889, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.



"LARAMIE"

OR,

THE QUEEN OF BEDLAM.

A STORY OF FRONTIER ARMY LIFE.



I.


The snow had gone from all the foot-hills and had long since
disappeared in the broad river bottom. It was fast going from the
neighboring mountains, too--both the streams told plainly of that, for
while the Platte rolled along in great, swift surges under the Engineer
Bridge, its smaller tributary--the "Larmie," as the soldiers called
it--came brawling and foaming down its stony bed and sweeping around
the back of the fort with a wild vehemence that made some of the
denizens of the south end decidedly nervous. The rear windows of the
commanding officer's house looked out upon a rushing torrent, and where
the surgeon lived, at the south-west angle, the waters lashed against
the shabby old board fence that had been built in by-gone days, partly
to keep the children and chickens from tumbling into the stream when
the water was high, partly to keep out marauding coyotes when the water
was low. South and west the bare, gray-brown slopes shut out the
horizon and limited the view. Eastward lay the broad, open valley
beyond the confluence of the streams,--bare and level along the
crumbling banks, bare and rolling along the line of the foot-hills.
Northward the same brown ridges, were tumbled up like a mammoth wave a
mile or so beyond the river, while between the northern limits of the
garrison proper and the banks of the larger stream there lay a level
"flat," patched here and there with underbrush, and streaked by a
winding tangle of hoof- and wheel-tracks that crossed and re-crossed
each other, yet led, one and all, to the distant bridge that spanned
the stream, and thence bore away northward like the tines of a
pitchfork, the one to the right going over the hills a three days'
march to the Indian agencies up along the "Wakpa Schicha," the other
leading more to the west around a rugged shoulder of bluff, and then
stretching away due north for the head-waters of the Niobrara and the
shelter of the jagged flanks of Rawhide Butte. Only in shadowy clusters
up and down the stream was there anywhere sign of timber. Foliage, of
course, there was none. Cottonwood and willow in favored nooks along
the Platte were just beginning to shoot forth their tiny pea-green
tendrils in answer to the caressing touch of the May-day sunshine.
April had been a month of storm and bluster and huge, wanton wastes of
snow, whirling and drifting down from the bleak range that veiled the
valley of the Laramie from the rays of the westering sun; and any one
who chose to stroll out from the fort and climb the gentle slope to the
bluffs on that side, and to stand by the rude scaffolding whereon were
bleaching the bones of some Dakota brave, could easily see the
gleaming, glistening sides of the grand old peak, fully forty miles
away,--all one sheen of frosty white that still defied the melting
rays. Somebody was up there this very afternoon,--two somebodies. Their
figures were blacked in silhouette against the sky close by the Indian
scaffolding; but even at the distance one could see they were not
Indian mourners. That was not a blanket which the tall, slender shape
had just thrown about the slighter form. Mrs. Miller, the major's wife,
who happened to be crossing the parade at the moment, knew very well
that it was an officer's cape, and that Randall McLean had carefully
wrapped it about Nellie Bayard lest the keen wind from the west,
blowing freely over the ridges, should chill the young girl after her
long spin across the prairie and up the heights.

A good-hearted woman was Mrs. Miller, and very much did she like the
doctor's sweet and pretty daughter, very much better than she fancied
the doctor himself, although, had she been pressed for a reason for her
distrust of the senior medical attendant of the garrison, Mrs. Miller
might have found it hard to give satisfactory answer. He was a widower,
and "that made him interesting to some people," was her analysis of the
situation. She really knew nothing more detrimental to his character,
and yet she wished he had not lost his wife, and her wishes on this
point were not entirely because of Elinor's motherless state. It was
the first year the girl had spent in garrison since the death of that
loving mother nearly a decade before. There were not lacking hearts
full of sympathy and affection for the weeping little maiden when that
sore affliction befell her. She had been taken to her mother's old
home, reared and educated, and possibly over-indulged there, and
sometimes gladdened by visits from her handsome and distinguished
father. A marked man in his profession was Dr. Bayard, one of the
"swells" of the medical corps of the army, and rapturously had he been
loved by the beautiful and delicate woman whose heart he had won,
somewhat to the sorrow of her people. They did not like the army, and
liked it still less in the long years of separation that followed.
Bayard was a man who in his earlier service had secured many a pleasant
detail, and had been a society leader at Old Point Comfort, and
Newport, and Boston Harbor, and now, in his advancing years and under
an administration with which he had lost influence, he was taking his
turn at frontier service, and heartily damning the fates that had
landed him at Laramie. His dead wife's father was a man whose dictum
was law in the political party in power. The doctor appealed to him to
urge the Secretary of War to revoke the orders which consigned him to
the isolation of a Wyoming post, but the old gentleman had heard more
than one account of his widowed son-in-law's propensities and
peccadilloes. It was his conviction that Newport was not the place for
handsome Dr. Bayard; he rather delighted in the news that the doctor
promptly sent him; but, though a power in politics, he was in some
things no politician, for, when his son-in-law begged him to use his
influence in his behalf, the old gentleman said no,--and told him why.

That gloomy November when Dr. Bayard left for the West he took his
revenge on the old people, for he took his daughter with him.

It was a cruel, an almost savage blow, and one that was utterly
unlooked for. Fond as he had been of Elinor's mother, and proud as he
was of his pretty child, the doctor had been content to spend only
occasional holidays with her. Every few months he came to visit them,
or had her run down to New York for a brief tour among the shops, the
theatres, and the picture-galleries. She was enthusiastically devoted
to him, and thought no man on earth so grand, so handsome, so
accomplished. She believed herself the most enviable of daughters as
the child of so fond and indulgent a father. She gloried in the pride
which he manifested in her success at school, in her budding beauty and
graceful ways. She welcomed his coming with infinite delight, and was
ever ready to drop any other project when papa's brief letters and
telegrams summoned her to the city. Whatever their feeling toward the
doctor, her grand-parents had never betrayed them to her or sought to
undermine--or rather undeceive--her loyal devotion; but never had it
occurred to them as a possibility that he would assert his paternal
claim and bear away with him the idol of their hearts, the image of the
cherished daughter he had won from them so many years before. Proud old
judge and senator as he was, the grandfather had never been so sore
stricken. He could not plead, could not humble himself to unbend and
ask for mercy. For good and sufficient cause he had denied his
son-in-law the boon that had been so confidently demanded, and in his
chagrin and exasperation Dr. Bayard had taken his revenge. It was too
late now to prepare their little Elinor for characteristics of which
she had never dreamed, too late to warn her that her superb father was
not the hero her fancy painted. In utter consternation, in wretchedness
of spirit, the old couple saw her borne away, tearful at leaving them,
yet blissful at being with papa, and going once more to the army, and
they could only pray heaven to guard her and to comfort them.

But, if Dr. Bayard was incensed at being ordered to so distant a
station as Laramie, in the first place, his discontent was greatly
augmented with the coming of the new year. It was a crowded post when
he and Elinor arrived in the early winter, but long before the snows
had begun to disappear all the cavalry, and all but two companies of
infantry there on duty, were ordered northward into the Sioux country,
and his assistant was taken with the field column, leaving to the older
man the unwelcome task of caring for the families of all the absentees
as well as for the few men in the hospital. The sight of Dr. Bayard,
dignified, handsome, elegant in dress and manner, tramping about in the
deep snow around the laundresses' quarters was one that afforded rather
too much malicious delight to a few of the denizens of the club-room at
the store; but the contemplation of his own misfortunes was beginning
to bring the doctor himself to a state of mind still less justifiable.
All his life he had shunned the contemplation of poverty and distress.
He was now for the first time seeing sickness and suffering in
surroundings that had nothing of refinement, and he shrank, like the
sensitive and selfish creature that he was, from such contamination.

It was hard news for Laramie when the telegraph flashed the tidings of
the savage fight up among the snows in the Powder River country, but it
was comfort to Dr. Bayard. He had begged for an assistant to replace
the young surgeon who had been taken to the front, and his request was
declined on the ground that the size of the present garrison did not
warrant the detail of an additional medical officer. Bayard ground his
teeth, and swore, when the paper came back to him, "Respectfully
transmitted with attention invited to the endorsement of the medical
director,--which is approved." He could have testified under oath now,
so strong was his conviction, that his father-in-law, the surgeon-general
of the army, and the medical director of the department were all in
league to annoy and humiliate him to the verge of distraction--or
resignation from the service. But the fight with Crazy Horse's band of
Sioux brought unexpected aid and comfort to the doctor in greatly
adding to his responsibilities; a large number of wounded and frozen
soldiers were being brought in as fast as ambulance and _travois_
could haul them, and now he was shrewd enough to know that an
assistant would have to be sent, and he did not even ask. The young
doctor who came back with the wounded was himself so badly frozen when
only two days' march away that he could be of no further aid. Bayard
went forward through the snow-drifts up the Platte to meet his new
patients, saw them safely housed in hospital, and gave himself up to
the devoted efforts in their behalf. The moment the assistant arrived
he was given instructions to take entire charge of the soldiers'
families and the "hangers on" of the post.

And now the 1st of May was come; many of the wounded were well enough
to be hobbling around the fort in search of air and sunshine; many
additional troops had passed Laramie on their way up to the front and
many more were expected, but there still remained only the two infantry
companies to "hold the fort." At the earliest intimation of trouble
there had come back from the East, where he had been spending the first
long leave he had enjoyed in some years of service, a stalwart young
lieutenant by the name of McLean. Border warfare had no more charm for
him than it had for any other soldier who remembered that it was one in
which the Indian had everything to win and nothing to lose. He had seen
not a little of it, with hard marching, scouting, and suffering,
through winter's cold and summer's heat, in more than one campaign in
the recent past. It was hard to give up the leave, but harder to have
his regiment take the field without him. It was with a sense of having
been defrauded in some measure, therefore, that he found himself
retained at the fort, simply because his own company happened to be
kept back on guard. The column had gone when he succeeded in reaching
the post, and his chagrin was bitter when he found that, so far from
following and overtaking them on the trail to the Big Horn, he was
ordered to assume command of his company in the place of Captain Bruce,
who, though present at the fort, was rapidly breaking down with
rheumatic trouble that confined him to his quarters. McLean went to the
major commanding, he also wrote to his colonel and telegraphed to the
adjutant, but all to no purpose. There must be an officer with each
company, even though it be only a post-guard, and it was his ill-luck
to have to be the man.

And yet, three weeks after his return, Mr. McLean was by no means the
disgusted and unhappy subaltern he declared himself, and it was a fact
patent to all the garrison that Nellie Bayard was the source of comfort
which reconciled him to the situation.

The fort was crowded with officers' families at the time. A large force
had been maintained here during the winter, and when the troops took
the field in March the ladies and children remained,--a sacred charge
for Major Miller and his two companies of "foot." Not only was this the
case, but such was the threatening and truculent bearing of all the
Sioux and Cheyenne Indians remaining at the agency on White River to
the north-east, that a few of the officers on duty at Fort Robinson
(the post established there to overlook and overawe (?) the savages)
had sent their families back to Laramie under escort, and those gentle
refugees were received and housed and welcomed with a hospitality and
warmth that one never sees outside the army. Every set of officers'
quarters, therefore, was crowded to its full capacity, and a thing that
never before had happened in the chronicles of the old frontier post
was now a matter of course. Even "Bedlam," the ramshackle, two-story
frame rookery, once sacred to the bachelor element, had now two
families quartered therein, and one of these comprised the wife, maiden
sister, and three children of Captain Forrest, of the cavalry,--"refugees
from Robinson." For several days after their arrival they had been
housed under Major Miller's roof,--all the other quarters, except Dr.
Bayard's, being crowded,--and Nellie Bayard had begged her father to
invite Mrs., Miss, and the little Forrests to make his house their
home. The doctor willingly accorded her permission to invite Miss
Forrest, but drew the line at her unattractive sister-in-law and the
more than unattractive trio of youngsters. Before she had known Miss
Forrest three days, however, Nellie Bayard felt less eagerness to ask
her to be her guest, and Mrs. Miller, as kind and generous a soul as
ever lived, had gone so far as to say to her, "Don't."

And yet it seemed so unkind, so utterly lacking in hospitality or
courtesy. After his second call at the commanding officer's, and a
sprightly chat with this beaming, bright-eyed, vivacious young woman,
Dr. Bayard had rather pointedly inquired,--

"Nellie, dear, I thought you were to invite Miss Forrest to pay you a
visit; have you done so?"

"No, papa," was the hesitating answer. "I did mean to--but--don't you
expect Dr. and Mrs. Graham early next week? You know you'll have to ask
them."

"Oh, I know that, child, but the house is big. There are two spare
rooms, and even if we had to take in more, you two might share your
room awhile, might you not?"

"We might, papa dear; but--I'm afraid I don't like her. That is, she
doesn't attract me as she did at first. I thought her charming then."

"Tut, tut, tut! Why, what on earth's the matter with my little woman?"
asked the doctor, bending down over her as they were walking home. "It
isn't like you, Nell, to be censorious. What's she been doing?--making
eyes at young McLean?"

He might have judged better than that, had he reflected an instant. He
never yet had thought of his daughter except as a mere child, and he
did not mean for an instant to intimate that her growing interest in
the young lieutenant was anything more than a "school-girl" fancy. She
was old enough, however, to take his thoughtless speech _au sérieux_,
and it hurt her.

"Papa!" was her one, indignant word of remonstrance. She would not even
defend herself against such accusation.

"I know!--I understand--I didn't mean it except as the merest joke, my
child," he hurriedly interposed. "I thought you'd laugh at the idea."

But she would not speak of it, and he quickly sought to change the
subject, never even asking other reason for her apparent aversion to
Miss Forrest. It was true that the speedy coming of Dr. and Mrs. Graham
would make it necessary that he should open his doors to an officer of
his own corps and profession.

For a few days, however, that thoughtless speech seemed to rankle in
his gentle daughter's soul. Never before had she known hesitancy or
embarrassment in her daily, hourly chat with that fondly loved father.
Now there was a topic that she could not approach. Hitherto she used to
tell him all about her walks and talks with Mr. McLean. That young
gentleman, indeed, had accompanied them the evening they went to the
major's to call upon the latest arrival among the refugees, but now she
shrank from mentioning either Miss Forrest or him. For several days
after that talk it seemed as though she avoided not only the subjects,
but the two persons themselves. At least both of them would have sworn
to the latter part of the statement, and McLean was at his wit's end to
account for it.

Meantime, there being nowhere else to go, the Forrests had moved into
"Bedlam" in the same hall-way with the family of Lieutenant Post, also
refugees from Robinson; but while the Posts occupied rooms on the lower
floor, the Forrests took the four chambers overhead. Two young cavalry
officers were the occupants up to the outbreak of the campaign, but
all their furniture and "traps" were summarily moved over to the
quartermaster's storehouse by order of the commanding officer,--and one
trip of one wagon did the entire job,--for the emergency was one that
called for action, and Major Miller was a man to meet it. The Forrests
and the Posts, therefore, were now sole occupants of the south end of
"Bedlam," and Lieutenant McLean's two rooms were on the ground-floor of
the north end. The hall-ways ran entirely through from east to west,
giving on the west side into court-yards separated from each other by a
high board fence and completely enclosed by one of similar make. On the
east side, fronting the roadway, were broad verandas on both first and
second floors, and these were common property of the occupants of both
halls. By the rear or west door they could not pass from one hall to
the other, on account of the intervening fence. By the east door the
veranda on either story formed a convenient thoroughfare. McLean
occupied the two rooms on the north side of this hall, and a brother
infantryman, also a bachelor, occupied the two above him. The opposite
rooms on both floors were the garrison homes of married officers now in
the fields with their commands, and their doors were kept locked by the
quartermaster. The Forrests and Posts, with the Bedouin-like ease of
long experience on the frontier, had established a dining-room in
common on the ground-floor of the south end, and the temporary kitchen
was knocked up in the back yard. The south division, therefore,
contained a lively colony of women and children; the north halls, only
empty rooms and two lone bachelors.

This very May-day afternoon on which our story opens, as Lieutenant
McLean and Miss Bayard started forth on their stroll, Miss Forrest,
with a shawl hugged woman-fashion around her shapely form, was taking a
constitutional up and down the upper gallery. She came to the railing
and bent down, beaming, smiling, and kissing her hand to them,--and a
winsome smile she had,--then, as they passed out along the walk by the
old ordnance storehouse, she stood for a time looking after them.

That night, just after dusk, when Mr. McLean came bounding up the front
steps, intent on getting an album from his quarters, and then returning
to Mrs. Miller's, where he was spending the evening, he was surprised
to find the lamp extinguished. All was darkness as he opened the front
door. So, too, on the second floor there was no light in the hall, and
yet he could have sworn that both lamps were burning when he went out
at eight o'clock, half an hour before. In his own room, the front one,
however, the very opposite was the case. He had turned the lamp low the
last thing before starting, and closed the front of his standing desk,
turning the key in the lock. He always did these things when leaving
his quarters at night. Now the hanging lamp was throwing a steady light
all over the simple, soldier room, and the desk was wide open.

The rear room, his bedchamber, was dark as usual, and his first thought
was for his papers. These were in their pigeon-holes, undisturbed. Two
drawers had been pulled open; one was now half closed, while the other
remained with almost its full length, lying, tipped out, upon the
shelving desk. It was filled with Lynchburg tobacco, a bright-colored,
fragrant brand much affected by pipe-smokers at that time, and an idea
occurred to him. He stepped out into the hall and shouted up the
stairs,--

"Hat!--O-o-o, Hatton! You been here?"

No answer.

Mr. McLean shook his head in perplexity. He and his comrade, Lieutenant
Hatton, were intimates who smoked many a pipe together out of that same
drawer. He had many a time bidden the latter to come in and help
himself whenever he wanted to. Bachelor doors are always open in the
army, and the desk key was generally in the lock. Still it was not like
Hatton to leave things in disorder behind him, even if he were to take
McLean at his word. No! It wasn't Hatton, unless something very
unforeseen had suddenly called him away. Stepping quickly back into the
room he felt a draught of cool air, and saw that the portière that hung
between the two rooms was bulging slightly toward him. Instantly he
stepped into his bedroom, where all was dark, struck a match, and saw,
the moment its flash illumined surrounding objects, that the one door
he generally kept locked was now ajar. It led into the hall, and
thither strode McLean. Up to this instant not a sound had he heard.
Now, fairly flying up the old, creaky stairs, light as kittens', quick
as terriers', yet stealthy, almost noiseless, he distinctly heard
slippered footfalls. They whirled at the head of the stairs, and
flashed through the hall-way overhead and out on the front veranda, and
he, instead of pursuing, stood stone still, rooted to the floor, his
heart beating hard, his hands clinching in amaze. What stunned him was
the fact that with the footfalls went the swish of dainty silken
skirts.



II.


It was full ten minutes before Mr. McLean reissued from his quarters on
his return to the major's house. In the mean time he had searched his
desk and summed up his losses. They amounted to mere trifles--a few
postage-stamps and perhaps five dollars in currency--which happened to
be lying in the drawer above his tobacco receptacle. "Lucky I hadn't
got my April pay yet!" thought he. There were some handsome
sleeve-buttons and a scarf-pin or two in another drawer, but these had
not been touched,--the pilferer had been interrupted too soon. Some
letters and notes that were lying in the lower pigeon-holes had
evidently been objects of scrutiny, but were still there--so far as he
had time to count. He had left a jolly little gathering at the
Millers', and he was eager to return; he had left them only at Mrs.
Miller's urgent request that he should bring over his "scrap-book," in
which he had a miscellaneous assortment of photographs of army friends
and army scenes, of autographs, doggerel rhymes, and newspaper
clippings, such as "Spelling Tests" and "Feats in Pronunciation," and a
quantity of others containing varied and useful information. It was a
great standby and resource of his, and had helped to while away many an
evening on the frontier. Now, Mrs. Miller had been telling Nellie
Bayard about it, and was eager that she should see it. The major, too,
and several ladies present, all united in the request and enjoined upon
him to hurry back. As "Bedlam" lay but a hundred yards away, there was
no reason why he should not have returned in five minutes, but it was
fifteen when he reappeared, and was, as became the only young man in
the room, the immediate centre of combined question and invective.

"What could have kept you so long?" "Where on earth have you been?"
"Were it anybody but Mr. McLean, I would say he had gone down to the
club-room for a drink," etc. Nellie Bayard alone was silent. The
question that occurred to her was finally asked by Mrs. Miller,--

"Why, Mr. McLean, how white you look! Have you seen a ghost?"

"No," he answered, laughing nervously. "I've seen nothing. It is dark
as Erebus outside, and I ran into something I couldn't see at
all,--something too tangible for a ghost."

"Who was it or what was it?"

"That's what I'm dying to know. I was out in the very middle of the
parade, and this something was scurrying over toward Gordon's quarters
as I was coming here. We ran slap into each other. I sang out, 'Halloo!
Beg pardon,' and began hunting for the book that was knocked out from
under my arm, and this figure just whizzed right on,--never answered at
all."

"Odd!" said the major. "Some one of the men, do you think? been over
paying a visit to a sweetheart in some kitchen of the opposite
quarters?"

"Well, no," answered McLean, coloring and hesitating. "It might have
been some sweetheart going over to visit the east side and taking a
short cut across the parade. It wasn't a man."

"Oh! That's it, of course," chimed in Mrs. Brenham at once. "The
Johnsons have a girl--Winnie they call her--who is perpetually gadding
about, and I warrant it was she. Come! Let us see the scrap-book."

And so the party returned to the business of the evening and were soon
absorbed in the pages of McLean's collection. He had many a question to
answer, and was kept from the seat he longed to take, by Nellie
Bayard's side. Where three or four women are gathered together over an
album of photographs or a scrap-book of which he is the owner, no man
need hope to escape for so much as an instant. Yet she was watching him
and wondering at what she saw,--the effort it cost him to pay attention
to their simplest question--the evident distraction that had seized
upon him.

By and by tattoo sounded. The major went out with McLean to receive the
reports, and when they returned Mr. Hatton came too.

"Where have you been, Mr. Hatton?" asked Mrs. Miller. "We've been
looking for you all the evening, and wouldn't have a bite or a glass of
wine until you came in."

"Over at the Gordons'. They are having a little gathering too, mostly
of the refugees,--regular hen convention. I was the only man there for
over an hour."

"Who all were there?" inquired the hostess--her Southern birth and her
woman's interest in the goings-on of the garrison manifesting
themselves at one and the same time.

"Oh, about a dozen, all told," answered Mr. Hatton. "Mrs. Bruce and
Jeannie, Mrs. Forrest, Mrs. Post, the Gordon girls, Mrs. Wells, and
finally Miss Forrest. The little parlor was packed like a ration-can by
nine o'clock, and I was glad to slip away at first call."

"A likely statement in view of the fact that Jeannie Bruce was there."

"Fact, though!" answered Hatton, with a knowing look on his handsome
face. He did not want to say it was because Jeannie Bruce went home at
"first call" and that he escorted her.

McLean would be sure to understand that point, however, thought Mr.
Hatton to himself, and to obviate the possibility of his mischievously
suggesting that solution of the matter it might be well to tip him a
wink. Looking around in search of his chum, Mr. Hatton was surprised at
the odd and wretched expression on McLean's face. The tall young
subaltern had seated himself at last by Nellie Bayard's side, but
instead of devoting himself to her, as was to have been expected, he
was staring with white face at Hatton and drinking in every word.

"Why, what's the matter, old man? You look all struck of a heap!"
exclaimed Hatton, in genuine concern.

"Mr. McLean encountered a spook on his way over here," laughed the
major, seeing that McLean, in embarrassment, knew not how to reply. "He
ran afoul of a flying Dutchwoman out on the parade in the dark, and was
mystified because she would not stop and chat with him."

"What nonsense, major!" sharply interposed his better half. "You know
we settled it long ago that that must have been the Johnsons' Winnie on
one of her gad-abouts. Why do you add to the mischief?"

"Hm!" responded her lord in a broad grin. "Coming from a woman, that is
a stinger. Can't a fellow have a little fun at McLean's expense without
being accused of scattering scandal?"

"You are only too ready to accuse one of us of starting malicious
stories," replied his wife, with honest indignation. "It might be as
well for you to consider the possible effect of your own words."

"What possible effect--ill effect, that is--could my remark have had
even if repeated?" demanded the major in amusement.

"Well, never you mind now; I'm glad we all understand one another here
at any rate," answered Mrs. Miller, earnestly. "Now let us have peace
and a truce to the spook story. Mrs. Taylor, now won't you sing?"

"Really, Mrs. Miller, I ought not to stay another moment. I left the
nurse in charge of my babies, and I know perfectly well that by this time
she is out at the back gate flirting with Sergeant Murray. Indeed, Mr.
McLean, I do wish you would confine that altogether-too-utterly-attractive
young man to the limits of the barracks. He's at our gate morn, noon, and
night, and whenever he's there my Maggie is there too, and the children
might scream themselves hoarse and she never hear. Why, I'm a perfect
slave! I can't go anywhere. It's just do for those precious babies from
dawn till midnight. I might as well have no nurse at all. Oh, no, indeed,
Mrs. Miller. I must go this minute. Indeed I must. But, Mr. Hatton, how
did it happen that Miss Forrest only came in late?"

"More than I know, Mrs. Taylor. She said she was unable to come earlier
on account of letters or something. I didn't pay much attention. You
see there were six women around me already. I've never known the bliss
of being an undoubted belle until this spring."

"Then I suppose, too, she stopped to dress. You know Fanny Forrest has
such beautiful dresses, Mrs. Miller, and she's hardly had a chance to
show one of them since she got here. What did she wear this evening,
Mr. Hatton?"

"'Pon my soul, I don't know. It was a dress, of course, blue or
green--or something."

"Yes--something, undoubtedly; but what was it like? Did it----?"

"The idea of asking me to describe a woman's dress! Why, I don't know a
poplin from a polonaise, though I suppose there's a distinction of some
kind. All I know is that this one shimmered and had things all over it
like No. 12 shot or Sioux moccasin beads, and it swished and rustled as
she walked through the hall and up the stairs."

"Oh, I know,--that long silk princesse--electric blue--that came from
New York last October and----Beg pardon. What?"

"Not you, Mrs. Taylor. Go on!" said Mrs. Miller, pleasantly. "Mr.
Hatton's servant has just called for him at the door. Wants to see him
a moment." And Hatton left the parlor with the major at his heels.

An hour later, after seeing Nellie Bayard home, and striving in vain to
be like his actual self, Mr. McLean hurried to his quarters. Just as he
expected, Hatton was standing in front of the open fireplace puffing
furiously at a chunky little brierwood pipe. He looked up from under
his heavy eyebrows as McLean came in, but said nothing. The occupant of
the room filled and lighted his own particular "cutty," and threw
himself into an easy chair, first divesting himself of the handsome
uniform "blouse" he had worn during the evening, and getting into an
easy old shooting-jacket. Then through a cloud of fragrant smoke the
two men looked silently at each other. It was Hatton who spoke first:

"Well, Mac."

"What's up, Hatton?"

"Missed anything to-night?"

"Nothing to speak of," answered McLean, coloring. He had the hatred of
his race for the faintest equivocation.

"Well, I have, and I thought you might have been visited likewise. My
bureau and dressing-case have been ransacked and I'm out a good two
hundred dollars' worth.

"The devil you say!"

"Have you lost nothing?"

"Five dollars or so,--as I said, nothing I wanted to mention."

"Why?"

"Well--because."

"A woman's reason, Mac."

"How do you know a woman's the reason?" asked McLean, almost fiercely,
as he started from the chair. He had only imperfectly heard his
friend's muttered words.

"I don't!--and that isn't what I said," replied Hatton, coolly. "But
see here,--now we've got down to it," and he stopped to emit two or
three voluminous puffs of smoke from under his thick moustache. "It
would appear that the thief went through the next-door premises despite
the presence of nurses and servants and children,--and then dropped
some of his plunder here. Eh?" and he held forth a dainty handkerchief.

McLean took it, his hands trembling, and a creeping, chilling sensation
running through his fingers. It was of finest fabric, sheer and soft
and very simply embroidered. It was without, rather than with, surprise
lie found the letters "F. F." in one corner. He raised it, and, not
knowing what to say for the moment, sat there inhaling the delicate
fragrance that hung about the white folds.

"Where'd you find it?" he finally asked.

"Just at the foot of your bureau, Mac. It was lying there when I came
in, half an hour ago."

"Then it's mine to dispose of at least," said McLean, as he rose
promptly from his chair, stepped quickly to the fireplace, and tossed
the dainty toy among the flames. The next instant the last vestige of
it was swept from sight, and the two men stood looking quietly into
each other's eyes.



III.


The compact little post of Fort Laramie looked hardly big enough to
contain its population two days afterward when, under the influence of
a warm sunshine and the sweet music of the band, all the women and
children seemed to have gathered around the parade. Guard-mounting was
just over, and the adjutant had ordered the musicians to stop and play
a few airs in honor of its being the first morning on which it was warm
enough for the men to appear without overcoats and the women without
their furs. The little quadrangle, surrounded as it was by quarters and
houses of every conceivable pattern except that which was modern and
ornamental, was all alive with romping children and with sauntering
groups of ladies chatting with the few cavaliers who happened to be
available. A small battalion of infantry had marched up from the
nearest railway-station at Cheyenne, a good hundred miles away, and
pitched its tents on the flat to the north of the post, and this
brought a few visiting officers into the enclosure; otherwise, except
old Bruce, there would have been no man to talk to, as Hatton and
McLean were "marching on" and "marching off" guard respectively, and
the surgeon, adjutant, and quartermaster were all engaged in the old
head-quarters office with Major Miller.

While many of the ladies were seated in the sunshine on the piazzas,
and even "Bedlam" was so ornamented, there were several who were
strolling up and down the board and gravel walks, and of these Fanny
Forrest was certainly the most striking in appearance. She was tall,
stately in carriage, and beautifully formed. Her head was carried
proudly and her features were regular and fine. "But for that hardness
of expression she might be a tearing beauty," was the comment of more
than one woman who knew and envied her; but that expression certainly
existed and to her constant detriment. All manner of conjectures had
been started to account for her somewhat defiant air and that hard, set
look that so rarely left her face except when she smiled and strove to
please. No one really knew much about her. Captain Forrest, her
brother, was one of the popular men of his regiment, who years before
had become enamoured of and _would_ marry the namby-pamby though
pretty daughter of the old post chaplain. She happened to be the only
young lady in the big garrison of McPherson, one of those long winters
just after the War of the Rebellion, and Forrest was susceptible. Her
prettiness had soon faded, and there was no other attraction to eke it
out; but her husband was big-hearted and gentle, and he strove hard not
to let her see he thought her changed. Still, she was a querulous,
peevish woman by this time, poor girl, and her numerous olive-branches
had been more than a stronger woman could have managed. Forrest's house
was not the jolliest in the garrison, and he was given to drifting away
as a consequence; but the previous summer there came to him news that
took him suddenly Eastward. He was gone a month, and when he returned
he brought his tall, handsome, stylish sister with him, and it was
given out that she was to make her home with him henceforth,--unless,
as said the gossips, some other man claimed her. Some other man
did,--two some others, in fact, and "a very pretty quarrel as it stood"
was only nipped in the bud by the prompt action of the commanding
officer at Fort Robinson that very winter. Two young officers had
speedily fallen in love with her, and in so doing had fallen out with
each other. It was almost a fight, and would have been but for the
colonel commanding; and yet it was all absurd, for she turned both of
them adrift. Of her past she would not speak, and no one cared to
question Forrest. She had been living at her uncle's in New York, was
all that any one knew, and finally that had to be changed. She had come
out with her bronzed and soldierly brother, and was his guest now; it
was evident that there was deep affection between them; it was
theorized by the ladies at Robinson that she had had some unlucky
love-affair, and this was the more believed after she threw over the
two devotees aforementioned. All manner of that alluring bait which
women so well know how to use when inviting confidence was thrown to
her from time to time, but she refused it and intimacies of any kind,
and only one thing saved her from being ostracized by the garrison
sisterhood,--her dresses. "She must have had abundant means at some
time," said the ladies, "for her dresses are just lovely, and all her
clothes are just the same way, very stylish in make and most expensive
in material." No woman could quite break friendship with one who had
such a mine of fabulous interest in her three Saratogas. Nevertheless,
all the letters from Robinson to Laramie, in speaking of her, said she
was "worth seeing, but--not attractive." "If anything," wrote one
woman, "she is actually repellant in manner to half the ladies in the
garrison." This was her status until late that spring, and then came
another story,--a queer one, but only Mrs. Bruce received it, and she
showed the letter to her husband, who bade her to burn it and say no
word of its contents. Ere long another came,--to Mrs. Miller this
time,--and spoke of the odd losses sustained by young officers in the
garrison. Mr. French, who lived under the same roof with the Forrests,
had been robbed twice. No clue to the perpetrator. Then came the spring
outbreak of the Sioux, the rush to join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse,
the news of the sharp fight late in March, and the situation at
Robinson became alarming. April brought the refugees to Laramie, and
here, among others, were the Forrests and the Posts.

And now Miss Forrest was strolling placidly up and down the walk and
entirely monopolizing the attention of a tall, fine-looking soldier who
had met her for the first time only the previous evening and was
evidently eager to resume his place at her side. It was hardly fair to
the other women, and they were not slow to remark upon the fact.

"One thing is certain," said Mrs. Gordon, "if I were Nellie Bayard I
would not want to have her for a step-mother, and the doctor has been
simply devoted to her for the last three days."

"Yes, he seems decidedly smitten, Mrs. Gordon; but did we not hear that
Dr. Bayard was always doing the devoted to some woman,--a young one
preferred?" asked her next-door neighbor, who had just dropped in for a
moment's chat.

"Mrs. Miller certainly told me so; it was his reputation in the East,
and very possibly he is attracted now by such an undeniably stylish and
handsome girl. She can't be so very young, either. Look at those lines
under her eyes."

"Yes, and when she turns her head her neck shows it; the throat is
getting stringy. Here comes the doctor from the office now. I warrant
he passes every other woman and goes straight to her."

"Then it will be 'good-by, Mr. Mayhew,' to her present escort, I
warrant you in return. Fanny Forrest has no use for subalterns except
as fun to pass away the time."

"Yet she made eyes at Mr. McLean all that first day she was at the
Millers'. I think that is really the reason Mrs. Miller cannot bear
her. She won't speak of her if she can help it. Now watch the doctor."

There were perhaps half a dozen ladies in the party at the moment, and
all eyes were fastened on the tall and distinguished form of Dr. Bayard
as he strode across the parade, his handsome, portly figure showing to
excellent advantage in his snug-fitting uniform. They saw him bare his
head and bow with courtier-like grace to Miss Forrest and again to her
escort as he stopped and extended his hand. Then, after a few words, he
again bowed as gracefully as before and passed on in the direction of
the hospital.

"Certainly the most elegant man in manner and bearing we have seen at
Laramie for I don't know when," said Mrs. Gordon. "I don't wonder
Nellie worships him."

"She thinks her father simply perfect," was Mrs. Wells's reply. "I
dread to think what it will cost her when disillusion comes, as come it
must. Why! Who is that he is talking with now?"

At the north-west corner of the quadrangle, just beyond "Bedlam," the
doctor had encountered a stoutly-built man who wore an overcoat of
handsome beaver fur thrown wide open over the chest in deference to the
spring-like mildness of the morning, and who carried a travelling-bag
of leather in one hand. After a moment of apparently cordial chat the
two men walked rapidly southward along the gravel path, all eyes from
all the piazzas upon them as they came, and, passing one or two groups
of ladies, entered the gateway at the doctor's quarters, where Nellie
Bayard with "the Gordon girls" happened to be seated on the veranda.
Mrs. Gordon and Mrs. Wells arose from their chairs and gazed across the
parade, in their very natural curiosity to see what was going on "over
at the doctor's." They saw the stranger raise his cap, and bow low over
the hand that Nellie extended to him, and then make a bobbing obeisance
to each of the Gordon girls as he was presented to them. Then he took a
chair by Miss Bayard's side, while the servant came out and relieved
him of his overcoat and bag, and the Gordon girls were seen saying
adieu. Nellie followed them to the gate, but they evidently felt that
the stranger had not come to see them, and that it was time to leave.
The ladies on the home piazza awaited their coming with no little
impatience, and Mrs. Gordon was prepared to administer a sharp maternal
reproof when they were seen to stop in answer to hails from the groups
they passed _en route_. Everybody wanted to know who the fur-coated
stranger was, and their progress homeward from the south-west angle
was, therefore, nothing short of "running the gauntlet" of interrogations.
Possibly in anticipation of the displeasure awaiting her, the elder
maiden of the two strove to "cut across lots" when she came near the
south-eastern corner, whereat, facing north, stood the big house of the
commanding officer; but Mrs. Miller was too experienced a hand, and
bore down upon the pair in sudden swoop from her piazza to the front
gate, and they had to stop and surrender their information.

As a consequence, every woman along that side of Laramie knew before
Mesdames Gordon and Wells that Roswell Holmes, of Chicago, the "wealthy
mine-owner and cattle-grower," had just arrived in his own conveyance
from Cheyenne, and had been invited to put up at the doctor's quarters
during his stay at the fort.

"Think of it!" exclaimed Mrs. Gordon, "a bachelor, only thirty-eight,
and worth a million. No wonder Dr. Bayard seized him!"

"The doctor knew him before, mother," put in her daughter. "Nellie
wasn't introduced at all. He came right up and told her how glad he was
to see her again,--he looked it, too."

"They knew him in Chicago,--met him there on the way out," said the
younger. "I heard the doctor say so. Now, look! Here come Fanny Forrest
and Mr. Mayhew, and she wants to know who the stranger is; if she
doesn't she's the first person I've met who didn't ask."

But Miss Forrest proved an exception to the rule, so far as questions
were concerned, at least. She stopped in front of the gate, looking
beamingly up at the group on the piazza.

"Mrs. Gordon," she said, "Mr. Mayhew has invited me to walk down to the
camp of the battalion, and, as I haven't been outside the limits of the
post since we came, I should like to go. They are to have inspection in
'field kits' in half an hour. Don't you want to come with the girls? He
says there are half a dozen young gentlemen down there who are eager to
see them----"

"Oh, mamma, do!" implored both girls in a breath.

"Why, I hardly know, Miss Forrest," answered Mrs. Gordon, hesitatingly.
"Cannot Mrs. Forrest go?"

"Ruth is never ready to go anywhere," answered Miss Forrest, half
laughingly, yet with a certain rueful emphasis. "She is a slave to her
babies, and as for Celestine, the nurse, she is no help to her
whatever."

"Of course you girls must have a 'matron,'" said Mrs. Gordon. "How long
will you be there, Mr. Mayhew?"

"Oh, just about half an hour or so, Mrs. Gordon. Then inspection will
be over, and we fellows can all come back with you. It's just for the
walk, you know, and the pleasure it will give a raft of second
lieutenants." (Mr. Mayhew was a first lieutenant of one year's
standing.) "They'll bless me for bringing them down."

"Do let the girls go with us, Mrs. Gordon, and if you are too busy I'll
see Ruth at once. I can make Celestine stay home and look after the
children, though she cannot; and here come Mr. Hatton and Mr. McLean.
One of them, at least, will be glad to join us," said Miss Forrest,
with the confidence of handsome womanhood. "Perhaps both of them. No.
They are turning off across the parade. Call them, Mr. Mayhew. Let no
guilty man escape."

Obediently Lieutenant Mayhew shouted to the two young officers who had
just come forth from the presence of the major commanding. Both were in
undress uniform and sword-belts; both had caught sight of the tall girl
at the Gordons' gate at the same instant, and, had any one disposed to
be critical been looking on, that somebody would have been justified in
saying they "sheered off" the very next instant so as not to pass her
by within speaking distance. Mrs. Miller, sitting where she could see
the whole affair, was struck by the sudden change in their line of
direction, and watched them in no little curiosity as they halted in
recognition of Mayhew's call.

"What is it, Mayhew?" sung out Hatton.

"Come over here a minute, you and McLean. I have a scheme to unfold."

"Can't; I'm officer of the day."

"Well, you come, McLean. Miss Forrest wants to speak with you."

"Mac, there's no way out of it," growled Hatton between his set teeth;
"you've got to go."

"Be at the house in ten minutes, then. I'll join you there," said
McLean, glancing over his shoulders at his comrade as he started across
the springy turf to obey the summons. "What is it, Miss Forrest?" he
inquired. "Good-morning Mrs. Gordon--Mrs. Wells--everybody," he
continued, as, with forage-cap in hand, he made his obeisance to the
various ladies of the party.

"I want you to prove how we Bedlamites stand by one another by placing
yourself under my orders for a whole hour. You have no duty or
engagement, have you?"

McLean would have given--he knew not what--to be able to say he had;
but this _rencontre_ was something utterly unlooked for. He could
easily have pleaded letters, or company duty, but evasion was a trick
he could not brook. "I have none," he quietly answered.

"Then, for the honor of Bedlam, offer your services to these young
ladies and be their escort down to camp, where they are dying to go."

"Why, Fanny Forrest! how dare you?" gasped Kate Gordon, the elder.

"Indeed, Miss Forrest, I will not have a detailed escort," indignantly
protested Jeannie, the younger.

"What illimitable effrontery!" was the muttered comment of Mrs. Wells,
while poor Mrs. Gordon hardly knew what to say or do in her amaze and
annoyance. McLean himself had flushed crimson under the combined
influence of embarrassment and the recollection of the long talk he and
Hatton had had but two nights before. Mayhew, too, could hardly control
his surprise, but he declared afterward, when the matter came up for
comment down at camp, that he would "give a heap to have that man
McLean's self-possession," for with hardly an instant's delay the
latter's voice was heard above the voluble protests of the two young
ladies,--cordial, kindly, even entreating.

"I should like it, of all things. I want to run down and see the First
in the new field rig. Do let the girls go with me, Mrs. Gordon. Come,
Miss Kate; come, Miss Jeannie. I'll leave my sword at my quarters as we
go."

"Didn't I tell you, Mr. Mayhew?" said Miss Forrest, with heightened
color and a confident smile as she took his arm. "It is something to be
a queen, if it's only the queen of Bedlam."

And though, rather than create a scene, Mrs. Gordon and her daughters
joined the party, and Mrs. Wells and Miss Bruce decided to go, it was
noticed then and referred to afterward that Mr. McLean never so much as
looked at Miss Forrest or noticed her in any way at the time of this
occurrence. It was hardly night before the story had gone all over the
garrison, and added to Miss Forrest's growing unpopularity; and it was
kind-hearted Mrs. Miller herself who exclaimed, on hearing the details
in the inevitably exaggerated form in which all such narrative must
travel, "I declare! the title she has assumed seems to fit her,--Queen
of Bedlam, indeed!"



IV.


The doctor was giving a little dinner in honor of his friend Mr.
Holmes. Two days now had that gentleman been in garrison, where his
advent had created more of a flutter than the coming of an
inspector-general. He had a large cattle-range farther to the south,
beyond the Chugwater and comparatively removed from the scene of Indian
hostility and depredation; but such had become the laxity of discipline
on the part of the bureau officials, or such was their dread of their
turbulent charges at the reservations, that, from time to time,
marauding parties of young warriors had been raiding from the agencies
during the month of April, crossing the Platte River and dashing down
on the outskirts of the great cattle-herds south of Scott's Bluffs and
in the valleys of Horsehead and Bear Creeks. One party had even dared
to attack the ranches far up the Chugwater Valley at the crossing of
the Cheyenne road; another had ridden all around Fort Laramie, fording
the Platte above and below; and several of them had made away with
dozens of head of cattle bearing the well-known brand of Mr. Holmes of
Chicago. It was to see what could be done toward preventing the
recurrence of this sort of thing that brought Mr. Holmes to Laramie. At
least he said so, but there were ladies in the garrison who were quick
to determine that something worth more to him than a few hundred head
of cattle had prompted him to take that dangerous ride up from the
railway. "He would never have thought it worth while," said Mrs. Wells
after a day of quiet observation, "had Nellie Bayard not been here."

Another thing to give color to this theory was the fact that, yielding
to the importunities of Major Miller and his frequent telegraphic
reports of Indian dashes on the neighboring ranches, the division
commander had ordered a troop of cavalry back from patrol duty around
the reservation, and "The Grays" had marched in the very night before.
A scouting party of an officer and twenty troopers rode forth that
morning with orders to look over the Chugwater and the intervening
country around Eagle's Nest. If Mr. Holmes were in a hurry to get back
to business, here was excellent opportunity of driving half the way to
Cheyenne under escort. But Mr. Holmes, who had been somewhat emphatic
in his announcement that he could only stay one day, was apparently
well content with his comfortable quarters under the doctor's roof. He
might now stay longer, he said, for while up in that part of the
country he might just as well look over some mines in the Black Hills,
provided there were a chance of getting thither alive. Except for
heavily guarded trains, all communication was at an end between the
scattered settlements of the Hills and the posts along the Platte and
the Union Pacific Railway. The Indians swarmed out from the
reservations, attacking everything that appeared along the road, and
sometimes capturing the entire "outfit"; after plundering and scalping
their victims they built lively fires of the wagons, and cheerfully
roasted alive such of their prisoners as had the ill-luck not to be
killed in the first place. The road to the Black Hills, either from
Sidney or by way of Fort Laramie, was lined with the ashes of burned
wagons, and, in lieu of mile-posts, was staked with little, rude,
unpainted crosses, each marking the grave of some victim of this savage
warfare; and Mr. Holmes was quite right in his theory that it would be
far safer and pleasanter to stay at Laramie until some big party went
up to the Hills. The doctor was most hospitable in his pressing
invitation for him to make his house a home just as long as it might
please him. Nellie was glad to win her beloved father's praise by doing
what she could to make the army homestead attractive to his guest; the
guest himself was courteous, well-bred and cordial in manner, readily
winning friends all over the garrison; and the only man to whom his
protracted visit became a matter of serious disquietude was poor
Randall McLean. With a lover's intuition he saw that the wealthy
Chicagoan was deeply interested in sweet Nellie Bayard, and that her
father eagerly favored the suit.

Up to the hour of Mr. Holmes's arrival, there was not a day on which
the young fellow had not enjoyed a walk or one or more delightful chats
with the doctor's pretty daughter. He had no rivals; there were at the
moment no other bachelor officers at the post, with the exception of
Hatton, who, besides having a chivalrous disposition not to cut in
where his comrade was interested, was popularly supposed to be the
peculiar property of Miss Janet Bruce.

Now, however, since Mr. Holmes had taken up his abode under the
Æsculapian vine and fig-tree, McLean found it simply impossible to see
the lady of his love except in general company. The Chicago capitalist,
despite his thirty-eight years, was rarely out of reach of the little
pink ear, and, though courteous and unobtrusive, it was patent to
McLean that he meant no other man should charm it with a lover's wooing
until his own substantial claims had had full consideration. No matter
at what hour the lieutenant called, there was Roswell Holmes in the
parlor; and, when he sought to engage her for a walk, it so happened
that papa and Mr. Holmes had arranged to go calling at that very time,
and papa had expressed his wish that she should go too. It began to
look very ominous before the end of that second day, and when the
evening of the dinner came Mr. McLean was decidedly low in his mind. He
was not even invited.

Now there was nothing in this circumstance to which he should have
attached any importance whatever. Army quarters are small at best, and
a dining-room on the frontier big enough to accommodate a dozen people
was in those days a decided rarity. The doctor, after consultation with
Nellie and with the presiding goddess in the kitchen, had decided upon
ten as the proper number to be seated at his table. There would then be
no crowding, and all might go off without confusion. Very proud was the
doctor of some precious old family plate and some more modern and even
more beautiful china with which he adorned his table on state
occasions. He wanted to make an impression on his wealthy guest, and
this was an opportunity not to be neglected. He gave much thought, too,
to the composition of his party. The commanding officer and his wife
must, of course, be invited. Captain and Mrs. Bruce he decided upon
because they were people of much travel and, for army folks, remarkably
well read and informed. They would reflect credit on his entertainment.
The adjutant and his wife were also bidden as being guests who would
grace his board. But he did not invite even his own junior and
assistant, Dr. Weeks. "I can explain all that, Nellie. He won't mind,"
he said, "and besides, if Holmes can stay till the end of the week,
I'll give another and have all the youngsters." She had brightened up
at that, for her heart misgave her a little at the thought of her most
loyal friends being left out in the cold. Then she looked very grave
again when his next words were spoken. "And now, dear, we want one more
lady to make our party complete, and no one will do as well as Miss
Forrest."

Poor Nellie! She knew not what to say. Her father was, of course,
cognizant of the growing dislike to that strange girl, and had
pooh-poohed some of the stories that had been brought to his ears.
There was not a woman in the officers' quarters whom she would not
rather have invited, yet from the very first she felt in the depths of
her soul that Miss Forrest would be her father's choice. One timid
little suggestion she made in favor of Janet Bruce, since her parents
were to be of the party; but the doctor promptly scouted it.

"Why, daughter, she's barely seventeen, a girl who would not be in
society at all anywhere in civilization;" and with a sigh Nellie
abandoned the point. "Besides," said the doctor as a clincher, "I want
this a 'swell' affair; just think how much Miss Forrest's taste in
dress will help out."

Certainly his judgment was warranted by her appearance the evening of
the dinner, when, the last guest to arrive, Fanny Forrest came rustling
down the stairs and into the brightly lighted parlor. It had begun to
rain just before sunset, and she had brought Celestine with her to hold
the umbrella over her while her own jewelled hands gathered those
costly skirts about her under the folds of the gossamer that enveloped
her from head to feet. The girl, a bright, intelligent mulattress,
followed her mistress upstairs to the room set apart for the use of the
ladies, and was busy removing her wraps when Nellie ran up to inquire
if she could be of any assistance.

"Thank you heartily, Nellie," was the cordial answer. "How simply
exquisite you look to-night!" and Miss Forrest's winsome smile was
brighter than ever as she bent her head to kiss the reluctant cheek
that seemed to pale under her touch. "No, run back to your guests.
Celestine will put me to rights in a minute, and I'll be down in a
jiffy; don't wait."

And so Nellie returned to the parlor, and in a moment Celestine came
down and passed out at the front door, and then Miss Forrest's light
footfalls could be heard aloft as the guests grouped themselves about
the parlor,--the men in their full-dress uniforms, except, of course,
their civilian friend,--the ladies in their most becoming dinner
toilet. Despite her growing unpopularity every eye was turned (with
eagerness on the part of the women and Dr. Bayard) when Miss Forrest's
silken skirts came sweeping down the stairs. Her _entrée_ was a
triumph.

"Thought you said her neck showed her age," whispered the major to his
better half. "Why, her neck and arms are superb!" a speech that cost
him metaphorical salt in his coffee for the next three days. The doctor
stepped forward in his most graceful manner to meet and welcome her.
Captain Bruce could not refrain from hobbling up and saying a word of
admiration; even Mr. Holmes fixed his dark eyes upon her in
unmistakable approval, and spoke a few courteous words before he turned
back to Nellie's side; and Mrs. Miller unlimbered her eye-glasses,
mounted them on her prominent nose, gazed long and earnestly at the
self-possessed young woman who was the centre of the group, and then
looked for sympathy to Mrs. Bruce--and found it. Never in her life had
Fanny Forrest looked better than she did that night. Her eyes, her
color, her smiles were radiance itself; her mobile lips curved over
teeth as white and gleaming as crystalled snow. Her bare neck and arms,
beautifully moulded, were set off to wonderful advantage by the dress
she wore,--a marvellous gown of rich, rare, lustrous black silk, that
fell from her rounded hips in sweeping folds that the women could not
sufficiently admire, while their eyes gloated over the wealth of gold
with which the entire front from the bosom to the very hem of the skirt
was heavily embroidered. An aigrette of gold shone in the dark masses
of her hair, but not a vestige of gold or gems appeared either at her
throat or in her ears. In her jewelled hand she carried a fan of black
silk, gold embroidered like her dress, and the tiny slippers that
peeped from the hem of her robe were of the same material and
embroidered in a miniature of the same pattern.

"Fort Laramie never saw anything handsomer than that toilet," whispered
Mrs. Bruce to the major's wife at the earliest opportunity; and the
latter, kind soul, was sufficiently melted by the sight to think of her
neighbors and say, "How I wish Mrs. Jordan and Mrs. Wells were here to
see it!"

The dinner went off merrily as chimes a marriage-bell. The doctor was
in his element when presiding at a well-appointed table; his cook was
one whom he had had at Newport and Boston Harbor, and a very reliable
servitor as such characters go; his wines were, some of them, gifts
from wealthy and aristocratic patients whom he had managed to serve in
the days when the sunshine of official favor illumined his daily life;
he had a fund of anecdote and table talk; his guests were responsive
and full of appreciation of the entertainment provided for them.
Nellie, in her shy maidenhood, was a lovely picture at the head of his
board; and Holmes, who sat at her left, was evidently more impressed
than ever. A son-in-law like that, rich, manly, and educated, a leader
of affairs in the city where he made his home,--the very thought lent
inspiration to the doctor's life. If the judges and the senators of the
East had turned their backs upon him, here he could find new power and
influence among the active sons of the young and vigorous West. What a
pity! What a pity! he thought, that the general commanding the division
were not here. He was coming, they all knew, and might be along any
day. Now, if he had only arrived in time to be one of the guests this
bright evening, who can say what the effect might not have been?

It must have been just before tattoo--after they had been at the table
a full hour, and tongues were loosened by the doctor's good wine, and
laughter and jest and merry talk were going round--that Mrs. Miller,
sitting at the doctor's right as became the lady of the commanding
officer, was surprised to see the hall-door, which had been closed
throughout the evening, swing very slowly a few inches inward. At the
same moment the lace curtains that hung about the archway leading into
the parlor swayed noiselessly toward her and then settled back to their
normal position. Presently the major, who was at Miss Bayard's right,
and with his back close to the hall-door, began to fidget and look
uneasily about. The doctor was just telling a very good story at the
moment and she could not bear to interrupt him, but after the laughter
and applause had subsided she came to her husband's rescue.

"The major is keenly susceptible to colds, doctor, and I see he is
fidgeting a bit. Would you mind having that door shut?"

"Which door, Mrs. Miller? Most assuredly. I thought it was closed.
Here, Robert," he called to his colored servant, "go and see if the
front door is shut. The wind sometimes proves too much for these
quartermaster's latches," he said, apologetically. "Was it shut?" he
asked, as Robert returned with an injured air as of one who had been
sent on a wild-goose chase.

"Perfectly tight, sir. Ain't been open dis evenin' since Miss Forrest
done got yere," was Robert's prompt reply. "I sprung de latch myself to
keep it from floppin' open as it sometimes does."

"All right. Never mind. You feel no draft now, do you, major?"

"Not a particle. It was all fancy, probably." And the laughter and talk
began again.

Later that long-remembered evening, as they sat around a blazing log
fire, for the night had been made chilly by the rain, there was much
mirth and chatter and gayety. Miss Forrest developed a new trait to
make her envied. She sang with infinite spirit and a great deal of
taste. Nellie's piano had known no such performer in the Western
wilderness as the brilliant young woman in the lovely black silk, whose
fingers went flashing over the keys, and whose voice came carolling
forth in rich and wonderful notes. It was a contralto, or at least a
deep mezzo, and the songs she sung were well adapted to its low and
feeling tones. Mr. Holmes stood over her much of the time as she
played, and applauded heartily when she had sung. "I did not expect to
find such a nightingale in the wilderness," he said.

"You were looking for a very different object, were you not?" said she,
raising her dark eyes to his in deep scrutiny, then dropping them
quickly until the lashes swept her cheek.

"Possibly," he replied, with calm gravity. "I had several objects in
view, but I rejoice in a visit that has enabled me to hear so cultured
a vocalist. I wonder no one spoke of your singing before, Miss
Forrest."

"Cease to wonder, Mr. Holmes. It is the first time I have seen a piano
in six months or more. We had none at Robinson, and I would have felt
little like singing if there had been one."

"May I ask where you studied music?"

"You may. It is evident that, like most people I know in civilization,
you are surprised to hear of accomplishments of any kind other than
shooting and riding in the army."

Holmes laughed merrily. "You are loyal to the comrades of your
adoption, Miss Forrest, and yet they tell me your frontier life began
less than a year ago."

"True; but I like the men I've met here, and might like the women if
they would let me. As yet, however, we do not seem to agree, thanks to
an unfortunate propensity of mine for saying what happens to be
uppermost in my mind at the moment; possibly for other good and equally
sufficient reasons. You asked where I studied music? Mainly in New York
and Munich."

"You have been abroad, then?"

"Years; as companion to an invalid aunt, thanks to whom I saw very
little of foreign countries, and but for whom I would have seen
nothing."

"You changed the subject abruptly, a moment ago, Miss Forrest. You were
speaking of your relations with the ladies here. Forgive me if I refer
to it, for I was interested in what you told me. Surely a woman as
gifted as you are can never lack friends among her own sex. Have you
never sought to win Miss Bayard, for instance?"

There was a moment's pause. Then she looked full up into his face, her
fingers rippling over the keys as she spoke.

"Mr. Holmes, has it never occurred to you that in friendship, as in
love, a girl of Nellie Bayard's age would prefer some one much nearer
her own years?"

He drew slowly back from the piano and stood at his full height.

"The doctor is calling us to the dining-room, Miss Forrest; may I offer
my arm?" was his only reply, and she arose and went with him.

They found the entire party grouped about the table, which was now
decked with a great punch-bowl of beautiful workmanship. A present, the
doctor explained with evident pride, from Baron Wallewski, of the
Russian Legation at Washington, whom he had had the honor of pulling
through a siege of insomnia two years before. It was more than anything
else to display the beauty of this costly gift that he had called them
once more around his board, but, since they were there, he would beg
them to fill their glasses with a punch of his own composition,--"there's
not a headache in a Heidelberg tun of it,"--and pledged with them the
health of the distinguished donor.

A ring came at the front door as Robert was standing, tray in hand, at
his master's elbow. "Say I'm engaged, if any one inquires for me," said
Bayard, and launched forth into some reminiscence of the days when he
and Wallewski and Bodisco and others of that ilk were at Old Point
Comfort for a week together. Robert, returning from the front hall,
stood in silence, like the well-trained menial he was, until his master
finished his narration and the guests had sipped the toast. It was a
performance of some minutes' duration, and at last the doctor turned.

"Who was it?" he said.

"Mr. McLean, sah."

"Wanted to see me."

"No, sah. The commanding officer, sah. He wouldn't come in; he's
standing in the hall yet, sah. Said s'cuse him, but 'twas mos'
impawtant."

Major Miller instantly set down his punch-glass, and strode out through
the parlor into the front hall. It was a season of incessant rumors and
alarms, and the party could not forbear listening.

"Halloo, McLean! What's up?" they heard him say.

"A courier just in from the cavalry, sir. They've had a sharp fight
over in the Chug Valley, north of Hunton's. Two men killed and
Lieutenant Blunt wounded. The Indians went by way of Eagle's Nest, and
will try to recross the Platte below us. Captain Terry is saddling up
the Grays now, and sent me to tell you. May I go with him, sir?"

"I'll be down at once. Certainly, you may go. Terry has no lieutenant
for duty otherwise." The major reappeared an instant in the parlor,
whither by this time all the party had hastily moved uttering
exclamations of dismay and anxiety, for Blunt was a young officer
beloved by every one. "You'll excuse me, doctor. I must start the troop
out in pursuit at once," said Miller; and then, followed by his
adjutant, he plunged forth into the darkness. When Nellie Bayard, with
white cheeks, peeped timidly into the hall it was empty. McLean had
gone without a look or word for her.

"By Jove, doctor, this sort of thing makes my pulses jump," exclaimed
Mr. Holmes the moment the major had gone. "Can't I go and see the
start? I'd like to offer a prize to the troop--or something."

"Of course you can. I'll go, too. We'll all go. I know the ladies want
to. Run up and get your wraps, though it isn't raining now." And the
ladies, one and all, scurried away up the stairs.

A moment later Mr. Holmes was slipping into his beaver overcoat that
had been hanging in the hall. Then he began fumbling in the pockets,
first one and then another. He tried the outside, then threw it open
and thrust his hand into those within the broad lapels, a look of
bewilderment coming over his face.

"What's the matter?" asked the doctor. "Want another cigar? Here, man!
There are plenty in the dining-room; let me get you one."

"No, no! It isn't that! I've smoked enough. Wait a moment." And again
he thrust his hands deep in the pockets. "Hold on till I run up to my
room," he continued, and darted lightly up the stairs. The ladies were
all fluttering down again and were grouped in the lower hall as he came
back, laughing, but with an odd, white look about his face.

"Holmes! Something's the matter. What have you lost? What's been
taken?"

"Nothing--nothing of any consequence. Come on. Let us hurry after the
major, or we'll miss the fun. Mrs. Miller, permit me," and he offered
his arm to the major's wife, who stood nearest the door.

"No, but I insist on knowing what is missing, Holmes. It is my right to
know," called the doctor, as he struggled into his army overcoat.

"Nothing but a cigar-case and an old pocket-book. I've mislaid them
somewhere and there's no time to look. Come on."

"Mr. Holmes," said Mrs. Miller in a low tone, "I have abundant reason
for asking and--no! Tell me. Where was that pocket-book and how much
money was there in it?"

"In my overcoat-pocket, at sunset. Probably one hundred dollars or so.
I never carry much in that way. You will not speak of it, Mrs. Miller?"

"To my husband I must, and this very night. You do not dream what
trouble we are in, with a thief in our very midst."

"Some of the servants, I suppose," he said, carelessly.

But to his surprise she only bowed her head and was silent a moment,
then muttered rather than spoke the words,--

"God knows. I only hope so!"



V.


"What a trump that young fellow McLean seems to be, doctor," said Mr.
Holmes, reflectively, late that night as the two men were smoking a
final cigar together.

"Oh, he's not a bad lot by any means," was the reply. "Good deal of a
boy, you know. Has no experience of life. Doesn't know anything, in
fact, except what professional knowledge he picked up at the Point. You
can't expect anything else of an infantry subaltern whose army life has
been spent out in this God-forsaken country."

"Why do you always run down this country, doctor? It's a glorious
country, a magnificent country. I declare I hate the clatter and racket
and rush of Chicago more and more every time I go back to it."

"That's all very well. You are unmarried, and can come and go as you
please. If you were a man of family and compelled as I am to bring up a
daughter in these barbaric wilds, or even to live here at all,--a man
of my tastes and antecedents,--you'd curse the fates that landed you in
the army. Still, I would not mind it so much if it were not for Nellie.
It is galling to me to think of her having to spend so much of her fair
young life in these garrison associations. Who is there here, except
possibly Miss Forrest, who, by birth, education, and social position,
is fit to be an intimate or friend? What opportunities has a girl of
her--pardon my egotism--parentage in such a mill as this?"

Holmes almost choked over his cigar. He bent impulsively forward as
though to speak, but gulped back his words, shook his head, and began
puffing vigorously once more. He felt that the time had not yet come.
He knew that with her he was making no progress whatever. She had been
cordial, sweet, kind, as befitted her father's daughter to her father's
guest; but this day, as though her woman's wit were fathoming the
secret of his heart, a suspicion of reserve and distance had been
creeping into her manner and deepening toward night. Then he recalled
Miss Forrest's trenchant words; he remembered the white face that came
back from the peep into the empty hall. Was McLean the man "nearer her
own years" who had already found a lodgement in her heart? He had come
back full of admiration for the young soldier whose pluck and ambition
had prompted him to beg for service on a probably dangerous expedition,
a pursuit of the band that had wounded his comrade and killed two of
his men. He wanted to know more of him.

"Speaking of young McLean, who is he? The name is one of the best."

"Oh, he's only distantly related to the main line, I fancy. The
country is full of them, but only a few belong to _the_ McLeans. Of
course, I suppose they all hail from the old Highland clan, but even
there the line of demarcation between chieftain and gillie of the same
name was broad as the border itself. If the young fellow had money or
influence he'd come out well enough, provided he could travel a year
or so. He needs polish, _savoir-faire_, and he can't travel because
he's in debt and hasn't a penny in the world."

"How in debt? One would suppose a young fellow of his appearance could
live on his pay, unless he drank or gambled. I rather fancied he wasn't
given to that sort of thing."

"Oh, it isn't that; he's steady enough. The trouble with McLean is some
commissary stores that were made away with by his sergeant when he was
'acting' here last winter. He could hardly help it, I suppose: the
sergeant was an expert thief and hid his stealings completely, and made
a very pretty penny selling bacon and flour and sugar and coffee to
these Black Hills outfits going up the last year or so. When the
regimental quartermaster got back and the stores were turned over to
him, the sergeant promptly skipped, and McLean was found short about
six hundred dollars' worth. They had a board of survey last winter, and
the orders in the case were only finally issued a few weeks ago just as
he returned from leave. He's got to make it all up out of his pay,--he
has nothing else."

"Isn't that pretty rough on the youngster?"

"Yes, perhaps, but it's business. He won't have such confidence in
human nature again. If that sergeant were back here I could account for
the disappearance of your porte-monnaie by a surer hypothesis than that
you lost it or dropped it. Are you sure you dropped it?"

"Well, no, I can't be sure," said Holmes, knocking the ashes off his
cigar, "but it could have so happened, very easily. I was talking
earnestly all the way home from the store, where we stopped coming back
from stables, you remember, and I'm getting absent-minded at times.
Besides, how else could it have gone, supposing it to have been in the
pocket of the overcoat when I hung it in the hall just before dressing
for dinner? You have had Robert years."

"He has been with me over seven years, and came to me with a high
character from the old First Artillery. I never heard of his being even
suspected of dishonesty."

"He is the only man who has been in the hall to-night. No one could
have come in from the front while we were at dinner."

"No one without our knowledge. The door has a queer sort of latch or
lock. Sometimes in high winds it would let go and blow open, but some
servant who had lived here before we came put Robert up to a way of
catching it that proved very effective. No; nobody was in the hall
except McLean, and of course that is out of the question. Besides, he
had not time. He was only there half a minute or so."

Mr. Holmes bowed without speaking. He remembered perfectly, however,
that it was nearer five minutes that Mr. McLean had to wait there while
the doctor was finishing that confounded story. Nevertheless, as the
doctor said, that was out of the question.

"Oh, no!" he broke in hurriedly, "I cannot think any one here could
have taken it. It will turn up somewhere among my other traps to-night,
or else I've dropped it. Don't think of it, doctor; that distresses me
far worse than the loss. Suppose we turn in now, and I'll look around
my room once more."

Half an hour later the doctor tapped softly at his guest's door.

"Found it?" he asked.

"No, not yet; going to bed," was the answer, accompanied by an
ostentatious yawn. "Good-night, doctor."

Mr. Holmes had indeed found no pocket-book. The discovery he made was
far less welcome. An amethyst pin with sleeve-buttons to match, a piece
of personal property that he highly valued, had disappeared from his
dressing-case. There were three pairs of sleepless eyes in the doctor's
quarters when the sentries were shouting the call of "Half-past twelve
o'clock." Nellie Bayard, in her dainty little white room, was
whispering over a tear-stained pillow her prayer for the safety of
Randall McLean, who was riding post-haste down the swollen Platte. Dr.
Bayard, too excited to go to bed, had thrown himself on a sofa and was
plotting for the future and planning an alliance for his fair daughter
that would mean power and position for himself. And Mr. Holmes was
sitting with darkened face at his bedside, gazing blankly at the
handkerchief he had picked up on the floor just in front of the bureau,
a handkerchief embroidered in one corner with the letters R. McL.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Over at the major's quarters were other sleepless eyes. It was late,
nearly midnight, when the commanding officer finished dictating his
telegraphic despatches to department head-quarters, and when he reached
his home Mrs. Miller was still sitting up for him. A faithful and
devoted spouse she was,--something of the Peggy O'Dowd order, and prone
at times to order him about with scant ceremony, but quickly resentful
of any slight from other sources. She could not bear that any man or
woman should suppose for an instant that her major was not the
embodiment of every attribute that became a soldier and a man. She
stood between him and the knowledge of many a little garrison squabble
or scandal rather than have him annoyed by tales that were of no
consequence; but now she had that to tell that concerned the honor and
welfare of the whole command, and she felt that he must know at once.

"Major," she said to him when once they had gained the seclusion of the
marital chamber, "has Captain Bruce ever said anything further to you
about that story from Robinson last winter?"

"N-nothing much," answered Miller, who dreaded that something more of
the same kind was coming, and would gladly have avoided the subject.

"I know that he bade Mrs. Bruce destroy the letter she got and say no
more about it," pursued Mrs. Miller, "but she and I are very old
friends, as you know, and she could not well avoid telling me that
after I told her of the letter I got. Now, it was bad enough that these
things should have occurred there, and that suspicion should have
attached to some one in Captain Forrest's household; but things are
worse than ever now. Have you seen Mr. Hatton to-day?"

"I've seen him, of course, but he didn't say anything on--on such a
subject."

"Now, I don't want you to blame Mr. Hatton, major. You must remember
that he has always said that I was like a mother to him because I
nursed him through the mountain fever, and he has always confided in me
ever since; but the other night while he was at the Gordons', the same
night he came here after tattoo, somebody went to his room and stole
from his trunk over one hundred and fifty dollars in greenbacks and a
beautiful scarf-pin that his brother gave him."

"And he did not report it to me?" asked the major, impetuously.

"He did not then, though he meant to, because Mr. McLean induced him to
promise not to, because----"

"Well, because what? What reason could young McLean assign that could
justify his concealing such a matter from the commanding officer?"

"Because he said it was cruel to allow a woman to be suspected, when
she had no man in the garrison--husband, brother, or father--to take
her part."

"A woman! What? some servant?"

"Worse than that, major,--Miss Forrest."

Bang! dropped the heavy boot the major had just pulled from his foot,
and, one boot off and the other boot on, he started up and stood
staring at his wife in blank amaze.

"Listen, dear," she said, "heaven knows it is no pleasure to tell it.
She was seen, so my letter said, in the quarters of the officer who was
robbed at Red Cloud, the night he was officer of the day. They lived,
you know, in the same building. The night Mr. Hatton's trunk was opened
she came very late to the Gordons'. Very probably it was she with whom
Mr. McLean collided out on the parade, though I hushed you summarily
when you began to joke about it, and Mr. Hatton hints that McLean could
tell more if he would, but he has firmly set his lips against saying a
word. However, that was before to-night. Now for something even worse,
because it has happened to a guest within our gates. Mr. Holmes's
porte-monnaie with over one hundred dollars was taken from his
overcoat-pocket as it hung in the hall to-night, and I saw her go out
there while you were having your after-dinner smoke. I saw her go out
there and stand by the hat-rack and pretend to be patting and admiring
that beautiful fur. My back was turned, but the mirror over the mantel
showed it."

"How do you know he lost it?"

"He told me confidentially that he was sure it was taken from his
pocket, but he is trying to make the doctor believe he lost it through
his own carelessness."

"Seems to me you have confidential relations all around, Eliza; what
more has been imparted to you as a secret?"

"Nothing," answered Mrs. Miller, paying no attention whatever to the
first portion of the remark; "I have heard quite enough, combined with
what we all know, to make me feel that either crime or kleptomania is
going on, and the 'Queen of Bedlam' is at the bottom of it."

"What is it that 'we all know?'"

"That she dresses in most extravagant style; that she has suddenly had
to quit her uncle's roof, where she lived for years, and come out here
to be a burden on her brother, who has nothing but his pay, unless you
count an invalid wife and a riotous young brood as assets. She is
strange, odd, insolent, and defiant in manner. Shuns all friendship,
and refuses to tell anybody what was the cause of her leaving New York
as she did. One thing more,--she has sent two registered letters from
here within the last three days----"

"Now, how do you know that?" burst in the major, an angry light in his
eyes.

"Well, my dear, don't fly off at a tangent. It is a perfectly natural
thing to speak of. Hardly anybody ever sends registered letters."

"That's not so; there are dozens sent by the officers and men after
every pay-day."

"I mean hardly any women, major. I'm not talking of the men. Hardly any
woman ever sends a registered letter, and so when she sent two it was
not at all strange that Mrs. Griffin should speak of it to the
steward's wife, and she told Mrs. Gordon's Sally, and so it came to
me."

"Oh, yes. I'll be bound it reached you sooner or later," said the major
wrathfully. "I'm d-blessed if anything goes on at this or any other
post you women don't get hold of and knock out of shape. I shall tell
Griffin that his position as postmaster won't be worth the powder to
blow him into the middle of the Platte if that wife of his doesn't hold
her tongue. No, I won't listen to any more of it to-night, anyway. I
want to think over what you have told me."

                     *      *      *      *      *

And over at Bedlam there were lights still burning at one o'clock. One
of them shone from Mr. Hatton's room at the north end of the second
floor. He was officer of the day, and that accounted for it. The other
beamed from the corner window at the south, and a tall, graceful,
womanly form, wrapped in a heavy shawl, was leaning against the wooden
pillar on the veranda. A beautiful face was upturned to the few stars
that peeped through the rifts of clouds that angrily swept the heavens.
Then, as one jewelled hand clasped the railing, the other encircled the
cold, white, wooden post, and in another moment the shapely head was
bowed upon it, and great sobs shook the slender figure. There was the
sudden rattle of an infantry sword at the other end of the piazza, and
Mr. Hatton, striding forth from the hall-way, was startled to see a
dim, feminine form spring from the shadows at the southern side and
rush with sweeping skirts into the shelter of the Forrests' hall-way.

"I thought I heard some one crying out here," he muttered, "and
supposed it was Mrs. Forrest. She's always in tears now that the
captain is up in the Indian country. But who would have thought of Miss
Forrest?"



VI.


An anxious day was that that followed the departure of Captain Terry
and his "grays" on their midnight ride down the Platte. The river was
so high and swollen that it was certain that the Indians could have
forded it only among the rocks and shoals up at Bull Bend, a day's
march to the north-west, and that in getting back with their plunder to
the shelter of their reservation there was only one point below Laramie
where they could recross without having to swim, and that was full
twenty-five miles down stream. As particulars began to come in of the
fight with Blunt's little detachment the previous day, the major waxed
more and more wrathful. It would seem that there were at least fifty
well-armed and perfectly-mounted warriors in the party, many of them
having extra ponies with them, either to carry the spoil or to serve as
change-mounts when their own chargers tired. It was next to impossible
that such a force should get away from the reservation without it being
a matter of common talk among the old men and squaws, and so coming to
the ears of the agent, whose duty it was to notify the military
authorities at once. But in this case no warning whatever had been
given. The settlers in the Chugwater Valley had no signal of their
coming, and two hapless "freighters," toiling up with ranch supplies
from Cheyenne, were pounced upon in plain view of Hunton's, murdered
and scalped and mutilated just before Blunt and his little command
reached the scene. Despite the grave disparity in numbers, Blunt had
galloped in to the attack, and found himself and his troopers in a
hornet's nest from which nothing but his nerve and coolness had
extricated them. Most of his horses were killed in the fight that
followed, for Blunt promptly dismounted his men and disposed them in a
circle around their wounded comrades, and thereby managed to "stand
off" the Indians, despite their frequent dashes and incessant fire.
After some hours of siege-work the savages had given it up and gone
whooping off up the valley, and were next heard of shooting into the
stage-station at Eagle's Nest. If he only had a hundred cavalry,
thought Miller, he could head them off and prevent their return to the
reservation, where, once they crossed the lines, they were perfectly
safe and could not be touched. All told, however, Terry could only take
with him some thirty men, and he was glad indeed to have McLean as a
volunteer.

It was about noon when the ambulances came in from the Chugwater,
bringing Mr. Blunt and the other wounded. The assistant surgeon of the
post had ridden out with them at midnight, soon after the receipt of
the news; and now, while the soldiers were taken to the post hospital
and comfortably established there, Mr. Blunt was carried up-stairs in
the north hall of "Bedlam" and stowed away in the room opposite
Hatton's. Mrs. Forrest, poor lady, nearly went into hysterics as the
young soldier was lifted out of the ambulance. Day and night her soul
was tortured with the dread that at any moment news might come that her
husband was either killed or wounded,--and in the art of borrowing
trouble she was more than an adept. Her lamentations were so loud and
voluble that Miss Forrest quietly but very positively took her by the
arms and marched her off the piazza into her own room, where Celestine
was "trotting" the baby to sleep and nodding on the verge of a nap on
her own account. The first thing Mrs. Forrest did was to whisk the
half-drowsing infant out of her attendant's arms, clasp it frantically
to her breast, and then go parading up and down the room weeping over
the wondering little face, speedily bringing on a wailing accompaniment
to her own mournful plaint. It was more than Miss Forrest could stand.

"For mercy's sake, Ruth, don't drive that baby distracted! If you
cannot control your own tears, have some consideration for the
children. There!" she added, despairingly, "now you've started Maud and
Vickie, and if, between the four of you, poor Mr. Blunt is not made mad
by night-time, he has no nerves at all." And as she spoke the hall-way
resounded with the melodious howl of the two elder children, who,
coming in from play on the prairie and hearing the maternal weepings,
probably thought it no less than filial on their part to swell the
chorus. Miss Forrest made a rush for the door:

"Maud! Vickie! Stop this noise instantly. Don't you know poor Mr. Blunt
is lying in the next hall, badly wounded and very sick?"

"Well, marmar's crying," sobbed Maud, with unanswerable logic; while
Victoria, after stuttering enunciation of the words, "I'm crying
because he's going to die," wound up with sudden declaration of rights
by saying she didn't care whether auntie liked it or not, she'd cry all
she wanted to; and, taking a fresh start, the six-year-old maiden
howled afresh.

It was too much for Miss Forrest's scant patience. Seizing the little
innocents in no gentle grasp, she lugged them down into the vacant
dining-room on the south side of the lower hall, turned the key in the
door, and bade them make themselves comfortable there until she chose
to let them out. If they must howl, there was the place where they
would be least likely to disturb the sufferer at the other end of the
building. After which unwarrantable piece of assumption of authority
she returned to her unhappy sister-in-law.

"I declare, Fanny, you have absolutely no heart at all," sobbed that
lachrymose lady, as she mingled tears and sniffles with fruitless
efforts to hush her infant.

"Wh--what have you done with my children?"

"Shut them up in the dining-room until they stop their noises,"
answered Miss Forrest, calmly.

"You have no right whatever to punish my babies," indignantly protested
Mrs. Forrest (and every mother will agree with her). "You are always
interfering with them, and I shall write to Captain Forrest this very
day and complain of it."

"I wouldn't if I were you, Ruth, because yesterday your complaint was
that I never took any notice of them, no matter what they did."

"Well, you don't!" sobbed the lady of the house, abandoning the
original line of attack to defend herself against this unexpected
sortie. Then, suddenly recalling the more recent injury, "At least you
don't when you should, and you do when you should not. Let me go to
them instantly. Celestine, take baby." But Celestine had vanished.

"Give me the baby, Ruth, and go by all means. Then we can restore quiet
to this side of the house at least,"--and she took with firm hands the
shrieking infant from the mother's arms. Mrs. Forrest rushed down the
hall and melodramatically precipitated herself upon her offspring in
the dining-room. In two minutes' time the baby's wailings ceased, and
when Mrs. Forrest reappeared, ready to resume the attack after having
released the prisoners, she was surprised and, it must be recorded, not
especially pleased to see her lately inconsolable infant laughing,
crowing, and actually beaming with happiness in her sister-in-law's
arms.

"I suppose you've been feeding that child sugar," she said, as she
stopped short at the threshold.

"The sugar is in the dining-room, Ruth, not here."

"Well, candy, then, and you know I'd as soon you gave her poison."

"And yet you sent Celestine to my room for some for this very baby
yesterday."

"I didn't!"

"Then, as I have told you more than once, Ruth, Celestine's statements
are unreliable. I found her in my room, and she said you sent her for
some candy for little Hal, and I gave it to her. I do not at all like
her going to my room when I'm not there."

"You are down on Celestine simply because she is mine, and you know it,
Fanny. It is so with everything,--everybody that is at all dear to me.
That is enough to set you against them. My dear old father rescued
Celestine from bondage when she was a mere baby (a favorite paraphrase
of Mrs. Forrest's for describing the fact that one of that damsel's
parents had officiated as cook at a Southern hospital where the
chaplain happened to be on duty in the war-days). Her mother lives with
his people to this hour, and she has grown up under my eyes and been my
handmaiden, and the nurse of all my children, and never a word has any
one ever breathed against her until you came; and you are always doing
it."

"Pardon me, Ruth. I have only twice referred to what I consider her
shortcomings. She was very neglectful of you and the children at
Robinson, and was perpetually going out in the evening with that
soldier in Captain Terry's troop, and now she is getting to be as great
a gad-about here. That, however, is none of my affair, but it is my
right to say that I do not want her prowling about among the trunks and
boxes in my room, and if you do not exert your authority over her I
must find some other means of making her respect my wishes."

"I suppose you will try and blacken her character and have her sent out
of the post, and so rob us of the last relic I have of my home and
f-f-friends," and Mrs. Forrest began to sob afresh.

"Hush! Ruth. I hear the doctor in the hall below. For goodness' sake,
do try and look a little less like a modern Niobe when he comes up.
Here, take baby," and she hugged the little fellow close and imprinted
a kiss upon his dimpled cheek. "I must run down and detain him a moment
until you can get straightened out."

Nothing loath was Dr. Bayard to spend some moments in _tête-à-tête_
converse with Miss Forrest. She ushered him into the dining-room,--the
only reception-room the two households could boast of under the stress
of circumstances, and most graciously received his compliments on the
"conquests" of the previous evening. "Not only all eyes, all hearts
were charmed, Miss Forrest. Never even in the palmiest days of
Washington society have I seen more elegant and becoming a toilet, and
as for your singing,--it was simply divine." The doctor looked, as
well as spoke, his well-turned phrases. He was gallant, debonair,
dignified, impressive,--"a well-preserved fellow for forty-five," as
he was wont to say of himself. He anxiously inquired for her health,
deplored the state of anxiety and excitement in which they were
compelled to live, thanked heaven that there were some consolations
vouchsafed them in their exile and isolation, and begged her to be
sure and send for him should she find the strain was telling upon her
nervous system; it was marvellous that she should bear up so well; his
little daughter was really ill this morning and unable to leave her
room, but then she was a mere child. If it were not for the
incomparable pleasure he--they all--found in her presence he could
almost wish that Miss Forrest were once more under the shelter of her
uncle's hospitable roof in New York and "free from war's alarms." By
the way, where was Mr.--a--her uncle's residence?

"Mr. Courtlandt's?" she answered, promptly supplying the name. "In
Thirty-fourth Street, just east of the avenue."

"To be sure; I know it well," answered the doctor. "A most refined and
aristocratic neighborhood it is, and I'm sure I must have met Mr.
Courtlandt at the Union Club. He is near kin, I think, to the Van
Cortlandts, of Croton, is he not?"

"Not very near, doctor, though I presume there is some distant
connection."

"Ah, doubtless. I recall him only vaguely. He belonged to a much older
set and went very little into general society. A man of the highest
social connections, however, and of much wealth." And the doctor
glanced keenly at her as he propounded this tentative.

"Yes, Mr. Courtlandt is nearly sixty now, and, as you say, doctor, he
goes very little into general society. He prefers his library and his
books and an occasional canter in the park to any other entertainment.
In fact, except his game of whist with some old cronies, that is about
all the entertainment he seeks. His wife, my Aunt Laura, is quite an
invalid."

"And they have no children?"

"Yes, one; a son, who is now abroad. Shall we go up and see Mrs.
Forrest now, doctor? She is looking for a visit from you. Mr. Blunt's
appearance was a great shock to her."

It was growing dusky as they passed through the hall-way. The sun was
well down in the west, and heavy banks of rain-clouds obscured the
heavens. Miss Forrest turned the knob and threw open the door leading
into the unpicturesque yard at the rear of the quarters. "A little
light here will be an improvement," she said. "Why! who can that be?"

As she spoke, a soldier, who had apparently been seated on the back
steps, was striding hurriedly in the direction of the gate. He had
started up just as she opened the door.

"Ah, my man, halt there!" called the doctor; and obediently the soldier
turned and stood attention, raising his hand in salute. He was a dark,
swarthy fellow, with glittering eyes and rather flat features. He wore
the moustache of the trooper, and had permitted his chin whiskers to
grow. The crossed sabres of the cavalry and the letter and number of
the troop and regiment, all brilliantly polished, adorned his
forage-cap, and his undress uniform was scrupulously neat and
well-fitting. The moment he turned, Miss Forrest recognized him.

"Oh, it is Celestine's soldier friend!" she said.

"What are you doing here, my man?" asked the doctor, loftily.

"Nothing, sir," was the reply, both prompt and respectful. "The doctor
probably doesn't remember me. I came in with the wounded to-day at
noon,--Mr. Blunt's striker, sir."

"Well, Mr. Blunt's room is in the other division, and you ought to stay
there."

"I know, sir. I've only been here a moment," was the respectful answer.
"I wanted to ask Celestine to let me have a little ice if she had any,
but there's no one around the kitchen."

"Go over to my quarters and tell my man Robert to give you a big lump
of it. My house is yonder at the corner. Tell him Dr. Bayard sent you."

The soldier saluted, faced about, and moved away, a trifle wearily this
time.

"He looks very tired," said Miss Forrest.

"I believe he is," answered the doctor. "Hold on a moment there!" he
called. "Were you out with Mr. Blunt's command?"

"Yes, sir. All yesterday and last night. I had to sit up with the
lieutenant all night, sir, to bathe his wound."

"True, true. And of course you hadn't a wink of sleep. Go to your
barracks and get a nap. I'm going back to Mr. Blunt in five minutes,
and I'll send the ice over right afterward."

"I thank the doctor, but I'm not sleepy. I'll get rest enough
to-night," was the reply, and again the soldier saluted and turned
away.

"How faithful and devoted those rough-looking fellows can be to their
officers!" said Miss Forrest.

"Yes," answered the doctor, musingly, as he gazed after the retreating
form. "Yes, very. Some of them are models,--and yet, somewhere or other
I think I have seen that man before. Do you know his name?"

"No. I'll ask Celestine, if you wish to know. She ought to be up-stairs
with the children now. May I not run over and see Miss Bayard
presently."

"My Nellie? We shall be charmed. If you will only wait a moment until I
have seen Mr. Blunt, I shall be delighted to escort you. She is all
alone unless Mrs. Miller has returned to her, and the house is deserted
down-stairs. Mr. Holmes is out somewhere with the major."

But Miss Forrest did not wait. No sooner had the doctor finished his
brief visit to her sister-in-law than the young lady threw a light wrap
over her shoulders, and, just as the bugle was sounding first call for
retreat, she walked rapidly to the big house at the south-west corner,
noiselessly opened the door without the formality of ringing for
admission, and in the gathering darkness of the hall-way within, where
she had to grope a moment to find the banister-rail, she came face to
face with Mrs. Miller.



VII.


Cold and still the dawn is breaking. Faint, wan, and pallid is the
feeble gleam that comes peeping over the low hills far over at the
east. Bare and desolate look the barren slopes on every hand. Not a
tree, not a shrub of any kind can eye discover in this dim and ghostly
light. All is silence, too. Even the coyotes who have set up their
unearthly yelping at odd intervals during the night seem to have slunk
away before the coming of the morning's sun and sought the shelter of
their lurking-spots. Here on the bleak ridge, where three men, wrapped
in cavalry overcoats, are lying prone, not a sound of any kind beyond
an occasional muffled word is to be heard. Three hundred yards behind
them, down in the valley, some thirty shadowy steeds are cropping at
the dense buffalo-grass, while their riders, dismounted now, are
huddled together for warmth. The occasional stamp of a hoof and the
snort of some impatient charger break the silence here, but cannot be
heard out at the front where the picket is lying. Another sound,
soothing, monotonous, ceaseless, falls constantly upon the ear of the
waking soldiers,--the rush of the swollen Platte over the rocks and
gravel of the ford a quarter-mile away, the only point below the fort
where the renegade Sioux can recross without swimming, and they are not
yet here to try it. When they come they will find Captain Terry, with
young McLean and thirty troopers, lurking behind the covering ridge,
ready and willing to dispute the passage. Through the darkness of the
night those good gray steeds, flitting like ghosts along the shore,
have come speeding down the Platte to land their riders first at the
goal, and once here, and satisfied by scrutiny of the south entrance to
the ford that no Indian pony has appeared within the last twenty-four
hours, Terry has posted his lookouts on the ridge, and then, having
hoppled and "half-lariated" his horses, has cautioned the men to rest
on their arms and not to throw off belt or spur. "There is no telling,"
he says, "what moment they may come along."

McLean, with his long Springfield rifle, has gone up to the ridge to
join the outlying picket. A keen-eyed fellow is this young soldier and
a splendid shot, and the Indians who succeed in crossing that next
ridge a mile farther south and approaching them unobserved will have
to wear the cap of the "Invisible Prince." He has come out on this
scout full of purpose and ambition. Things have not gone happily with
him during the past few days. Profoundly depressed in spirits at the
millstone of debt suddenly saddled upon him as the result of
peculations of the deserting sergeant, he has the added misery of
seeing the sweet-faced girl with whom he has fallen so deeply in love
practically withdrawn from his daily life and penned up within her
father's house for the evident object of compelling her to entertain
the devotion of a rival, whose wealth and social position make him a
man to be feared,--a man whom any woman, old or young, might think
twice before refusing. Already the people at Laramie were discussing
the possibilities,--some of them in his very presence; and there were
not lacking those to say, that, even if she had been more than half
inclined to reciprocate McLean's evident attachment, she would be a
fool not to accept Roswell Holmes, with his wealth, education, and
undoubted high character. A second lieutenant in the army was all very
well for a girl who could do no better, but Elinor Bayard was of
excellent social position herself. Her mother's people ranked with the
best in the land, and her father, despite his _galanterie_, was a man
distinguished in his profession and in society. It was driving McLean
wellnigh desperate. Not one word of love-making had been breathed
between him and the gentle girl who so enjoyed her walks and rides
with him, but he knew well that her woman's heart must have told her
ere this how dear she was to him, and it was no egotism or conceit
that prompted him to the belief that she would not show such pleasure
in his coming if he were utterly indifferent to her. Coquetry was
something Nellie Bayard seemed deficient in; she was frank and
truthful in every look and word.

And yet, realizing what grounds he had for hope, McLean was utterly
downcast when he faced the situation before him. It would take him a
year--with the utmost economy he could command--to pay off the load
that had been so ruthlessly heaped upon him. He realized that so long
as he owed a penny in the world he had no right to ask any woman to be
his wife. Meantime, here was this wealthy, well-educated,
well-preserved man of affairs ready and eager to lay his name and
fortune at her feet. What mattered it that he was probably more than
double her age? Had McLean not read of maidens who worshipped men of
more than twice their years even to the extent of--"A love that was her
doom?" Had he not read aloud to her only a fortnight before the story
of Launcelot and the lily maid of Astolat? Poor fellow! In bitterness
of spirit he believed that in the last few days she had purposely
avoided him, and had treated him with coldness on the few occasions
when they met; and now he had sought this perilous duty eagerly and
avowedly; he had set forth without so much as a word of farewell to her
or a touch of her trembling little hand, affecting to be so occupied in
preparation up to the instant of starting that he had no time for a
word with anybody. And yet Mrs. Miller had called him aside and spoken
to him as the group of officers and ladies gathered near the Laramie
bridge to see the little column start, and Nellie Bayard had looked up
wistfully at him as he rode by their party, merely waving his
scouting-hat in general salutation. It hurt her sorely that he should
have gone without one word for her,--and yet she scarce knew why.

And now here they were, squarely across the Indian trail, and ready for
their coming. Roswell Holmes could not have that distinction at all
events, thought McLean, as he tried the lock and breech-block of his
rifle to see that everything was in perfect working order. Come what
might,--if it were only Indians,--he meant to make a record in this
fight that any woman might be proud of; and if he fell,--well, he
wouldn't have to pay for Sergeant Marsland's stealings, or have the
misery of seeing her borne off by Holmes's big bank-account, as she
probably would be. Poor Mac! He had yet to learn that a reputation as
an Indian-fighter is but an ephemeral and unsatisfactory asset as an
adjunct to love-making.

Meanwhile, the dawn is broadening; the grayish pallor at the orient
takes on a warmer tint, and a feeble glow of orange and crimson steals
up the heavens. The slopes and swales around the lonely outpost grow
more and more visible, the distant ridge more sharply defined against
the southern sky. Off to the left, the eastward, the river rolls along
in a silvery, misty gleam; and their comrades, still sheltered under
the bluff, are beginning to gather around the horses and look to the
bridles and "cinchas." Now the red blush deepens and extends along the
low hill-tops across the Platte, and tinges the rolling prairie to the
south and west. A few minutes more and the glow is strong enough to
reveal an old but well-defined trail leading from the distant ridge
straight up to the little crest where McLean is lying. It seems to
follow a south-westerly course, and is the trail, beyond doubt, along
which the marauders from the reservations have time and again recrossed
with their plunder and gained the official shelter of those sacred
limits.

"Why, sir," says Corporal Connor, who is lying there beside the young
officer, "last October a party came over and scalped two women and
three teamsters not three miles from the post, and ran off with all
their cattle. We caught up with them just across the Niobrara, and they
dropped the mules and horses they were driving and made a run for it.
We chased and gained on them every inch of the way, but they got to the
lines first, and then they just whirled about and jeered at us and
shook the scalps in our faces, and called us every name you could think
of,--in good English, too," added the trooper seriously; "and the
lieutenant and I rode to the agency and pointed out two of them to the
agent that very day, but he didn't dare arrest them. His life depended
on his standing by them through thick and thin. Look, lieutenant! Look
off there!"

Over to the southwest, dimly visible, three or four shadowy objects are
darting rapidly over the distant ridge that spans the horizon in that
direction. For one moment only they are revealed against the sky, then
can be seen, faint as far-away cloud-shadows, sweeping down into the
shallow valley and making for the river above the position of the
outpost. Indians, beyond question! the advance guard of the main body;
and the time for action has come.

Instead of riding toward them, however,--instead of approaching the
ford by the most direct line,--these scouts are loping northward from
the point where the trail crosses the ridge, and pushing for the
stream. McLean sees their object with the quickness of thought. 'Tis
not that they have made a "dry camp" during the night, and are in haste
to get to water with their ponies. He knows well that in several of the
ravines and "coulies" on their line of march there is abundant water at
this season of the year. He knows well that not until they had crept up
to and cautiously peered over that ridge, without showing so much as a
feather of their war-bonnets, would they venture so boldly down into
the "swale." He knows well that both in front and rear they are
watching for the coming of cavalry, and that now they are dashing over
to the Platte to peer across the skirting bluffs until satisfied no
foeman is near, then to scurry down into the bottom to search for
hoof-prints. If they find the well-known trail of shod horses in column
of twos, it will tell them beyond shadow of doubt that troops are
already guarding the ford. "Confound it!" he exclaims. "Why didn't we
think of it last night, and come down the other side? We could just as
well have crossed the Platte on the engineer bridge, and then they
couldn't have spotted us. Now it's too late. Run back, corporal, and
warn the captain. I'll stay here and watch them."

Connor speeds briskly down the slope, and, even as they see him coming,
the men lead their horses into line. Captain Terry has one foot in the
stirrup as the non-commissioned officer reaches him and his hand goes
up in salute.

"Lieutenant McLean's compliments, sir" (the invariable formula in
garrison, and not omitted in the field by soldiers as precise as the
corporal). "Three or four bucks are galloping over to the river above
us to look for our tracks."

"How far above us, corporal?"

"Nigh on to a mile, sir."

"Sergeant Wallace, stay here with the platoon. Mount, you six men on
the right, and come after me as quick as you can!" And away goes
Captain Terry, full speed up the valley and heading close under the
bluffs. In a minute three of the designated troopers are in a bunch at
his heels, the other three scattered along the trail. From McLean's
post he can see both parties in the gathering light,--the Indians,
slowly and cautiously now, beginning the ascent to the bluffs, the
captain and his men "speeding it" to get first to the scene. Another
moment, and he sees Terry spring from his horse, throw the reins to a
trooper, and run crouching up toward the crest; then, on hands and
knees, peep cautiously over, removing his hat as he does so. Then he
signals "forward" to his men, slides backward a yard or two, runs to
his horse, mounts, gallops some four hundred yards farther along the
foot of the slope, then turns, rides half-way up, and then he and four
of the men leap from their saddles, toss their reins to the two who
remain mounted, and, carbine in hand, run nimbly up the bluffs and
throw themselves prone upon the turf, almost at the top. Not two
hundred yards away from them four Sioux warriors, with trailing
war-bonnets and brilliant display of paint and glitter, are "opening
out" as they approach, and warily moving toward the summit. One instant
more and there is a sudden flash of fire-arms at the crest; five jets
of bluish smoke puff out upon the rising breeze; five sputtering
reports come sailing down the wind a few seconds later; and, while two
of the warriors go whirling off in a wide, sweeping circle, the other
two are victims to their own unusual recklessness. One of them,
clinging desperately to the high pommel, but reeling in his saddle,
urges his willing pony down the slope; the other has plunged forward
and lies stone-dead upon the sward. Even at the echo of the carbines,
however, popping up from across the ridge a mile away, there come
whirling into view a score of red and glittering horsemen, sweeping
down in broad, fan-shaped course, at top speed of their racing ponies,
yelling like mad, and lashing their nimble steeds to the rescue. Two
minutes of that gait, and the captain and his little squad will be
surrounded.

"Mount! mount!" shouts McLean, as he turns and rushes down the slope,
followed by his picket-guard. "Lively now, sergeant. Run to the
captain. Don't wait for me!"

"Come on, all you fellers!" is Sergeant Wallace's characteristic
rallying cry; and away goes the little troop, like a flock of quail.
McLean is in the saddle in an instant, and full tilt in pursuit.

Not a moment too soon! Even before the leading troopers have reached
the two "horse-holders" under the bluffs, both above and below the
captain's position, the plumed and painted warriors have flashed up on
the ridge and taken him in flank. Without the prompt aid of his men he
would be surrounded in the twinkling of an eye. Already these daring
flankers have opened fire on the knot of horsemen, when McLean shouts
to some of the rearmost to follow him, and veering to the left he rides
straight at the Indians who have appeared nearest him along the bluffs.
Two of the troopers follow unhesitatingly; others sheer off toward
their main body. There's too much risk in darting right into the teeth
of a pack of mounted Sioux, even to follow an officer. Wary and
watchful the Indians mark his coming. Circling out to right and left
they propose to let him in, then follow their old tactics of a
surround. He never heeds their manoeuvres; his aim is to get to close
quarters with any one of them and fight it out, as Highland chieftains
fought in the old, old days of target and claymore. He never heeds the
whistle of the bullets past his ears as one after another the nearest
Indians take hurried shots at him. Straight as a dart he flies at a
tall savage who pops up on the ridge in front of him. The long
Springfield is slung now, and he grasps the gleaming revolver in his
hand. Twice the Indian fires, the lever of his Henry rifle working like
mad, but the bullets whiz harmlessly by; then, with no time to reload,
and dreading the coming shock, he ducks quickly over his nimble
piebald's neck and strives to lash him out of the way, just as the
young officer from some other hand

    Receives but recks not of a wound,

and then troop-horse, pony, soldier, and savage are rolling in a
confused heap upon the turf. The Indian is the first on his feet and
limping away; no redskin willingly faces white man "steel to steel."
McLean staggers painfully to his knees, brushes dust and clods from his
blinded eyes with one quick dash of his sleeve, and draws a bead on his
red antagonist just as the latter turns to aim; there is a sudden flash
and report, and the Sioux throws up his hands with one yell and tumbles
headlong. Then a mist seems rising before the young soldier's eyes, the
earth begins to reel and swim and whirl, and then all grows dark, and
he, too, is prostrate on the sward.



VIII.


They were having an anxious day of it at Laramie. Early in the morning
a brace of ranchmen, still a-tremble from their experiences of the
night, made their way into the post and told gruesome stories of the
doings of the Indians at Eagle's Nest and beyond. The Cheyenne stage,
they said, was "jumped," the driver killed, and the load of passengers
burned alive in the vehicle itself. There might have been only fifty
warriors when they fought Lieutenant Blunt and his party in the Chug
Valley, but they must have been heavily re-enforced, for there were two
hundred of them at the least count when they swept down upon the little
party of heroes at the stage station. They fought them like tigers,
said the ranchmen, but they would probably have burned the building
over their heads and "roasted the whole outfit" had it not been that
the coming of the stage had diverted their attention. These were the
stories with which the two worthies had entertained the guard and other
early risers pending the appearance of the commanding officer; and
these were the stories that, in added horrors and embellishments,
spread throughout the garrison, through kitchen to breakfast-room, as
the little community began to make its appearance down-stairs. Major
Miller, a veteran on the frontier, had taken the measure of his
informants in a very brief interview. Aroused by the summons of
Lieutenant Hatton, to whom as officer of the day the guard had first
conducted these harbingers of woe, the major had shuffled down-stairs
in shooting-jacket and slippers, and cross-examined them in his
dining-room. Both men looked wistfully at the brimming decanter on his
sideboard, and one of them "allowed" he never felt so used up in his
life; so the kind-hearted post commander lugged forth a demijohn and
poured out two stiff noggins of whiskey, refreshed by which they retold
their tale. Miller "gave them the rein" for five minutes and then
cross-questioned, as a result of which proceeding he soon dismissed
them to the barracks and breakfast, and announced to Hatton and the
adjutant that there would be no change in the orders,--he didn't
believe one-fourth of their story. The stage, he said, wasn't due at
Eagle's Nest until four o'clock in the morning, and these men had
declared it burned at three. It was utterly improbable that it came
farther than Phillips's crossing of the Chugwater, where it was due at
midnight, and where long before that time all the hands at the station
had been warned, both by couriers and fugitives, that the Indians were
swarming up the valley. They had cut the telegraph-wire, of course, on
striking the road, early in the afternoon, and it was impossible to
tell just how things had been going; but he was willing to bet that the
stage was safe, despite the assertions of the ranchmen that they had
seen the blaze and heard the appalling shrieks of the victims. The
major's confidence, however, could not be shared by the dozen houses
full of women and children whose closest protectors were far away on
the fields where duty called them. Laramie was filled with white,
horror-stricken faces and anxious eyes, as the ladies flitted from door
to door before the call for guard-mounting, and "boomed" the
panic-stricken ranchmen's story until it reached the proportions of a
wholesale massacre and an immediately impending siege of the fort by
Red Cloud and all his band. Women recalled the fearful scene at Fort
Phil Kearney in 1866, when the same old chieftain, Mach-pe-a-lo-ta,
surrounded with a thousand warriors the little detachment of three
companies and butchered them within rifle range of the trembling wives
and children at the post; and so by the time the story reached the
doctor's kitchen it had assumed the dimensions of a colossal tragedy.
They were just gathering in the breakfast-room,--Nellie a trifle pale
and weary-looking, the doctor and Holmes a bit the worse for having sat
up so late and smoked so many cigars, but disposed to be jovial and
youthful for all that. Coffee was not on the table, and Robert failed
to respond to the tinkling of the little silver bell. Then sounds of
woe and lamentation were heard in the rear, and the doctor impatiently
strode to the door and shouted for his domestics. Robert responded, his
kinky wool bristling as though electrified and his eyes fairly starting
from their sockets; he was trembling from head to foot.

"What's the matter, you rascal, and why do you not answer the bell?"
angrily demanded his master.

But it was "the Johnsons' Winnie" who responded. She had doubtless
been going the rounds, and was only waiting for another chance to make
a dramatic _coup_. Rushing through the kitchen, she precipitated
herself into the breakfast-room. "Oh, Miss Nellie," she sobbed,
"there's drefful news. The Indians burned the stage with everybody in
it, and they've shot Captain Terry and Mr. McLean an' all the soldiers
with 'em, an'----"

"Silence, you babbling idiot!" shouted Dr. Bayard. "Stop your fool
stories, or I'll----"

"But it's God's truth, doctor. It's God's truth," protested Winnie,
desperately determined to be defrauded of no part of her morning's
sensation. "Ask anybody. Ask the sergeant of the guard. Yo' can see the
men what brought the news yo'self."

"Pardon me, doctor," interrupted Mr. Holmes, in calm, quiet tones.
"This has been too much of a shock for Miss Bayard, I fear." And
already he was by her side, holding a glass of water to her pallid
lips. The doctor pointed to the door.

"Leave the room, you pestilence in petticoats!" he ordered. "Go!" And,
having accomplished her desire to create a sensation, though balked of
the full fruition of the promised enjoyment, Winnie flew to "Bedlam,"
where she only prayed that Celestine might not be before her with the
news. Meantime, Dr. Bayard had turned to his daughter. His first
impulse was to reprove her for her ready credence of the story set
afloat by so notorious a gabbler as the Johnsons' "second girl." One
glance at Elinor's pale features and drooping mien changed his
disposition in a trice. Anxiously he stepped to her side, and his
practised hand was at her pulse before a word of question was uttered.
Then he gently raised her head.

"Look up, daughter! Why, my little girl, this will never do! I don't
believe a word of this absurd story, and you must not let yourself be
alarmed by such fanciful pictures. Come, dear! Mr. Holmes will excuse
you this morning. Let me get you to your room. Will you kindly touch
that bell, Holmes, and send Chloe to me? I'll rejoin you in a moment.
Come, Nell?"

And half leading, half carrying, he guided her from the room and up the
stairs, while Holmes, with grave and thoughtful face, stood gazing
after them. It was some time before the doctor reappeared, even after
Chloe joined him in the chamber of her young mistress. When he did the
breakfast was cold, and both men were too anxious to get the true story
to care whether they breakfasted or not. Each took a swallow of coffee,
then hastened forth.

"That poor little girl of mine!" said Dr. Bayard. "She has a very
nervous, sensitive organization, and such a shock as that fool of a
wench gave her this morning is apt to upset her completely. Now, she
has no especial interest in any of Terry's party, and yet you might
suppose her own kith and kin had been scalped and tortured."

But Holmes would not reply.

Meantime, Winnie had reached "Bedlam," where, to her disgust, Celestine
had already broached the tidings to the breakfast-table, and Mrs.
Forrest had been borne half fainting to her room. Pale, but calm and
collected, Miss Forrest returned and began questioning the girl as to
the sources of her information, and it was on hearing this colloquy
that Winnie took heart of grace and impulsively sprang up the steps
into the hall-way to add her share to the general sensation. It was
with a feeling bordering on exultation that she found the local account
to be lacking in several of the most startling and dramatic
particulars. Celestine had not heard of the massacre of Captain Terry's
command, and it was her own proud privilege to break the news to Miss
Forrest. Here, however, she overshot the mark, for that young lady
looked determinedly incredulous, dismissed her colored informant as no
longer worthy of consideration, and, taking a light wrap from the
hat-rack in the hall, tapped at Mrs. Post's door.

"Will you kindly look after Mrs. Forrest a moment in case she should
need anything? I will go to Major Miller's and investigate these
stories. They seem absurd."

And with that she sped swiftly around the parade, along the broad walk,
and was quickly at the major's door and ushered into the parlor. There
were Dr. Bayard and Mr. Holmes in earnest talk with the commanding
officer. All three arose and greeted her with marked courtesy.

"I am sorry that my wife is not here to welcome you, Miss Forrest,"
said the major, "but with the exception of her and yourself the entire
feminine element of this garrison is stampeded this morning; the women
have frightened themselves out of their senses. Have you come for Dr.
Bayard? I hope Mrs. Forrest has not collapsed, as Mrs. Gordon has. Mrs.
Miller has gone to pull her out of a fit of hysterics."

"Mrs. Forrest will need nothing more, I think, than an assurance that
there is little truth in these stories."

"Upon my word, Miss Forrest, I believe they are as groundless as--other
sensational yarns that have come to my ears. Two badly-scared ranchmen
are responsible for kindling the fire, but the nurse-maids and cooks
have fanned it into a Chicago conflagration. The Indians may have built
a fire down the road beyond Eagle's Nest, but I'll bet it wasn't the
stage. And as for Terry and McLean, we haven't a word of any kind from
them. That story is built out of wind."

"Then will you pardon me, Dr. Bayard, if I suggest that it might be
well if some one in authority were to warn the hospital nurse who is
with Mr. Blunt, to be sure and let no one approach him with such news
as has been flying around the post? I fear he had a restless night."

"A most thoughtful suggestion, my dear young lady, and, if you are
going home, I will escort you, and then go to Blunt at once. May I have
that pleasure?"

"I--had hoped to see Mrs. Miller, doctor, and think I will go to the
east side a moment and inquire for Mrs. Gordon."

"By all means, Miss Forrest, and so will I," answered Bayard, bowing
magnificently. "You will excuse me, Mr. Holmes? I will be home in a
quarter of an hour."

"Certainly, doctor, certainly," was the prompt reply, and both Major
Miller and Mr. Holmes followed the two out upon the piazza and stood
watching them as they walked away.

"A singularly handsome and self-possessed young woman that, Mr.
Holmes!" remarked the major. "Now, there's the sort of girl to marry in
the army. She has nerve and courage and brains. By Jove! That's one
reason, I suppose, the women don't like her!"

"And they do not like her?" queried Holmes.

"Can't bear her, I judge, from what I hear. She dresses so handsomely,
they say, that she's an object of boundless interest to them,--like or
no like."

"Our friend the doctor seems decidedly an ardent admirer. He was
showing himself off in most brilliant colors last night, and evidently
for her benefit."

"Oh, yes, I rather fancied as much. They would make a very
distinguished couple," said the colonel, reflectively, "and no bad
match, despite the disparity in years. She refused two youngsters up at
Red Cloud who were ready to cut each other's throats on her account.
That's one reason I admire her sense. The idea of a woman like that, or
any woman, marrying a second lieutenant!"

"You waited for your 'double bars,' major?" smilingly queried Mr.
Holmes.

"Oh, Lord, no!" laughed Miller. "Like most people who preach, I'm past
the practising age. I was married on my graduation leave,--but things
were different before the war. Army people didn't live in the style
they put on now. Our wives were content with two rooms and a kitchen, a
thousand a year, and one new dress at Christmas. Now!" but the major
stopped short, words failing him in the contemplation of mightiness as
shown in the contrast.

"I'm no great judge of women," said Holmes, presently, "but that young
lady roused my interest last night. Are there any tangible reasons why
they should give her the cold shoulder?"

Miller colored in the effort to appear at ease.

"None that I have any personal knowledge of or feel like treating with
respect. There's no accounting for women's whims," he added,
sententiously. "Jupiter! Here it is nine o'clock, and nothing done yet.
I can't telegraph, for they've cut the wires. I've sent out scouts, but
it may be noon before they'll get back. Meantime, we have to sit here
with our hands tied, and the devil to pay generally in garrison. Ah!
there go the doctor and Miss Forrest over to 'Bedlam.' Isn't he a
magnificent old cock? Just see him court her! Will you come with me to
the office?"

"I believe not, major. I think I'll walk around a little. I'm a trifle
fidgety myself this morning, and eager for reliable news. There's no
objection, is there, to my going down to the barracks and interviewing
those ranchmen? You know I'm something of a 'cow-puncher' myself, and
may be able to squeeze some grain of truth out of them."

"No, indeed! Go ahead, Mr. Holmes, and if you extract anything
veritable let me know."

Passing Bedlam, Mr. Holmes glanced up at the open gallery where the
hospital attendant happened to be standing. The doctor had entered the
other hall with Miss Forrest, and was doubtless majestically
ministering to the nervous ailments of her sister-in-law.

"How is Lieutenant Blunt this morning?" he asked.

"He had a hard night, sir," was the low-toned answer. "He was in a high
fever much of the time, but he seems sleeping now. Is there any further
news, Mr. Holmes?"

"There is no truth in the news you have heard, if you have been
afflicted with the stories sent around the post this morning. Be sure
and keep everything of the kind from Mr. Blunt. Here! Can you catch?"
And fumbling in his waistcoat-pocket, he fetched out a glittering gold
piece and tossed it deftly to the gallery. It fell upon the boards with
a musical ring, and was quickly pounced upon by the man, who blushed
and grinned awkwardly.

"I don't like to take this, sir," he said. "It's five dollars."

"Never mind what it is! It's worth a thousand times its weight if you
keep all such yarns from the lieutenant.--Oh! Good-morning, Mr. Hatton!
I thought your rooms were up-stairs," he said, as at that moment the
infantryman stepped forth from the lower hall.

"They are, Mr. Holmes, but I have taken up my quarters temporarily in
McLean's, so as not to disturb Blunt with the creaking of those
ramshackle old stairs. What is Mac's is mine, and _vice versa_. Won't
you come in?"

Mr. Holmes hesitated a moment. Then a sudden thought struck him. He
sprang lightly up the steps and was ushered into the sanctum of the
young soldier, whom he had marked the night before starting upon the
scout with Terry's troopers.

"So this is McLean's vine and fig-tree, is it?" said he, as he looked
curiously around. "Ha! Lynchburg sun-dried, golden leaf! Can I have a
pipe?"

"Most assuredly! Excuse me five minutes, while I run over to the
guard-house. Then I'll rejoin you, and we'll have a whiff together."
Another moment, and Mr. Holmes was sole occupant of the premises.

He seemed to forget his desire for a smoke, and in its stead to become
possessed with a devil of mild inquisitiveness. After a rapid glance
around the front room, with its bare, barrack-like, soldier furnishing,
he stepped quickly into the bed-chamber in the rear and went
unhesitatingly to the bureau. The upper drawer came out grudgingly and
with much jar and friction, as the drawers of frontier furniture are
apt to do even at their best, but his firm hand speedily reduced it to
subjection. A little pile of handkerchiefs, neatly folded, stood in the
left-hand corner. He lifted the topmost, carried it to the window,
compared the embroidered initials with those of the handkerchief he
took from an inside pocket, scribbled a few closely-written words on a
blank card, carefully folded the handkerchief he had brought with him,
slipped the card inside the folds, replaced both on the pile, closed
the drawer, and was placidly puffing away at his pipe when Hatton
returned.



IX.


Late that afternoon the guard caught sight of a horseman loping rapidly
up the valley and heading for the bridge across the Laramie. Long
before he reached the post an orderly had notified the commanding
officer that a courier was coming,--doubtless from Captain Terry's
party, and Major Miller's appearance on his north piazza, binocular in
hand, and gazing steadfastly over the distant flats to the winding
trail along the river, was sufficient to bring strong representations
of every household into view, all eager to see what he was seeing or to
hear what he might know. Mr. Hatton came hurriedly over from "Bedlam,"
took his place by the major's side, and a peep through the same big
glasses. Then, after a moment's consultation, the two officers started
down the steps and walked briskly past the quarters on the east side,
merely calling, in answer to the many queries, "Somebody coming with
news from Terry!" and by the time they reached the old blockhouse at
the north end, the somebody was in plain view, urging his foam-flecked
and panting steed to a plunging gallop as he neared the Laramie. The
hoofs thundered across the rickety wooden bridge, and the rider was
hailed by dozens of shrill and wailing voices as he passed the
laundresses' quarters, where the whole population had turned out to
demand information. The adjutant had joined the commanding officer by
this time, and several of the guard had come forth, anxious and eager
to hear the news. No man in the group could catch the reply of the
horseman to the questioners at "Sudstown," but in an instant an Irish
wail burst upon the ear, and, just as one coyote will start a whole
pack, just as one midnight bray will set in discordant chorus a whole
"corral" of mules, so did that one wail of mourning call forth an
echoing "keen" from every Hibernian hovel in all the little settlement,
and in an instant the air rang with unearthly lamentations.

"D---- those absurd women!" growled the major, fiercely, though his
cheek paled at dread of the coming tidings. "They'll have all the
garrison in hysterics. Here, Hatton! run down there and stop their
infernal noise. There isn't one in a dozen of 'em that has any idea of
what has happened. They're howling on general principles. What the
devil does that man mean by telling his news before he sees the
commanding officer, anyhow?"

Meantime, straight across the sandy flats and up the slope came the
courier, his horse panting loudly. Half-way from "Sudstown" he was
easily recognized,--Corporal Zook, of "Terry's Grays," and a tip-top
soldier. Reining in his horse, throwing the brown carbine over his
shoulder and quickly dismounting, he stepped forward to the group and,
with the unfailing salute, handed his commander a letter.

"How came you to tell those women anything?" asked Miller, his lips and
hands trembling slightly, despite his effort to be calmly prepared for
the worst. "Don't you see you've started the whole pack of them to
yowling? I thought I warned you never to do that again, when you came
in with the news of Lieutenant Robinson's murder."

"The major did, sir; I had it in mind when I came in sight of those
Irishwomen this time, and wouldn't open my lips, sir. They are bound to
make a row, whatever happens. I only shook my head at them, sir." And
Corporal Zook, despite fatigue, hard riding, and dust, appeared, if one
could judge by a slight twinkle of the eye, to take a rather humorous
view of this exposition of national traits. Followed by two or three of
the guard, Mr. Hatton had obediently hastened to quell the tumult of
lamentation, but by the time he reached the nearest shanty the
infection had spread throughout the entire community, and--women and
children alike--the whole populace was weeping, wailing, and gnashing
its teeth,--and no one knew or cared to know exactly why. Having been
wrought up to a pitch of excitement by the rumors and rapid moves of
the past forty-eight hours, nothing short of a massacre could now quite
satisfy Sudstown's lust for the sensational, and, defrauded of the
actual cause for universal bewailing, was none the less determined to
indulge in the full effect. Poor Hatton had more than half an hour of
stubborn and troublesome work before he could begin to quell the racket
in the crowded tenements, and meantime there was mischief to pay in the
fort. No sooner did the Irish wail come floating on the wind than the
direst rumors were rushed from house to house. The courier had barely
had time to hand his despatches to Major Miller, and the major had not
had time to read them, when a messenger came post-haste for Dr. Bayard,
and stood trembling and breathless at his door while the punctilious
old major-domo went to call his master. Holmes was reading at the
moment in the doctor's library, and, at the sound of excited voices and
scurrying footfalls without, came forward into the hall just as the
door of Nellie's room was heard to open. Glancing up, he caught sight
of her at the head of the stairs,--her hair dishevelled and rippling
down over her shoulders and nearly covering the dainty wrapper she
wore.

"Mr. Holmes! please see what has happened?" she cried, with wild
anxiety in her eyes. "I hear such dreadful noise, and see men running
down toward the laundresses' quarters."

But there was no need for him to ask. The messenger at the door was
only too eager.

"Oh, Miss Nellie!" she called, sobbing, half in eagerness, half in
genuine distress. "There's such dreadful news! There's a man come in
from Captain Terry's troop, and they've had a terrible fight, and Mr.
McLean an' lots of 'em are killed. It's all true, just as we heard it
this----"

But here Mr. Holmes slammed the door in the foolish creature's face and
went tearing up the stairs, four at a bound, for, clasping the
balusters with both her little hands in a grasp that seemed loosening
every second, Nellie Bayard was sinking almost senseless to the floor.
Chloe, too, came running to her aid, and, between them, they bore her
to the sofa in her pretty room, and then the doctor reached them,
almost rejoicing to find her in tears, instead of the dead faint he
dreaded.

"How could I have been so mad as to bring her to such a pandemonium as
this?" was his exclamation to Holmes as, a moment later, they hastened
forth upon the parade. "Yes," he hastily answered, as a little boy came
running tearfully to him, to say that mamma was taken very ill and they
didn't know what to do for her. "Yes. So are all the women in garrison,
I doubt not; though they're all scared for nothing, I'll bet a dinner.
Tell mamma I'll be there just as soon as I've seen Major Miller. Here
he comes now."

The major, with his adjutant, and followed by his orderly, was coming
rapidly into the quadrangle as he spoke, and the two gentlemen hastened
forward to meet him. From half a dozen houses women or children were
rushing to question the commanding officer with wild, imploring eyes
and faltering tongues. He waved his hands and arms in energetic
gyrations and warned them away.

"Go back! Go back! You distracted geese!" he called. "It's all a lie!
There's hardly been a brush worth mentioning. Terry and his men are all
safe. Now, do stop your nonsense! But come with me, doctor," he quickly
added, in a lower tone. "Come, Mr. Holmes. I want you both to hear
this. It's so like Terry. D---- those outrageous Bridgets down there!
Did you ever hear anything like the row they raised? And all for
nothing."

"Has there been no fight at all?" asked Dr. Bayard.

"Yes,--a pretty lively one, too. McLean is shot and otherwise hurt, but
can't be dangerously so, for he wanted to go on in the pursuit. Three
horses killed and two troopers wounded; that's about the size of it,
but there's more to come. Doctor, I want two ambulances to go down at
once; and will send half a dozen men as guard. They can ride in them.
We have no more available troopers. Will you go or send your assistant?
You cannot get there much before ten or eleven o'clock, even if you
trot all the way. Better let Dr. Weeks go, don't you think so?"

"Whichever you prefer, major. Weeks has been devoting himself to Blunt,
though of course I could relieve him there. When could we get back?"

"Not before noon to-morrow. The wounded are 'way down at Royal's Ford,
where Terry had left them with two or three men, and pushed on after
the Indians with the rest. They tricked him, I fancy, and he isn't in
good humor."

By this time the quartet had entered the office, and there, handing the
despatch to his adjutant, and bidding the orderly close the door, the
major seated himself at his desk; invited the others to draw up their
chairs; produced a map of the Platte country and the trails to the
Sioux Reservation over along the White River, and bade the adjutant
read aloud. This the young officer proceeded to do:

    "ON THE TRAIL, NEAR NIOBRARA, 10.30 A.M.

    "POST ADJUTANT, FORT LARAMIE:

    "SIR,--Reaching Royal's Ford before daybreak, we posted lookouts
    and headed off the Indians, who appeared at dawn. In the fight
    Lieutenant McLean, Sergeant Pierce, and Trooper Murray were
    wounded; two Indians killed and left on the field; others wounded,
    but carried off. After skirmishing some time at long range, they
    drew off, and were next seen far down the Platte below the ford. I
    started at once in pursuit, but had gone only four miles when we
    discovered it was only a small band, and that the main body, with
    considerable plunder, had got down to and were crossing the ford.
    This led us to hasten back, and we have kept up hot pursuit to
    this point. Now, however, the horses are exhausted, and we have
    not even gained upon their fresh ponies, although they were forced
    to abandon a good many horses they were driving away. As soon as
    our horses and men are rested, I will start on return _via_ the
    north bank. Please send ambulance, etc., for the wounded.

    "Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    "GEORGE F. TERRY,

    "_Captain Commanding_."

To this military and matter-of-fact correspondence the auditors
listened in silence.

"Not much about that to stir up such a bobbery!" said the major,
presently.

"How did you hear about McLean's wanting to join the pursuit?" inquired
Mr. Holmes. "Captain Terry seems to make rather slight mention of him
and the other wounded. I know enough of Indian-fighting to feel sure
there must have been some sharp work when they leave two dead on the
field."

"So do I," answered the major, "and that is why I inquired of old Zook
for particulars. He is the last man in the ranks to be exaggerative or
sensational, and as for his captain,--well, this despatch is simply
characteristic of Terry. He has a horror of anything 'spread-eagle,' as
he calls it, and will never praise officers or men; says that it must
be considered as a matter of course that they behaved well and did
their duty. Otherwise he would be sure to prefer charges. Now, Dr.
Bayard, if you will kindly send for Dr. Weeks I will give him his
instructions, and, meantime, will you make such preparations as may be
necessary?"

This the "Chesterfield of the Medical Department" could not but
understand as a hint to be off, and he promptly arose and signified his
readiness to carry out any wishes the commanding officer might have.
Holmes, too, arose and started for the door with his host and
entertainer, and, though the major called him back and asked if he
would not remain, he promptly refused, saying that he greatly wished to
accompany the doctor and see the preparations made in such cases.

But he tarried only a few moments with Bayard at the hospital, and when
the doctor strove to detain him he begged to be excused a little while.
There was a matter, he said, he wanted to look into before those
ambulances started. The post surgeon gazed after him in some wonderment
as the Chicagoan strode away, and tried to conjecture what could be
taking him back to the house at this moment. Nellie was not to be seen,
and he knew of no other attraction.

But Mr. Holmes had no idea of going to the surgeon's quarters. Over
near the block-house he saw Mr. Hatton with his little party returning
from their inglorious mission to Sudstown,--the lieutenant disgustedly
climbing the slope, while a brace of his assistants, the guards, were
chuckling and chatting in a low tone together, evidently extracting
more amusement from their recent duty than did the officer of the day.
Joining Hatton and allaying his anxiety by telling him the particulars
of Captain Terry's despatch,--supplemented by the information that
McLean's injuries were not considered serious,--Mr. Holmes asked
permission to send one of the men in quest of Zook, with whom he
desired very much to speak.

"He has gone to the stable, sir, to take care of his horse," said a
corporal of the guard.

"If you are in a hurry to see him, Mr. Holmes, perhaps the best way
would be to go to the troop stables. Yonder they are, down that slope
to the north. He must attend to his horse,--groom and care for him
before he can leave; and then, I fancy, he will be mighty glad of
something to eat. I'll send for him if you wish, and tell him to come
as soon as he's through his duties. Where will you have him call,--at
the doctor's?"

"No, I believe not. If it is all the same to you, would you mind my
seeing him at your quarters? I am greatly interested in this scout and
fight, and want to get his story of the affair. Terry doesn't tell
anything but the baldest outline."

"Certainly, Mr. Holmes. My room,--that is, McLean's, be it. The door is
open, and I'll be out of your way by that time. I'm going at once to
ask the adjutant to take my sword, and get the major to let me go down
for Mac."

"The ambulance is being put in readiness now. I'll go with you to Major
Miller's. What time can I best see the corporal?"

"Right after retreat roll-call, just after sunset, I should say. He
would like time to spruce up a bit and get supper."

"Then say nine o'clock. I must not leave my host alone at the
dinner-table, and I fear Miss Bayard will not be down."

"Is Miss Bayard ill?" asked Mr. Hatton.

"Hardly that! She was greatly overcome by the shock of hearing this
news as it was told her. Some idiot of a servant came rushing in, and
said a courier was back from Captain Terry's command and that Mr.
McLean was killed."

"And she swooned or fainted?" asked Hatton, with evident interest.

"Very nearly," answered Mr. Holmes, with grave face and eyes that never
flinched. "I think she would have fallen down the stairs, had she not
been caught in the nick of time."

"That will be something poor Mac will hear with comfort."

"Yes," was the decided answer, after an instant of silence. "Yes. It
would comfort me if I were in his place. Nine o'clock then, Mr. Hatton,
and at your quarters."

Before dark the ambulances got away, Dr. Weeks and the lieutenant going
with them on horseback. Cutting short a post-prandial cigar, Mr. Holmes
left the surgeon to sip his coffee in solitude when a glance at his
watch showed him that the hour of nine was approaching. Quickly he
strode over toward "Bedlam," and sprang up the low flight of steps to
the veranda. To his surprise, the hall-door was closed; he turned the
knob, but there was no yielding. Looking in through the side-lights, he
could see that a lamp was burning on the second floor, but that the
hall-lantern below had either been forgotten or its light extinguished.
Retracing his steps, he decided to go to the quartermaster and ask if
he could have the key, but before he had taken thirty strides up the
parade he remembered that Hatton had told him that the hall-door was
never locked and rarely closed. This struck him as odd, and he stopped
to think it over in connection with what he had just observed. Standing
there just beyond the southern end of the big, faded white rookery,
invisible himself in the darkness, he looked up at the lights in the
rooms occupied by the Forrest family, and wondered how the
self-possessed and handsome young lady, now occasionally alluded to as
the "Queen of Bedlam," had borne the day. The garrison was unusually
still; not a sound of mirth, music, or laughter came from the barracks
of the men; not a whisper from the quarters of the officers around the
parade. Somewhere, perhaps a mile away, out beyond the rushing Laramie,
a dog or a coyote was yelping, but all within the old fort was still as
death. Suddenly, from the northern end of the veranda, there came the
sound of a latch or lock quickly turned, a light footfall on the
creaking wooden floor, the swish and swirl of silken skirts, coming
toward him rapidly. He gazed with all his eyes, but could not discern
the advancing figure; so, struck by a sudden impulse, he sprang to the
veranda, up the southern steps, and almost collided with a woman's
form, scurrying past him in the darkness.

"I beg pardon, Miss For----" he began to say; but without a word, with
sudden leap the slender shape whisked out of reach of voice or hand and
vanished into the southern hall-way.



X.


Before the sounding of tattoo that night, the stage came in from
Cheyenne. It had been warned by fleeing ranchmen of the presence of the
Sioux at Eagle's Nest, and had turned back to the strong defences at
"Phillips's," on the Chug, remaining there in security until the driver
had satisfied himself that the coast was clear. No passengers came down
with him, but he brought the mail; and, as none had been received for
two days, and the wires were still down, the major commanding turned
out and tramped to the combined stage-station and post-office the
moment he was notified of the arrival. Here, while the letters and
papers were being distributed, he was accommodated with a chair in Mrs.
Griffin's little parlor, and his own personal mail was handed in to him
as rapidly as the swift fingers of the postmistress could sort the
various missives. Outside, the stage-driver was surrounded by a little
crowd of soldiers, scouts, and teamsters, and held forth with frontier
descriptive power on the adventures of the night previous. He could
"swar" the Sioux had burned a "Black Hills outfit" not far below
Eagle's Nest, for he had come far enough this side of the Chug to see
the glare in the skies, and had passed the charred remnants just before
sundown this very evening. He had heard along the road that there were
anywhere from two to five hundred Indians on the raid; and Miller,
listening to the eager talk and comparing the estimate of the
ranch-people with the experiences of his own campaigning, readily made
up his mind that there were probably four or five score of young
warriors in the party,--too many, with their magazine rifles,
revolvers, and abundant ammunition, for Terry to successfully "tackle"
with his little detachment. The major rejoiced that the captain was
sensible enough to discontinue the pursuit at the Niobrara crossing.
Beyond that there were numerous ridges, winding ravines, even a shallow
cañon or two,--the very places for ambuscade; and it would be an easy
matter for a small party of the Sioux to drop back and give the
pursuers a bloody welcome. No! Terry had done admirably so long as
there was a chance of square fighting, and his subsequent moves,
barring the one dash down-stream after a "fooling party" while the main
body slipped across the ford, had been dictated by sound judgment. He
deplored the crippled and depleted condition of his little command,
however. Here was Blunt, one of his best cavalry officers, seriously
wounded and in high fever; here was McLean, another admirable young
soldier, he knew not how seriously wounded; and, with old Bruce laid up
with rheumatism, he had not a company officer for duty at the post. The
adjutant and quartermaster, the doctor and his own energetic self were
the only ones he could count on for the next twenty-four hours, as
belonging to the garrison proper. The infantry battalion that had
camped down on the flats so short a time before was already beyond his
jurisdiction, in march toward Fetterman up the Platte. It was with
great relief, therefore, he read that six troops of the --th Cavalry
had reached Cheyenne, and were under orders to march to Laramie as soon
as supplied with ammunition and equipments for sharp field-service.

Presently he heard the suave tones of Dr. Bayard accosting Mrs. Griffin
with anxious inquiries for his letters, and courteous apologies for
intruding upon her during "business hours," but he had been without
letters or papers so long now, had just heard of the arrival of the
stage, Mr. Holmes was visiting him, and would she kindly put any mail
there might be for Mr. Holmes in his box? Mrs. Griffin was quite as
susceptible to courteous and high-bred and flattering manners as any of
her sex, and to her thinking no man in all the army compared with the
post surgeon in elegance of deportment. At his bidding she would
willingly have left the distribution of the mail to almost any hands
and come forth from behind the glass partition to indulge in a chat
with him. She would gladly have invited him to step into the little
parlor, but the major was already there poring over his letters, and
she could not neglect her official duties in the august presence of the
post commander. But Mrs. Griffin was all smiles as she handed out the
doctor's partially-completed packet, and then, in a low tone, informed
him that Major Miller was in the little parlor behind the office, if he
saw fit to wait there, and Dr. Bayard, who could not abide being
jostled by his fellow-men or even being seen among what he considered
the common herd, eagerly availed himself of her offer. Miller looked up
and greeted him with a pleasant nod, and immediately read to him the
news of the coming of the cavalry battalion from Cheyenne, then bade
him pull up a chair and read his letters by the bright "astral" burning
on the centre-table. Outside in the hall and corridor in front of the
dusty glass partition the crowd had rapidly increased. Not one in a
dozen in the gathering had the faintest expectation of getting a
letter, but there was no harm in asking and much mental solace,
apparently, in cultivating the appearance of a man of the world or a
woman of society who was in the daily habit of receiving and responding
to a dozen. And so teamsters, laundresses, scouts, "Indian-bound" Black
Hillers, and one or two sauntering soldiers were swarming about the
porch and hall-way, and jamming in a compact mass in front of the
little window whereat the postmistress behind her vitreous barrier was
still at work. It was a good-natured, chaffing, laughing crowd, but
still one very independent and self-satisfied, after the manner of the
frontier, where every man in a mixed gathering is as good as his
neighbor, and every woman is as good as she chooses to hold herself. It
had made a passage for the commanding officer and afterward for the
post surgeon, but that was before it had attained its present
proportions. Now when Mr. Roswell Holmes paused at the outskirts with
Corporal Zook by his side, some of the loungers looked around with
their hands in their pockets; some of the cowboys who had earned their
dollars on his ranch nodded cheerily at sight of their employer; but
this was the United States post-office, these were sovereign citizens,
and every man or woman of them, except the half-dozen enlisted men
whose mail was always taken to barracks, had just as much right there
as the capitalist from Chicago,--and knew it. So did Mr. Holmes. He
returned the greetings as cheerily as they were given; made no attempt
to push through, and probably would have remained contentedly until the
crowd dispersed and let him in, had not the notes of the infantry bugle
sounding first call for tattoo summoned Zook and the other soldiers to
make their way to barracks.

"I'm a thousand times obliged to you, Corporal Zook, for all you've
told me, and I assure you I'm as proud of the lieutenant as you are.
Now, I may not be here when the troop gets back to-morrow,--I may have
to go back to see if all is well at the ranch; but after their ride
they'll all be thirsty, and when I'm very thirsty there's nothing I
like better than a glass of cool lager. There is plenty of it on ice at
the trader's, and,--you do the entertaining for me, will you?" And the
corporal found his palm invaded by a fold of crisp greenbacks.

"If it's for the troop, sir, I can't say no," answered Zook, with
dancing eyes. Pay-day was some weeks off after all, and he knew how
"the fellers" would relish the trader's beer. "Now, if you would like
to sit down, why not go around to the other side and away from this
crowd? There are empty benches at the stage-office. I must run, sir; so
good-night, and many thanks."

The office-window had just been thrown open and the distribution was
just begun. It would be some time before his turn would come. Holmes
knew perfectly well that, only for the fun of the thing, some of those
teamsters and scouts would form a "queue," and, with unimpeachable
gravity, march up to the window and inquire if there was anything for
Red-Handed Bill, or Rip-Roaring Mike, or the Hon. G. Bullwhacker, of
Laramie Plains. He wanted time to think a bit before he returned to the
doctor's house, anyhow. He had drawn from Corporal Zook a detailed
account of McLean's spirited and soldierly conduct in the fight;
learned that it was he who killed the second warrior in what was
practically a hand-to-hand struggle, and that his wounds were painful
and severe, despite his effort to overcome and hide them when the
pursuit began. Hatton's remarks had been echoing time and again through
his memory. It would indeed be comfort to McLean to hear how shocked
and painfully stricken was Nellie Bayard at the news of the fight and
his probable death. If it proved half the comfort to McLean that it was
sorrow to his elderly rival, thought Holmes with a deep sigh, "he'll
soon be well, and 'twill be high time for me to vanish."

Pacing slowly up the road, he turned an angle of the old wooden
building, and found himself alone in a broad, square enclosure. The
stars were shining brightly overhead, but there was no moon and the
darkness in this nook among the storehouses and offices was simply
intense. The only light came through the slats of the shutter at a
side-window back of the post-office. Merely glancing at it as he
passed, Holmes walked on with bowed head and hands clasped behind him,
thinking deeply over the situation. Had he come too late to win that
sweet, youthful, guileless heart, or had he come only just in time to
see it given to another? Had he, in the light of what he had seen and
heard, any right to speak of matters that had gravely distressed him?
Was it his bounden duty to disclose certain suspicions, display certain
proofs? Or was it more than all his, the man's, part to stay and help
to sweep aside the web that was unquestionably weaving about that
brave-faced, clear-eyed, soldierly young subaltern? Despite Bayard's
detractions; despite Mrs. Miller's whispered confession that there was
a thief in their midst; despite the fact that his wallet was stolen
from the overcoat-pocket when no one, to his knowledge, but McLean
himself had been there; despite the discovery on the floor--in front of
his bureau--of a handkerchief embroidered with McLean's initials;
despite the fact that it was known that he had been placed heavily in
debt by the stoppage of his pay,--Mr. Roswell Holmes could not find it
in his heart to believe that the young soldier could be guilty of
theft. He would not believe it of him, even as a rival.

Then there was another thing. Who was the silken-skirted woman he met
in the darkness but an hour or so before,--the woman whom he had
attempted to accost, but who slipped past him like a will-o'-the-wisp--in
silence? How was it that the door to Hatton's hall was closed and
locked, when Hatton told him it was always open? Why was it that the
light in that lower hall was extinguished, and by whom was it done?
Had he not gone thither almost immediately after recovering from the
surprise of his encounter on the veranda, and found the hospital
attendant grumblingly relighting it? The man had heard some queer,
swishing sound, he explained, as he sat by Mr. Blunt's bedside, and
"something that sounded like drawers being opened in the room below."
He stepped out in the hall, he said, just in time to hear the lock of
the front door hastily turned, and somebody go stealthily and quickly
out on the veranda, "swishing" all the way. The ladies had been over
along the upper gallery two or three times, to bring cool drinks to
Mr. Blunt's door and inquire how he was getting on,--Mrs. Post and the
young lady, Miss Forrest, he meant,--but they wouldn't want anything
in Mr. McLean's rooms down-stairs. The man looked curiously up at Mr.
Holmes as he told his tale. Holmes was puzzled too, but bade him keep
quiet. Some one of the servants, perhaps, who wanted a match, he
suggested; but the little soldier shook his head. Servants didn't wear
dresses that "swished" like that.

The crowd was beginning to thin considerably, as Holmes could tell by
the sound of receding voices. He decided that it was about time for him
to move and get his own mail, when he became aware of something dark
and shapeless crouching along close under the post-office end of the
building and slowly and cautiously approaching the window from which
the light was streaming. At first he thought it some big dog scratching
his side along the cleats of the wooden wall, but as he stood silently
observing the dim shadow it was evident that no quadruped was thus
warily creeping toward him. Holmes stood leaning against a storehouse
platform in the deepest shade of an over-hanging roof; the figure was
perhaps twelve or thirteen yards away, and, as it neared the window,
the vague outlines of the mysterious creature became more easily
discernible. Immediately under the beams of light that shot across the
dark enclosure the figure paused; slowly raised itself; a hand went up
to the head and whipped off a cap just as the crown was tinged by the
gleam from within. Holmes distinctly saw the reflection of the light on
the brightly polished brass of the device, but could not make out
whether the device itself was the crossed rifles of the infantry or
sabres of the cavalry. Then the hand was laid upon the sill, the body
slowly unbent, and the head was raised until two beady eyes, under a
low forehead and a crop of thick, dark hair, could peer in between the
slats. One lingering scrutiny of every person and object visible in the
room, then down he crouched, and, almost on all-fours, slipped away to
the corner of the building, Holmes now briskly striding in pursuit.
Half-way back across the court, just as he entered the beam of light,
the latter's foot came down upon the edge of one of those tough and
elastic hoops, such as are sure to be lying about in the yards of
commissary and quartermaster storehouses, and in the twinkling of an
eye it whirled up and struck him with a sharp and audible snap. In an
instant the crouching figure shot to its full height and darted out of
sight around the corner. When Holmes reached the front of the building,
not a man in uniform was visible. Cowboys and a scout or two remained.
The stage-driver was again the centre of attraction, and all were
grouped about him on the low piazza. Holmes called one of the ranchmen
to one side, and asked him if he had seen or heard anything of a
soldier who came suddenly around the corner, but the man shook his
head. Stepping inside the office he met the major and his host, Dr.
Bayard, while a tall, well-formed, colored girl stood in front of the
little wicket, and a number of loungers still hung about the place. The
officers stopped and said they would wait until he got his letters,
and, as he took his place near the window, Mrs. Griffin was just
handing a little packet to the colored girl. The light fell on the
topmost letter, addressed in bold, legible hand to Miss Fanny Forrest;
and Holmes could plainly see the post-mark and device on the upper
corner, showing that it came from the Red Cloud Agency, and old Camp
Robinson. "Halloo!" thought he to himself, "I had forgotten that we
were as good as cut off from them now, and they are sending around by
way of Sidney and Cheyenne." Quickly the girl turned over the letters,
made some laughing remark expressive of disappointment at getting
nothing from her beau; then, facing Mr. Holmes and showing her white
teeth, with a coquettish toss of her head accosted him: "Good-evening,
Mr. Holmes. S'pose you don't know me; I'm Celestine,--Miss Forrest's
girl. Miss Griffin, yere's Mr. Holmes waitin' for his mail. Ain't no
use you lookin' for anything for this trash," she said, contemptuously
indicating the two or three intervening frontier folks. "Han' it to me
an' I'll give it to him."

But just at this moment there was a stir at the door. The loungers who
had never budged an inch for Mr. Holmes drew promptly back, making way
for a tall young lady, who entered, all aglow from a rapid walk, her
dark eyes gleaming, her fine, mobile lips wreathed with pleasant smiles
the instant she caught sight of the doctor, who, cap in hand, advanced
to meet her. It was Miss Forrest herself, and behind her came her
escort, the adjutant.

"I thought I heard Celestine's voice," she said, looking questioningly
around; and Holmes quickly noted that the girl had suddenly slunk back
behind a little group of camp-women. Finding it useless to evade the
searching glance of her young mistress, the girl came forth.

"Yes, Miss Fanny. I got your letters, miss," she said, but the
confident tone was gone. Holmes marked the look in Miss Forrest's
flashing eye as she took the little packet with no gentle hand. He was
near enough, too, to hear the low-spoken but clearly enunciated words:

"And I told you never again to touch my letters. This must be the last
time."



XI.


Four days had passed since Terry's fight down the river. McLean,
painfully wounded, but very quiet and plucky, had been re-established
in his old quarters at "Bedlam." Dr. Bayard, after one or two somewhat
formal visits, had relinquished the entire charge of the case to his
assistant; so that Dr. Weeks was now the medical and surgical attendant
of both the young officers in the north hall, while his senior
continued assiduously to care for the wants of the feminine colony in
the other. It may be said right here, that, so far as those sturdy
"refugees" the Posts were concerned, professional and personal
attentions from Dr. Bayard were both declared unnecessary. Mrs. Post
was a woman of admirable physique and somewhat formidable personality.
She did not fancy the elaborate manners of the surgeon at their first
meeting, and allowed her lack of appreciation of "His Elegancy" to
develop into positive dislike before she had known him a fortnight.
Now, since the "north end" had become a hospital, she was willing to
admit the doctor to her confidence, for the good lady was incessant in
the preparation of comforting drinks or culinary dainties for the two
invalids; but what was the measure of her indignation when she
discovered that Bayard's attentions at "Bedlam" were confined to the
south hall and to Mrs. Forrest's quarters?

He had always been a specialist in the maladies of women and children,
to be sure, and we all know of what vital importance are such
practitioners in our large garrisons. He was a welcome visitor either
at the fireside or in the sick-room of every family homestead on the
reservation--except Mrs. Post's--whensoever he chose to call, but that
his presence at Mrs. Forrest's should be requisite and necessary three
or four times every twenty-four hours was something Mrs. Post could not
be brought to believe, and her scepticism speedily inoculated the
entire community.

Mrs. Forrest declared she did not know how she could have lived through
the terrors of the past week had it not been for Dr. Bayard's delicate
and skilful ministrations. The doctor himself was understood to say
that the poor lady's nervous system was utterly unstrung, that she was
in a hyper-sensitive condition which might readily develop into nervous
prostration unless she was carefully guarded. The officers of the
garrison, when they spoke of the matter at all, which was not often,
laughingly referred to the admirable tactics of the astute physician in
finding excuses for frequent professional visits to a house where it
was now apparent to all he was personally interested. The women, when
they did not speak of the matter to one another, which was seldom
indeed, were divided in their opinions. That Dr. Bayard was "smitten"
with Fanny Forrest was something they had seen from the start, but that
brilliant and most incomprehensible young woman had on more than one
occasion treated him with marked coldness and aversion. What was the
matter? Had he been too precipitate in his wooing? Twice since Hatton
returned with his little escort, bringing in the wounded, had Miss
Forrest declined Dr. Bayard's arm, and, on the other hand, while she
seemed to repel the senior, she was now showing a marked interest in
his junior,--the attendant of the wounded officers. Twice while Dr.
Bayard was known to be visiting at the Forrests', she was seen to come
forth, and, after an irresolute glance up and down the walk, as though
she had no other purpose in venturing out than to escape from her
elderly admirer, the young lady had walked down the path away from the
officers' quarters and disappeared from view in the direction of the
trader's store. Some of the ladies were beginning to believe that,
_faute de mieux_, the doctor was consoling himself in a flirtation
with his lackadaisical patient; but it was speedily noted that he
stayed only a few moments when Miss Forrest left the premises, and the
idea was as speedily scouted by the entire sisterhood, unless, indeed,
we except the lady herself. Poor Mrs. Forrest! In these days of her
faded beauty, she could not forget the fact that it was only a few
years before that her rosebud complexion and tender blue eyes had been
the cause of many a heartache among the young fellows in the garrison
where she, the only damsel, reigned supreme; and lives there a woman
who, having once queened it over the hearts of the opposite sex, can
quite abandon the idea that her powers still exist?

Knowing, from plain declarations to that effect, that her spirited
sister-in-law totally disapproved of Dr. Bayard after a conversation
held with him the night McLean was returned to the post, Mrs. Forrest
was fain to flatter herself that these frequent visits to her were
impelled by an interest transcending the professional and rapidly
becoming sentimental. It really did her good; gave her something to
think about besides her woes; rescued her from the slatternly ways into
which she was falling and restored a faded coquetry to her dress and
mien; brightened her dreary eyes and lent color to her pallid cheek,
and prompted her to surround herself with those domestic barricades
against unhallowed glances and unwarranted sighs,--the children. But
when Fanny Forrest flatly told her it was all nonsense, this
encouraging Dr. Bayard's visits on account of some supposititious
malady, and that she was looking better than she had seen her look in
six months, the lady took offence at the first statement and alarm at
the second, and between the two a relapse was accomplished which, of
course, triumphantly established the justice of her position and the
ineffable cruelty of her sister's charge.

Fanny Forrest's life could hardly have been pleasant just then, said
superficial commentators. To every woman who called upon the lady of
the house in her invalid state, Mrs. Forrest had something to say about
the heartlessness and utter lack of sympathy with which she was
treated; and who can doubt that the letters she wrote her soldier
husband made frequent complaint to the same effect? Now, if in the
domestic circle Miss Forrest had no friend or sympathizer, it was quite
as bad without. With all her frankness, brilliancy, and dash, with all
her willingness to be cordial and friendly, there had arisen between
her and the whole sisterhood in the garrison a strange, intangible, but
impenetrable barrier. She was welcome nowhere, and was too proud to
inquire the cause.

This state of things could not go on long, as a matter of course.
Sooner or later the reason would be demanded by somebody, and then the
stories would come out. Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Bruce, as recorded in an
earlier chapter, had covenanted together to keep the secret; but that
mysterious theft the night of the dinner at the doctor's had made the
former determine on another revelation to her lord and master, the post
commander. As for Mrs. Bruce, she struggled--well, womanfully--to hold
her tongue, and womanfully succeeded.

Two nights after McLean had been brought home and was lying in a
somewhat feverish condition, the major commanding came in and softly
tapped at the door of the front room. Hatton was seated at the table
reading by the light of the Argand, and he arose at once and tiptoed to
see who was there.

"Oh! Come in, major," he said, in a low tone, throwing open the door.
"Come in."

"Is McLean asleep?" whispered the major. "I--I don't want to disturb
him. I only wanted to inquire."

"Not asleep, sir, but lying in a sort of doze. Weeks is trying to fight
off fever."

"I know; I understand. It may be several days before he'll be well
enough to--to talk, won't it?" and the major gazed keenly into Hatton's
eyes, and Hatton plainly saw the trouble in his commander's face.

"I fear it may, sir. Weeks says he must be kept quiet and free from
worry of any kind."

The major paused, irresolute. He took off his forage-cap and mopped his
brow with his handkerchief, then stood there twisting the cap in his
hands. He looked down the dim hall-way, then through the crack of the
door, then down at his boots, and all the time Hatton stood there
holding wide open the door, yet hoping and praying he would not come
in. Something told the lieutenant that the matter so plainly worrying
the commanding officer was one neither he nor McLean could speak of if
it could possibly be helped.

But Miller was in sore trouble, and he could not stand alone.

"Hatton!" he muttered, impulsively, "is the nurse there? Can you come
out with me? I--I have heard something that gives me a world of
concern, something I must ask you about. I can't talk of it here. Sick
men's ears are sometimes far more acute than those of their sound and
healthy brothers. Can you come now?"

"I am alone with Mac just now, sir. I sent the attendant down to the
post-office and the store. He had been cooped up all day, and was
grateful for a little fresh air. When he returns----" and Hatton
stopped vaguely. He knew it might be an hour before the man got back.
That would give him time to think.

"Well. That will have to do. Come to my quarters then, and, if a
lot of women are there, you--you say you want to see me about
something,--anything,--and I'll come out. I don't want them to
dream I'm investigating anything." And here the major stopped
uneasily and glanced up-stairs; then looked inquiringly at Hatton.
"Who's up there?" he asked.

"No one, sir, to my knowledge. Blunt's door is closed and he is
sleeping. Weeks was there not ten minutes since, and stopped to see me
on the way down. Why do you ask?"

"Why, I thought I heard something,--a woman's dress and light footfall.
I even thought I saw a shadow at the head of the stairs."

Hatton's heart gave a great thump, and he felt his face glowing under
his commander's gaze, but he answered steadily.

"It is possible, sir. Mrs. Post and Miss Forrest both have been coming
along the upper gallery frequently, bringing things to both Blunt and
McLean. Mrs. Post comes over to inquire every hour or so, and they
tiptoe in and out as light as a kitten. Shall I run up and see?"

"Oh, no,--no! If that's the explanation, it is simple enough. No, I'm
all upset. I--I fancied there was some one listening. Come to me as
soon as you can, Hatton. By the way, have you heard from Mr. Holmes?"

"No, sir. He was called suddenly to the ranch, and I presume he is
there."

"I know, I know. But did he see McLean before he left?"

"See him! Yes, sir; but that's about all he could do. McLean was in no
condition to receive visitors, and Weeks hustled him out somewhat
unceremoniously."

"Well. That's all, just now. I'll expect you soon after tattoo."

"Very good, sir."

And then the major went away, closing the hall-door after him. Hatton
stood there a moment as though rooted to the spot, his brow moistening
with beads of sweat that seemed starting from every pore. Despite his
secrecy, then, despite McLean's destruction of the evidence of her
visit the night of the disappearance of their property, despite their
determination to shield the sister of an absent comrade from suspicion,
or disgrace, in some way the story must have gotten around. Possibly
there were other thefts of which he knew nothing, in which suspicion
had pointed to her. Possibly the vague confessions, implicating no one,
which he had made to Mrs. Miller, taken in connection with events of
which he had no knowledge, had proved sufficient to weave a chain of
circumstantial evidence about her; and now the commanding officer was
aroused, and was coming down on him, and poor Mac yonder, for full
details of their losses and their knowledge of the affair. He would
give anything to secure the postponement of that dreaded interview
until he could talk over matters with his comrade, but when would that
be a possibility? Just as soon as the attendant returned, he must go to
his commander, and either make a clean breast of it or refuse to utter
a word. What course would he ask or expect of a comrade if it were his,
Hatton's, sister, who was here alone and defenceless? By heaven, McLean
was right! They must shield her, so far as shield of theirs could
serve, until Forrest himself could come to be her adviser and
protector.

Then he, too, stopped, listened, and looked up the stairs. Then he,
too, started, but with a start to which the major's sudden turn was a
mere languid gesture. Hardly could he believe his eyes; hardly could he
trust his reeling senses, but it was she,--Fanny Forrest,--not standing
at the head of the stairs, but coming swiftly down upon him, her finger
at her lips, her other hand gathering her skirts so that they should
make as little rustle as possible as she swooped quickly down the
stairs. Another instant, and she was at his side, her eyes gleaming
like fiery coals, her face burning, her lips firm, set, and determined.
He was too much startled to speak. It was she who broke the silence, in
words clear-cut and distinct yet soft and low.

"Mr. Hatton, I saw your major coming here. I have heard within two days
more than you know. I know why he wishes to see you to-night, and--yes,
I listened. There is more at stake than you dream of. Now, I hasten to
you; there is no time to explain,--no time to answer questions. If you
would save a friend from wrong or ruin, don't go near Major Miller
to-night. I adjure you, find some excuse. I'll find one for you, if it
is only to delay that attendant; but mark what I say, don't go near
Major Miller to-night, or tell him what you know until Mr. Holmes
returns. I--I've sent for him. Will you promise?"

"Promise!" he utters, slowly, a dazed look in his eyes. "Good God, Miss
Forrest! I would do anything in my power for Captain Forrest's sister,
and for him; but if--if this thing is known, what can my silence
avail?"

"Never mind Captain Forrest or Captain Forrest's sister! This is vital!
Do you promise? It is only for a day. Mr. Holmes will be here in
twenty-four hours."

"What can his coming or going--pardon me! but I'm at a loss to see how
he is in any way concerned."

A manly step was heard on the porch without. She turned a glance of
terror at the hall-door and flew to spring the latch, but the step went
on toward the south hall.

"It is the doctor," she said, falteringly. "He is going to our
quarters, and I must hurry back the way I came. Mr. Hatton, tell no one
I came to you here; and, as for the rest, I implore you to be guided by
what I say. One thing more,"--she whipped from her pocket a white silk
handkerchief. "Put this back among his,--not on top, but anywhere among
them otherwise."

And, thrusting the soft fabric into his hand, without another word she
flew up the old wooden stairs, her skirts rushing and "swishing" over
the floor, her slippered feet twinkling over the rickety flight, light
as kittens, swift as terriers; and in an instant she was through the
upper hall, out on the gallery, and beyond sight and hearing. A few
moments, dazed and confounded, Hatton stood there gazing vacantly after
her. Then he thought he heard McLean's voice, and entering found him
propped on his elbow, a queer look on his face.

"Hat, there are spooks in this old rookery. I could have sworn I heard
a woman's dress and a woman's footfalls on those creaking stairs just
now. Has any one been in here?"

"N--no one, Mac."

"Gad! I'm not dreaming. It sounded just as it did the night--the night
that thing happened. You know, Hat."



XII.


Just at tattoo that evening Mrs. Miller was smitten with a sudden
desire to go over and see Nellie Bayard. The child hadn't been out of
the house, she explained, since "the Grays" started for the fray down
the Platte, taking Randall McLean with them. She longed to see her and
learn from her lips how matters were going at home. She wondered if
Nellie knew how her father was devoting himself to the Forrests; she
wondered if the gentle and obedient daughter would not rebel at the
idea of such a possibility as his becoming seriously attached to Miss
Forrest. She had indulged the major in one very plain and startling
dissertation on the subject of that young woman, from the effects of
which he was still suffering; but, worst of all, her motherly heart
longed to acquire, through Nellie's words, looks, or actions, some idea
as to whether she really cared for her pet among all the lieutenants.
Of course Nellie liked--but did she love him? Of McLean's deep-rooted
regard for the shy and sensitive little maiden, Mrs. Miller had not the
shadow of a doubt. Nellie had no one, she argued, to be a mother to her
in this troublesome time, and yet she was beginning to feel a species
of jealousy in the knowledge that the Bruces and the Gordons and other
good garrison people--maid and matron--had been seen going continually
to and from the doctor's quarters. Mrs. Miller thought she had a prior
claim on the confidences of the doctor's pretty daughter, and did not
relish it that others should possibly be before her. Oddly enough there
was no one calling on this night of nights; the major had been out,
ostensibly to attend to business at the office, but something told her
he was seeking information as to the array of circumstances pointing to
the fact that there was further evidence against Miss Forrest.

The bugles were sounding the call through the stillness of the early
summer night, though at Laramie summer seemed yet far away, when she
heard him coming heavily up the steps to the piazza. Well the good lady
knew by the very cadence of his footfalls just what mood possessed him.
It was slow, draggy, spiritless to-night; and, though he had almost
angrily and contemptuously checked her when she began the story of
these later revelations, her heart yearned over him now. She went down
to him, as he sat there looking drearily out at the twinkling lights
across the parade.

"Come, major," she said, addressing him, as was a fancy of hers at
times, by the formal army title instead of the Christian name. "Come;
I'm going over to the doctor's to see how Nellie is to-night; and, not
that I need an escort, I want your company. A glass of his old Madeira
will do you good, and he is always so glad to offer it. You are blue
to-night, and so am I. Come."

He resisted faintly. Hatton might be along any moment, and he had an
appointment with him, he said; but she speedily settled that by calling
the orderly, and telling him, should Mr. Hatton call, to come over at
once to Dr. Bayard's and let the major know. Then her obedient lord had
no further objections to urge, and he, too, had bethought him of the
doctor's Madeira and those incomparable Regalia Britannicas. Nowhere in
Wyoming were there cigars to match Bayard's, and it was easy to
persuade himself that he could so much better deliberate on the matter
in hand over the fragrance of the soothing Havana. Robert threw open
the door in hospitable Virginian style at sight of the commandant and
his wife, ushered them into the parlor, sent the maid up-stairs to
inquire if Miss Elinor could see Mrs. Miller; and then, true to his
Southern training, reappeared in the parlor with a decanter of wine and
some flaky "Angels' food" upon a silver salver. The doctor had gone to
the hospital, he explained, but would soon return. Then he vanished.
Miller smacked his lips over the Madeira, and smilingly admitted to his
better half that he believed there were some things on which "her head
was leveller than his."

For a reply she pointed to the hall-way.

"Come here just one moment. I want you to see where I stood, and how I
could view what was going on at the hat-rack out there."

Silently he stood by her side, glanced at the mirror, and noted the
reflection therein.

"It was just there his beautiful fur coat was hanging,--and the money
in its pocket," she said.

Then came the message from aloft, that, if Mrs. Miller would step
up-stairs, Miss Bayard would be glad to see her,--Miss Bruce was
already there; and so the major was left alone. He sat some five
minutes looking over an album or two, poured out and drank another
glass of wine, and bethought him that Bayard had told him if ever he
felt like smoking to go right into his study and help himself. Now was
the very time. A dozen strides brought him to the broad-topped
library-table littered with books, pamphlets, papers of all kinds, and
among them the inviting-looking brown box. Another moment, and,
ensconced in the big easy-chair, with a fragrant Regalia between his
lips and a late New York paper in his hand, the major was forgetting
the perplexities of the day. The reading-lamp he found lighted threw a
bright glow upon the paper in his hand, but left the apartment in
darkness. Out in the kitchen he could faintly hear the voices of the
domestics and the sound of crockery and glass in process of cleaning,
above-stairs the murmur of softer tongues. All in the front part of the
house on the first floor was silent. Presently, out on the parade the
bugler began to sound the signal, "taps," to extinguish lights, and at
the same moment Miller heard the click of the latch at the front door.
There had been no footsteps that he could hear, and he thought he might
be mistaken. He listened intently, and presently click, click, it went
again. Odd, thought Miller. That is not the way a man enters his own
house, nor does it sound like the way an honest man enters any one
else's. Click, click, again, louder and more forcibly now. Some one was
plainly trying to open that door without attracting the attention of
the occupants. What if now he should be able to surprise the prowler?
What if this should, indeed, prove to be some one bent on larceny or
worse? Now was an excellent time. The doctor was known to be
away,--over at the hospital. Miss Bayard was known to be up-stairs,
confined to her room. Very probably the thief had watched the movements
of the post surgeon, knew he would be detained some time, and--there
were all those pretty nicknacks in the parlor. There was that handsome
silver in the dining-room (it was always in the doctor's strong box
under the bed at night). What more likely than that now was the time
selected by some sharp sneak-thief in the garrison to slink through the
shadows of the night to the doctor's quarters, slip in the front way
while the servants were all chattering and laughing in the kitchen in
the rear, and make off with his plunder? It was an inspiration.
Miller's heart fairly bounded at the thought. If the thief could enter
now, he could have entered before,--the night of the dinner. By Jove!
Did he not recall that sudden gust of cold air that swept from the hall
in the midst of the doctor's story? Click, click, snap! At it again,
and no mistake this time. Quickly and on tiptoe the major stole toward
the hall where he could see the front door. It was his hope, his belief
now, that the thief would speedily effect an entrance; and from the
darkness of his lair the major could see and identify him, let him in,
follow him on tiptoe to the dining-room, there seize and confound him
in the very act, and so, fastening the crime on some one guilty man,
dispel at once and for all the cloud of suspicion that hovered over a
woman's fair fame. Click, click, again. What was the matter? Would the
stubborn lock not yield? or was this a 'prentice hand, and his tools
unsuited to the job? In his wild impatience he could have rushed to the
door and hurled it open, but that would have only spoiled the game. He
could have caught his prowler, but proved nothing. No, patience!
patience! A burst of jolly Ethiopian laughter from the distant kitchen
drowned for a moment other sounds and possibly unnerved the operator at
the door. Did he hear quick, light footsteps hurrying away? There was a
broad "stoop" there, quite a wide veranda in fact, since the unsightly
wooden storm-door had been removed. For an instant he certainly thought
he heard scurrying footfalls. Not the steps themselves, but the creak
of the dry woodwork underneath them. He listened intently another
moment, but the attempt had apparently been abandoned.

Then--there it was again. Surely he heard a light footfall on the
steps,--on the piazza itself. He could bear the suspense no longer,
and, springing into the hall where the hanging lamp shed its broad
glare over every object, hurled open the door,--and recoiled in
mingling agony and horror. God of heaven! There stood Fanny Forrest!

"Major Miller!" she gasped, affrighted at his vehemence and the ghastly
look with which he greeted her. "How--how you startled me! Why, what
has happened? where were you going in such--why, major--what is the
matter?" and now there was something imperious in the demand.

For all answer he could only pass his hand over his quivering face in a
dazed, dumb sort of way a moment. Then, rallying suddenly, he stepped
forward, giving his head a shake and striving to be cool and calm.

"You are more startled than I, Miss Forrest. I never thought to find
you at that door."

"And why not me? I have not seen Nellie since her illness, and came
over at taps to inquire if she would not receive me a moment."

"Why--why didn't you ring?" he hoarsely asked.

"Ring! What opportunity had I? My foot had hardly touched the piazza
before the door opened in my face and revealed you looking--well,
pardon me, Major Miller--as if you had suddenly encountered a ghost."

"Do you mean you have only just come?" he asked.

"Certainly."

"And you saw no one? There was no one here as you came in the gate?"

"Not a soul,--stop a minute though,--there was something----"

"Pray, what are you talking about, Major Miller, and to whom are you
talking?" queried the voice of his better half at this very instant;
and before he could respond there came through the gate-way and up the
steps the debonair, portly doctor.

"What!" exclaimed Bayard. "Miss Forrest! Ah, you truant, we've been
wondering where you were, your sister and I. Ah, major!--Mrs. Miller.
Why, this is delightful! Now indeed am I welcome home! Come right into
my parlor, said the--but I'm no spider. Come, Miss Forrest, I know you
want to see my little girl,--I left Jeannie Bruce with her. Major, you
and I want a glass of Madeira and Mrs. Miller to bless the occasion,
and then we all want some music, don't we? Come in, and welcome."

And so, half urging, half pushing, half leading, the doctor swept his
trio of visitors into the parlor. Despite her start at Miller's
appearance at the door, despite his preoccupation and gloom, which
several glasses of the doctor's good wine failed to dissipate, Miss
Forrest remained after a brief visit to the invalid up-stairs and,
saying that she had promised Nellie, sang to them witchingly again and
again.

But that night, despatches flashed in from Fetterman that gave the
major another turn. The telegraph operator himself came running up with
the message just as the party at the doctor's (considerably augmented
by this time by new-comers drawn thither by Miss Forrest's voice) was
breaking up for the night. Indians had appeared in great numbers along
the North Platte, threatening the road connecting the two posts, and a
train had been attacked and burned midway between them. Terry and his
hard-worked Grays were ready in an hour to take the trail, but there
were no young gallants to ride forth this time. Hatton, indeed, offered
his services, but was told he could not be spared. Morning brought
tidings that the war-parties were seen only seven miles away at
sunrise; and in the presence of the common foe the major, for the time
being, put aside the matter weighing so heavily on his mind, but not
for a moment could he forget her startled face as he threw open that
door. It was time indeed to look the situation squarely through and
through. It might be necessary to send for Forrest.

Another day brought with it a strong column of cavalry hastening up
from the railway at Cheyenne, and these troops were to be fully
provided with rations and ammunition before setting forth toward the
Black Hills, whither they were ordered. It was bustle and business for
everybody. The major said no more to Hatton on the subject of the
interrupted interview; but on the second day, as McLean was lying
languidly in his bed, listening to the sounds of hoofs and heels
without, and bemoaning his fate that he was to be bedridden here when
such stirring times were ahead, his soldier servant came noiselessly to
ask the lieutenant's permission to step out a little while to see some
friends in the cavalry. The attendant was seated in the front room, so
the permission was readily granted.

"Is there anything the lieutenant wants, sir, before I go?"

"Nothing except a handkerchief. Give me one of those silk ones in this
corner of the drawer. They are softer."

The man handed the topmost of the pile, and went noiselessly away.
McLean shook it open, and a card dropped out upon the coverlet.
Surprised, he picked it up and slowly read it, perplexity and then
symptoms of annoyance showing plainly in his face. Twice--thrice he
read it through. Then, stowing it under his pillow, he began to think.

Dr. Weeks came in before a great while to renew the dressing on his
wound, and asked him if he had not been talking too much.

"I haven't been talking at all. Why do you ask?"

"Pulse a little quicker than it was. What have you been doing?"

"Nothing--to speak of. What is there to do but read and think?"

"You mustn't get to fretting because you can't go out with every
expedition, Mac. We all know you'd like it, but you can't have your pie
and eat it. You can't get shot in one fight and expect to get into the
next. If you'll keep quiet here, I think I can put you in saddle again
in a month,--much quicker than I can poor Blunt; but you must be
patient, especially now that you'll miss Hatton. He goes out with the
train-guard to-night."

"Hatton! To-night?" exclaimed the invalid.

"There you go again, Mac! What a bundle of tow you are, to be sure; I
might just as soon touch a match to a magazine."

"Doctor, tell Hatton I want him,--must see him before he goes."

"Confound it, man, I told him to keep away. Why do you want him?"

"_Because I must_ see him. You'll have a crazy man on your hands if
you don't." And Weeks decided it best to let this headstrong
Highlander have his way.

That night, in his field-dress and all ready to start, Hatton gently
came to his comrade's bed-side.

"What is it, old man?" he asked. "Weeks told me first to slip away
without saying good-by,--I'll only be gone a week,--and then hunted me
up and said you wanted to see me."

McLean looked out in the front room.

"Send that man away for a while," he said.

"Now for it," groaned Hatton, between his teeth. "Something new, and
he's got hold of it. How in heaven am I to keep my story to myself?"

Obediently at a word from Hatton, the hospital attendant took his cap
and stepped outside. Then McLean put forth his hand and took that of
the senior lieutenant.

"Hat, you and I have been good friends, haven't we?"

"Always, Mac."

"I've something to ask you. Something I must know. You remember the
night we burned that handkerchief?"

"I should say so."

"Have you ever seen--have you ever known of her ever being in here--or
around here since?"

Hatton hesitated.

"Tell me, Hat."

"I can't tell you, Mac. There's been the devil to pay. Some other
things stolen. Miller's got hold of it, and, old man, I'm thankful I'm
going, for I'd have to tell what we know."

"Great God! and Forrest two weeks' march away,--least count! See here,
Hat! To-day I found something among my handkerchiefs--in a missing one
that was returned. Do you know how it got there?"

"Yes," slowly. "She herself gave it to me and asked me to put it
there."

"You don't mean it! How could she, without exciting more suspicion? She
must have known it would only make you connect her with what had
happened here."

"Mac,--old man; it's no use! I can't keep it back from you. Why! She
was reckless of anything I might think. It has gone far beyond
suspicion. It is certainty. She was on the watch the night Miller came
here for me. It was her dress--her steps you heard in the hall. It may
be kleptomania,--God knows; but whatever it is, she threw off all
disguise. She listened to Miller's orders that I should come to him at
tattoo; and then, the moment he was gone, down she flew to where I
stood there at the door, and implored me, Mac, as I would save her from
disgrace and ruin not to go--not to tell him."

"And she was not out of her mind?"

"She is as sane as you or I, Mac, except on that one thing."



XIII.


For several days after Hatton's sudden departure Lieutenant McLean was
worse. High fever had set in, and Dr. Weeks hardly knew how to account
for it. Mrs. Miller, kind soul, had begged to be allowed to come over
and help nurse him, and was more than perplexed when, having easily
obtained the approval of the post surgeon, she was met by a most
embarrassed but earnest negative on the part of his assistant. As Weeks
was in charge of the case, Dr. Bayard's sense of professional etiquette
would not permit of his opposing his junior in the matter, but did not
prevent his expressing himself as surprised and annoyed at what he
termed a slight to the wife of the commanding officer. The lady herself
could not refrain from telling her husband and making some trenchant
criticisms at the expense of the younger physician; and, as a result of
her remarks, Old Miller decided to do a thing to which, hitherto, he
had always declared himself averse,--namely, to require of his surgical
staff a defence of their policy in the matter. He would not do this
formally or officially, but he meant to ask Dr. Bayard at once what
possible objection there could be to Mrs. Miller's looking in on the
young officer and doing what she could to promote his comfort. She was
welcome to go to Blunt's bedside, she told him, and Mr. Blunt's wounds
were of a more severe character than those of the young infantryman,
whom she was virtually forbidden to see.

Miller's honest heart was filled full of perplexities and cares at this
time, and the best of men are apt to be a trifle irritable under such
conditions. His brow was moody and his step more energetic than usual,
as he sallied forth in search of his senior surgeon, this bright
sunshiny morning. No one was on the Bayards' piazza, but the front door
was open, and, hearing subdued voices in the parlor, he ventured to
step inside and tap at the inner door which also stood ajar. It was at
once thrown wide open by Janet Bruce, whose bonnie face lighted up with
pleasure at sight of him; she had always been a favorite of his from
the days when she was a romping maid in short dresses.

"Why, Major Miller! Come right in. Nellie will be so glad to see you."

"What! Is Nellie here?" he asked, and stepping into the parlor, the
gloom vanishing from his face at sight of those smiling eyes, he
marched over to the sofa where Elinor lay, holding forth to him a white
and fragile hand.

"Why, bless your heart, little lady! I'm rejoiced to see you
down-stairs again," he cheerily said. "We've all been in the dumps ever
since you were taken ill and remanded to bed. And now I suppose you and
Janet here have been condoling with each other. With McLean invalided
and Hatton on the war-path, I fear me you two young women have been
indulging in tears. Hah! Blushing? Well, well, I only wish I were Mac
or Hatton either. Enviable fellows, both of them, to have two such
pretty girls in mourning for their mishaps. But all the same, don't you
lose your hearts to those boys; neither of 'em is worth it." And the
major chuckled at the idea of being quizzical and arch.

"Indeed, Major Miller," retorted Miss Bruce, with reddening cheeks and
spirited mien. "We're not in mourning at all, though I'm not a whit
ashamed of my anxiety about our friends; but as for calling them boys,
Mr. Hatton is ten years older than you were when you were
married,--Mrs. Miller told me so,--and Mr. McLean has been too many
years in the service to be spoken of disparagingly. Have you heard how
he is this morning?" she asked, with a sudden change from rebuke to
anxious inquiry, flashing a quick glance at his half-averted face as
she questioned.

"Not for two hours. I had hoped to find Dr. Bayard here. Do you know
where he is, Miss Nellie?"

"He said he was going to the hospital, major," was the hesitant reply,
"but I think he stopped at Bedlam,--at Mrs. Forrest's, perhaps."

"Ah--yes, I remember. Mrs. Forrest does not get well rapidly. Has Miss
Forrest been over to see you since you came down-stairs?"

"She called, but papa had desired me to keep very quiet. Janet was
reading to me, and she went to the door and saw her."

The major decided to press the question no further. Something in the
manner of both girls told him the subject was hardly congenial. He
remained a few moments chatting with them, and noted with paternal
solicitude the languor and lack of interest in Nellie Bayard's drooping
eyes and the unmistakable signs of anxiety and trouble in her sweet
face. "My wife is right," he muttered to himself; "she always is, in
such things at least,"--for with masculine perversity he could not
vouchsafe a sweeping verdict as to a woman's infallibility. "There is
small chance here for Holmes," he mentally added. "I only wish young
McLean were out of his troubles." And the doctor's hearty voice was
heard without, and the tread of feet, and the next moment Bayard was in
the hall-way eagerly welcoming a visitor. Miller saw the glance that
passed between the girls and the instant cloud of distress that
overspread Nellie's face. It was Roswell Holmes again.

"Why! When did you get back?" exclaimed the major, rising. "We had no
idea of this. I supposed you would go direct to Cheyenne from the
ranch."

"It was my intention, major," answered Mr. Holmes, with grave courtesy,
"but letters I received made it preferable that I should come back
here, and the doctor kindly gives me an abiding-place. Excuse me," and
he passed the major by and went on and bent over the sofa and took Miss
Bayard's hand and greeted her with tender intonation in every word,
even while he bowed pleasantly to Miss Bruce.

"Quite a surprise, wasn't it?" asked Dr. Bayard from the door-way.
"Major, I'm glad to see you here this morning, and no doubt Nellie
welcomed you, though she isn't able to play the hostess just yet. We'll
have her up and about in a day or two, though. Holmes, old fellow, you
can safely hang your traps in the hall now. I've had that latch
tinkered up since the night--the night of the dinner. Whoever opened it
that night will get fooled on it the next time he tries. I had quite a
row with Robert about it, and the conceit was taken out of him not a
little."

"Why, how was this, doctor?" asked Miller, with immediate interest. "I
had not heard. Are there--have there been any new developments?" And
lowering his voice as he asked, the major drew the post surgeon into
the hall-way.

"Nothing of consequence, major. Of course we all felt uncomfortable
when it was known that Holmes had lost a porte-monnaie from his
overcoat-pocket as it hung here on the rack that night. Though he
protests there was nothing in it, the thing might have been serious.
You remember you thought the hall-door had been opened during our
dinner. I believe I was telling some story or other at the time,--bad
habit of mine,--and we sent Robert out to look. He came back and said
it was tight shut, and couldn't have been open, because he had fixed it
so that the latch could not be turned from outside. But Holmes showed
us next day that it could be."

"Then you think it had been tampered with,--that some garrison
sneak-thief had got in?"

"Well, that's what Holmes says and what Robert stoutly maintains,
though you can't see a scratch or a mark or anything to indicate that
such means had been used. No, major," and the doctor shook his head
ominiously. "I--I have another theory, but it's one too shadowy, too
unsubstantial to speak of. It is nothing but suspicion."

And Miller would not ask him what it was. Well knowing how the doctor
had been devoting himself to Miss Forrest, it was with nothing short of
amaze that the old soldier now heard him speak. After all his wife had
told him, whom could Bayard mean but the Queen of Bedlam?

Abruptly the major changed the subject, even while thinking how in his
own experience he had had recent opportunity to realize the truth of
what the doctor said. Somebody had indeed "got fooled on that latch"
the night he sat there in the dim light of the doctor's
library,--somebody who evidently expected to enter as readily as
before, and had worked ineffectually for several minutes before
abandoning the attempt, and then only to be caught in the act and
unblushingly to repudiate the same.

"Bayard," said the major, "I am the last man to interfere in the
details of my subordinates' management of affairs, but there's a matter
I want to ask you about while we are out here. What is the reason Dr.
Weeks refuses to let Mrs. Miller go in and see McLean? She has been
always very fond of him, and naturally wants to be of service now. Of
course, if there be any good and sufficient reason, I've nothing to
say, but I think I've a right to know."

Bayard hesitated a moment. "Come out here on the piazza, major," he
presently said. "I don't want them to hear in the parlor." And together
the two officers walked over to the wooden railing and stood there
looking at each other. It was evident to the post commander in an
instant that what his surgeon had to tell was something of no little
importance and something, furthermore, that he shrank from mentioning.
Bayard's eyes fell before the major's earnest and troubled gaze; he was
plainly studying how to put his information fairly and without
prejudice. Suddenly he looked up.

"First, while we are on the subject, let me finish about this latch
business, major. It is not entirely--entirely irrelevant to the other
matter. You see I had to tell Robert why we made such particular
inquiries about the door. Now the boy has been with me for years, and
came to me with a most unblemished character. Why, he was body-servant
for the adjutant and quartermaster of the First Artillery in the lively
old days at Fort Hamilton, and had unlimited opportunities for
peculation; but those gentlemen said he was simply above suspicion. But
he is sensitive, and it worried him fearfully lest Mr. Holmes should
think he or some of his assistants in the kitchen had been searching
those pockets. Now it was simply on his account--to convince him it was
somebody from outside that surreptitiously entered the hall while we
were all at dinner--that Holmes took the trouble to test the latch, and
with a little bit of stiff wire he showed us how Robert's device could
be circumvented."

"And Holmes has no doubt it was so accomplished?" asked the major,
tentatively.

Bayard looked embarrassed. "I cannot say just what he does think,
major, because he utterly refuses to speak of it. He said it was absurd
to make such an ado about nothing, and declared he would be seriously
annoyed if I pursued the subject."

"But you admit you have a theory of your own?" and Miller keenly eyed
his medical officer as though striving to read beneath that smooth and
polished surface.

"I have what might be called an hypothesis, a vague theory, and a
suspicion that would be entirely intangible but for one or two little
things that have recently come to my knowledge."

"And those little things point to an inmate of the garrison, do they
not?" asked Miller, with as much nonchalance as he could assume.

"I fear so," was the doctor's answer. "But you asked why Mrs. Miller
was urged not to come to Mr. McLean's room just yet; that is the way
Weeks put it to me when I overhauled him, which I did at the moment the
matter came to my ears. Rest assured I was quite as ready to take
umbrage at his action,--more so, rather, than you could have been. But,
major, could you have heard his explanation, you yourself would have
been the first to say no one but his physician should be allowed to
stay there. Weeks even sent the hospital nurse away, and sat up with
him all night himself."

"Has he been delirious?"

"Yes, and in his delirium he has been talking of things that have
completely stampeded poor Weeks. Of course he could not give me the
faintest inkling of what they were, and I would not ask; but they were
of such a character that they should be treated as sacred confidences,
and Weeks said to me that no court-martial could drag them from his
lips. He would resign first. It was for fear his patient might continue
the subject in her presence that Weeks begged Mrs. Miller not to think
of coming to nurse him yet awhile. He assures me that the moment the
fever subsides he will be glad to have her aid, for he looks worn-out
now. Were not his reasons cogent?"

Miller bowed his head. "I had not thought of this," he said; "Mrs.
Miller will be as sorry as I am to hear of it, and, of course, she will
appreciate the reasons. Did Weeks tell you when this delirium began?"

"The night after Hatton left, or, rather, very early in the morning of
the next day. He had been alarmed at McLean's symptoms during the
evening, and ordered the nurse to wake him if he saw any indications of
delirium. The man came to him at three in the morning and said the
lieutenant was wild. Weeks went over at once,--and ten minutes after he
got there he sent the attendant away, and shut himself up with his
patient."

The major pondered a moment. "Is the man close-mouthed? Do you think he
could have heard much of anything before he was sent away?"

"I know very little about him. He is a member of Captain Bruce's
company and very much attached to the lieutenant; so I infer from what
Weeks tells me. Even if he had heard anything that ought not to leak
out, it is not likely this particular man would betray it; he would say
nothing that might ever harm McLean."

"Well, no! Not McLean, perhaps. Very possibly he might not know how it
would harm him to have his ravings repeated. I was thinking--I could
not help thinking--that Mac had been talking about--these recent thefts
in garrison."

"And there have been more than this one at our house?" asked the
doctor, with concern and surprise mingled in his handsome face.

"Yes, two or three more, I regret to say, but I have not full
particulars yet and cannot speak of them."

Bayard clasped his hands with one of the melodramatic gestures so
peculiar to him.

"My God!" he muttered. "It was bad enough as I supposed it, but I had
no idea it had come to such a pass as this."

"Bayard," said the major, after a moment of earnest thought, "this is a
matter that must be handled with the utmost care and circumspection.
Not a vestige of suspicion must be permitted to circulate if we can
prevent it. I have strictly enjoined secrecy upon my--my informant, and
I desire you to regard this talk as confidential. Tell Weeks I
appreciate and sustain him in this caution and thank him for his
efforts to stifle any possible scandal. Poor Mac! The youngster would
be horror-stricken if he knew what secrets he had been blabbing."

"His troubles must have been weighing on his mind a long time," said
the doctor, "and yet I never suspected it. I don't know that I ever saw
a blither young fellow until about the time the finding of that board
of survey was announced. He didn't seem to expect that at all."

"Well,--neither did I. Of course, technically it had to go against him,
but we never dreamed it would result in stoppage of his pay."

"And yet his funds were all right, I'm told," said the doctor,
musingly. "One would suppose that if he had any tendencies that way
they would have cropped out when he had so much public money passing
through his hands."

"Tendencies what way, doctor? I don't follow you."

"Why, in the way these--these little thefts and his delirious
utterances would seem to indicate," said Bayard, hesitatingly.

Miller fairly sprang up from the rail on which he was leaning, his eyes
distended with wonderment and pain.

"In God's name, Bayard, what are you talking about?" he gasped.

"About this sad case of McLean's, major, as I supposed you were."

"You don't mean that your theory involves him? You don't mean it--it is
of himself, of his connection with these thefts, that he has been
telling in his delirium?"

"Why, Major Miller, I supposed of course you understood--I--I, of
course, accuse nobody, but of whom could he have been talking about but
himself? That was certainly my understanding of it."

For one moment the old major stood there looking into the
staff-officer's eyes,--amaze, consternation, distress, all mingled in
his florid, weather-beaten face. Then without a word he turned and
stumbled away down the steps and hurried from the gate. The trim,
spruce orderly, standing on the walk without, raised his gloved hand in
salute and stood attention as the commanding officer passed him, then
"fell in" ten paces behind and followed in his tracks. But for once in
his life the major neither saw nor returned a soldier's respectful
salutation.



XIV.


The fever had left him, and Randall McLean, very white and "peaked"
looking, was sitting propped up in bed and enjoying the wine-jelly Mrs.
Miller had brought with her own hands. She had hoped to find him in
better spirits, and was distressed to see how downcast and listless he
was. Just what evil spell had fallen upon the garrison Mrs. Miller
could not explain. The major for two or three days had been utterly
unlike himself, and would give her no good reason. The cavalry
battalion that had reached the post and gone into camp down on the
flats to the north was almost ready to push on toward the Black Hills,
and though she had twice reminded him that he ought at least to invite
the field and staff officers to dinner, her usually social spouse had
declined, saying he felt utterly unequal to it. The lethargy and gloom
at post "head-quarters" seemed to pervade the entire garrison. Nobody
felt like doing anything to dispel it. The band played blithely enough
at guard-mounting and again in the sunshiny afternoons, but nobody came
out and danced on the broad piazzas as used to be the way at Laramie.
Nellie Bayard was beginning to sit out on the veranda in a big
easy-chair with Janet Bruce as her constant companion, and the Gordon
girls, those indomitably jolly creatures, as occasional visitors; but
as Miss Kate, the elder, expressed herself, "Laramie is nothing but one
big hospital now. The women and children are the only able-bodied men
in it." Nellie was kind and civil, and tried to be cordial to them, but
they were "smart" enough to see she had no heart for rattling small
talk and crisp comments on matters and things at the post, and much
preferred to be left alone to her undisturbed confidential chats with
"Bonnie Jean." Blunt was slowly mending, and Dr. Weeks was having a
little rest after an anxious week, when his services were demanded for
another patient in Bedlam,--no less a person than the queen herself.

In view of the fact that Dr. Bayard was the recognized family physician
and had been and was still assiduously attending Mrs. Forrest, it was
considered nothing short of an intentional slight on the young lady's
part that she should send for Weeks. It was Mrs. Post who came over to
Blunt's door when she knew the junior doctor was there, and asked him
to come with her and see Miss Forrest. For two days the latter had been
confined to her room refusing to see any physician, and declaring that
in Mrs. Post's ministrations she found all the physic she needed, but
now the time seemed to have come when medical aid was really necessary.
Dr. Bayard's face, when he was told by Mrs. Post that Weeks was
summoned and in attendance, was a study worth seeing. It was not a
serious ailment at all, said Mrs. Post. Miss Forrest had caught cold
and neglected it, and now the cold had developed into fever, and she
had been persuaded to keep in bed for a day or two.

But Mrs. Miller was puzzled over still another matter. The evening of
the day Mr. Holmes so unexpectedly reappeared at Laramie, he and Miss
Forrest met on the board-walk near "Bedlam," had a few moments'
conversation there just before gun-fire at retreat, and then, to the
surprise of many lookers-on, she was observed to take his proffered
arm, and for over half an hour they strolled around the deserted parade
talking earnestly together. It was the hour when most of the garrison
families were in the dining-rooms, at dinner or tea as might be the
custom of the household; but more than one good lady found it necessary
to pop up from the table and go to the front window to see if Mr.
Holmes and Miss Forrest were still walking and talking together. It was
the morning after this mysterious consultation that the cold developed;
and those kindly spirits who had promptly decided that the handsome but
penniless New York girl was setting her cap to cut out Nellie Bayard
with the Chicago millionaire were balked in their hopes of seeing
further developments by the circumstance of her keeping her room and
not again meeting Mr. Holmes, who, after two or three days' visit,
departed as suddenly and unexpectedly as he came. The presence of a
large battalion of cavalry had the effect of warning the Indians away
from the neighborhood and made travel again comparatively safe.

And now, having patted up his pillows and settled him carefully back
upon them, Mrs. Miller had begun the attempt of cheering her "pet
lieutenant," as the major had called him. First she strove to rouse his
interest by detailing the terms in which Captain Terry had officially
commended his gallantry and zeal in the fight down at Royall's Ford;
but he had heard it all before through Dr. Weeks, and, though
appreciative, he did not beam with the comfort she expected. Then she
tried to tell him of Major Miller's warm-hearted and commendatory
endorsement in forwarding Terry's report; but he had heard of that too;
the adjutant had told him about it, and there was nothing new in it.
What did it amount to, after all? said Mac to himself. What good result
can follow? No matter how zealously a fellow may serve in the
field,--no matter what dangers he may encounter, hardships he may
endure, wounds he may receive, Indians he may kill or capture,--in this
blessed republican land of ours the principle is too well established
that promotion in the line goes only by seniority, and to the
staff--like kissing--mainly by favor. Not even a "brevet," he well
knew, could be won by daring conduct in action against savage foes;
and, to sum the matter up in a few words, the men who stood the best
chance for advancement in the army were those who studiously avoided
excitement of any kind, especially that to be found in Western
campaigns. They all understood this thing at Laramie just as well as he
did, and therefore appreciated his soldierly conduct for what it was
really worth.

"But the major thinks it may be the means of removing that stoppage
against your pay, Mr. McLean," said Mrs. Miller. "Surely the general
will do something to secure recognition or reward."

"I fear not, Mrs. Miller," was the doleful answer; "that is just about
the last thing this government of ours is apt to do; what I've got
before me is the prospect of having to live for a year or more on
'board wages,' and see my pay raked in month after month to make up for
the stealings of a rascal too sharp for any of us even to suspect. It
would be hard at any time, but--it's rough now, and no mistake." And
poor Mac turned his head away as he spoke.

There was silence a moment. The womanly heart was touched at his
despair and suffering, yet impotent to cheer him. Suddenly she bent
over him as he lay there, so white and weary looking.

"Mac, don't, don't worry so. I can't bear to see you troubled. I
know--I can't help knowing--what's the matter; and indeed,--indeed I
think you have cause to hope rather than despair. Did you know he had
gone away again?"

"Yes. Weeks told me."

"She cares nothing whatever for him. Janet Bruce is with her all the
time, Mac, and she told me she almost shrank from him. Now, if he were
simply her father's friend, she could not but like him. Everybody likes
him, Mac, and I have reason to know what a considerate and thorough
gentleman he is. But it is because he has attempted to be more that she
has turned against him, and Janet says she knows he has seen it and
made up his mind to accept it as final. The last two days of his visit
he avoided her all the time, only conversed with her when they were
unavoidably thrown together, and was then simply bright and laughing
and friendly. Janet says that Nellie seemed inexpressibly relieved by
the change in his manner. Come, old fellow, cheer up and get well, and
let us have you out in the sunshine a day or two, and then we'll see if
a few long talks with her won't help matters. She's a child yet, and
almost too young to fall in love with anybody. You know she has seen
next to nothing of the world."

"That is just what stings and torments me so, Mrs. Miller," answered
McLean, with unexpected energy. "That is what weighs upon my heart and
soul. She has seen very little of the world. She is young,
inexperienced, and motherless. Her father does not like me, and I know
it, and simply because he saw my deep interest in her, and, having
other views, he was determined to break it off in the bud. What
possible right have I--poor, friendless, utterly without position or
influence, saddled with this mountain of uncontracted debt--to seek to
win such a girl as she for my wife? What have I to offer but misfortune
and trouble? No, Mrs. Miller, it is all useless. If I have stood
between her and such a future as he could offer her, God forgive me. I
did not know the millstone that was to be hung about my neck. I did not
dream of his existence. I just drifted in, and now I could pray heaven
she hasn't."

Again he turned away, with something very like a sob in his weak voice,
and buried his face in his arm.

"Mac," she persisted, "I'm not going to sit here and see you accusing
yourself of wrong-doing in this way. Let me tell you that if she does
care for you, and I believe she does, Nellie Bayard would rather be
your wife in one room and a kitchen than live in opulence in New York
or Chicago. What's more, she would wait for you loyally, faithfully,
until you were thoroughly on your feet again, with this debt paid and a
little laid by. As for Dr. Bayard's plans for her, he is worldly
enough, of course, to seek such wealth as Roswell Holmes's for his
daughter; but the man himself is changing his mind. You should have
seen him devoting himself to Miss Forrest out here one evening. Now,
there's a girl who would appreciate his money and spend it for him like
a duchess."

But McLean was silent.

"Did you get to know her at all well?" asked Mrs. Miller presently.

"Very slightly indeed."

"And yet, living in the same building with her, as you and Mr. Hatton
did, I fancied you would see her quite frequently."

"I didn't. I believe Hat did."

"Yes--his rooms being up-stairs, and opening on that gallery where she
used to promenade so much, it was natural that he should see more of
her. It worried Jeannie Bruce not a little. I never knew whether she
cared for Mr. Hatton or not until Miss Forrest took to parading up and
down in front of his rooms."

"Hat says she never came as far as his window. She turned about before
she reached the hall-door always."

"Tell me, Mac. Do you think Mr. Hatton liked her?"

McLean's pale face flushed a little. He felt that questions were
trembling on her lips which he did not wish to answer, and the one
thing he could not do was equivocate.

"I'd rather you'd wait and ask him," he finally said.

"Oh! I don't mean as he likes Janet Bruce; what I meant was--well, you
or he or both of you--did you feel that you--well--trusted her?"

McLean fairly squirmed in his nest under the sheets. This was just the
drift he had dreaded. How he wished Weeks would come in and tell her
they were talking too much and would be sure to throw him into a fever
again, but no Weeks was to be had; he had gone home for a rest, and
probably would not appear again until afternoon. He glanced uneasily
into the front room.

"No! The hospital attendant is not there, Mac. I sent him off on an
errand. You need not be afraid of his hearing,--and, besides, he has
heard you talk about her. I thought you ought to know."

"Has heard me talk about her,--Miss Forrest? What on earth do you mean,
Mrs. Miller?" And now he had turned toward her, his face filled with
anxiety and alarm.

"Don't worry, Mac. I found it out instantly. You know he is a married
man, and his wife has been my laundress for over five years. You talked
about her when you were delirious,--not very much,--nothing--nothing I
did not already know; but Dr. Weeks turned him away and took care of
you from the moment Lachlan went for him and told him you were talking
wild, and of course his wife wormed out of him why he was not needed
for two days, and, little by little, what you had said. Luckily she
came right to me, and I put a stopper on her tongue."

"My God! My God! What have I done?" moaned McLean, as he threw his arm
over his eyes. "What did I say? What have I revealed, Mrs. Miller? I
must know."

"Nothing; again I assure you, nothing that we--that is--I--did not
already have good cause to suspect and know. It came to me from
Robinson, Mac, before you dreamed of anything of the kind, so you are
in no wise responsible. She must have a mania, there's no other
explanation for it; but we're going to keep it all quiet. No one is to
know until Captain Forrest gets back at the end of the campaign. Then
he will be told, and restitution be made. But isn't it dreadful?"

For all answer McLean would only shake his head. He was
stunned--horrified at thought of the wild revelation he had made. He
could not bear to speak of it. Yet now he felt that he must know how
much he had let fall.

"It is the last time that fellow Lachlan shall enter this room," he
muttered between his teeth. "I'll have Weeks send him back to his
company this very day."

"No, don't blame Lachlan. The poor fellow meant no harm. He only told
it as evidence of the extremity of your delirium. He does not dream the
truth with regard to her, though I fear his wife does. Why, Mac, if
they had not come away from Robinson when they did, the whole post
would have been in an uproar. Things were disappearing all the
time,--money and valuables,--and since they left there it has all
stopped, but has begun here. You and Mr. Hatton are not the only
losers. Mr. Holmes confessed to me that his porte-monnaie had been
stolen from his fur overcoat the night we were there at the doctor's,
and I saw her standing by it, patting it and pretending to admire it;
and I know that she has been sending registered letters away, and that
bills are constantly coming to her from the East. Mrs. Griffin told me
so. And then Mr. Hatton--well, you know he has confided in me in ever
so many things--he told me a good deal before he went away. No, indeed,
Mac. It isn't that you have revealed anything I did not know. It is
only that I felt you ought to be told of it."

But McLean could not be comforted. "Who else knows of this?" he
presently asked.

"I have told the major. We had talked it all over before your illness.
Mrs. Bruce knows, for she too gets letters from Robinson. And perhaps
there are one or two who suspect, but that is all. Mr. Hatton is the
one who knows most about it all, and has most reason to believe in her
guilt. When did you become convinced?"

"I don't know,--that night Hatton told me, I suppose,--the night the
major came to see me, and Hatton begged off. You know about it?"

"The major told me he had gone to see you about some evidence you had;
Mr. Hatton met him at the door and explained that you were asleep. Was
that the night you mean, Mr. McLean? Was that the night that you became
convinced that she was the thief?"

"That was the night."

"But what happened then to convince you? I ought to know. It is far
better that I should know than have this cruel half belief."

"I--Mrs. Miller, forgive me, but it is a matter I cannot speak of.
Hatton and I 'shook hands' on it we would say nothing to any one of our
knowledge, and I cannot speak of it. Wait until he returns. He ought to
be back to-morrow. You know he only went with the guard to the stockade
up on Sage Creek. It's only three days' march. If he will tell you,
well and good; but I will not say anything more,--just now, at any
rate."

There came a quick step along the wooden piazza without, a tap at the
door, and Dr. Weeks peered in. Glancing over her shoulder, Mrs. Miller
saw that his face was white,--that he was beckoning to her; and she
presently arose and went into the front room. She heard hoof-beats
passing the house at a rapid trot. She heard hurrying feet and excited
voices, and then the young doctor stretched forth his hand at the
door-way and led her into the hall.

"Stay with McLean as much as you can, and keep this from him if
possible. A courier is just in who got through, God knows how, during
the night. Hatton and his party were corralled yesterday beyond Rawhide
Butte. Several of them are killed already. The cavalry start at once,
and I go with them."



XV.


For a man who prided himself on the ease and self-possession which made
him so distinguished a feature in society, Dr. Bayard could not but
confess to himself that the sudden orders which sent his assistant away
left him in a somewhat embarrassing position. The care of Weeks's
patients now devolved upon the senior, and among these patients was one
who much needed his attention, but whom he shrank from seeing,--Randall
McLean,--and another whom he greatly desired to attend, but who shrank
from seeing him,--Miss Forrest.

Mrs. Miller was still at the bedside of the former when Dr. Bayard
nerved himself to make the necessary call. To his great relief, the
young soldier had fallen into a fitful doze and was unconscious of his
presence. Mrs. Miller, in low tones, described his condition; and the
doctor was content to go without other examination, though he left
directions with the attendant as to what was to be done when the
patient awaked. Next he repaired to Mrs. Forrest's rooms, and was
measurably soothed and flattered by her appreciative reception. He bade
her pay no attention to the rumors rushing through the post, and dinned
into her affrighted ears by Celestine, as to the probable fate of
Hatton and his little command. He pointed out to her, as he had to
other ladies whom he had been summoned to attend that gruesome
afternoon, that it was not the first time Mr. Hatton had been
"corralled" by the Sioux, and that he had always successfully kept them
at respectful distance, and his own command under cover, until the
rescuers in shape of cavalry could reach the scene. It is true that in
this instance the attack seemed to have been fierce and sudden, and the
courier gave the names of two men who were killed instantly; but, said
he, as that attack was repelled, and Hatton lost no time in getting his
men into a little hollow, he believed and Major Miller believed that
they could "stand off" the Indians indefinitely. The cavalry would
certainly reach them early in the morning, and that would be the end of
it. Forty-two hours wasn't very long compared with other sieges those
infantrymen had sustained in escorting trains through the Indian
country, if they only had water for their wounded, all would go well.
There was the main trouble, said the doctor. What with the Niobrara and
the Rawhide and the little streams running into them, and the spring at
Box Elder, close to the road, there was so much water along the route
that possibly they had neglected to fill the barrel on their wagon and
the canteen carried by each man. If that were the case, and the Indians
had surrounded them some distance from any spring or stream, then the
wounded might, indeed, have to suffer a day or so, but he anticipated
nothing worse. He had talked it all over with Miller before setting
forth on his rounds, and knew just what to say. Most women were
reassured and rendered hopeful, but Mrs. Forrest's spirits were at low
ebb and she required consolation in double allowance. Bayard lingered
with her, nothing loath, hoping that Miss Forrest might come into the
family sitting-room to hear his version of affairs at the front. Even
after Mrs. Forrest was talked out, and the font of her ready tears was
nearly pumped dry, he held his ground, examining Maud's and Vickie's
juvenile tongues and dandling baby Hal to that youngster's keen
delight. But no one came along the hall whose step sounded like hers,
and at last his patience gave out.

"And how is Miss Forrest this afternoon?" he asked.

"Still confined to her room and bed, doctor, but she says she means to
get up and dress this evening. Now, do you think it prudent for her to
go out in the night air?"

"On general principles, Mrs. Forrest," answered the doctor, slowly and
impressively, "I should say no, but I have no knowledge of the merits
of this case. You will remember that my services were virtually
declined by the young lady in favor of those of the assistant."

"I know, doctor, I know. Fanny is simply the most incomprehensible
creature I ever met. I cannot understand her at all, and it's useless
for me to talk to her. I told her that you were the family physician,
and pointed out to her that a simple regard for the proprieties ought
to show her how much better it would be to call you instead of a
gentleman so much younger; but she pays no attention to anything I say.
She never has."

Bayard winced not a little at the invidious comparison on the score of
age, but, now that the subject was opened, he desired to "prospect" a
little. There was another view to be taken, and one far more flattering
to his _amour propre_. Probably, in the coyness of a woman who had
recognized the lover in his looks and language, Miss Forrest had
tacitly admitted his claim to be regarded as such by summoning another,
not a lover, to attend her professionally. If this hypothesis proved
correct he would have some grounds for hope. Two things, however, he
greatly desired to know before taking the plunge. First, was it
possible that Mr. Courtlandt proposed leaving her a lump of his large
fortune? Second, was it possible that she had already given her heart
to another? He well knew that on neither point would Miss Forrest be
confidential with so weak a vessel as her sister-in-law; but, on the
other hand,--and the doctor reasoned well,--he felt sure that, in order
to reconcile her to having Fanny as an inmate of their household,
Captain Forrest had been compelled to tell her why he had withdrawn his
sister from such luxurious surroundings in New York and brought her to
share his humble fare as a soldier on the far frontier. He had heard
from a dozen sources how Forrest had almost painfully truckled to his
querulous wife; always pleading, explaining, conciliating; always
fearful of saying or doing, or leaving unsaid or undone, something, the
doing or neglecting of which was sure to wound her sensitive soul and
bring on a flood of tears and reproaches. "If she were my wife," said
blunt old Bruce, "I'd pack her off home to that doting father she's
always prating about, and I'd keep her there until she arrived at years
of discretion. It is simply pitiful to see a big, stalwart, soldierly
fellow like Forrest led around by the nose like a ringed bull by that
ridiculous and lackadaisical creature." Beyond doubt there would have
been far more happiness all around if Forrest had firmly set down his
foot and refused to be longer the victim of her whims and caprices.
There would doubtless have been a few days of sore lamentation and
despairing appeals to be restored to her father's arms (where she was
not at all wanted, that estimable ecclesiastic having only recently
taken thereto a successor to her sainted mother); but in the end she
would have respected him far more and been happier in obeying him. Like
many another husband, poor Forrest was at times conscious of his duty
in the case; but, like most others, shrank from the ordeal. Bruce
himself, so savagely critical of the weakness of other spouses, was
notoriously subservient to the wishes of Mrs. Bruce; but she never had
to resort to tears to accomplish her object, and was thoroughly in
unison with her husband in his condemnation of Forrest's weakness.
"Poor, poor fellow!" she was saying to herself this very day. "With
such a fool for a wife and such a--such a sharper for a sister!"

So confident was Bayard of his ground that he had decided, days since,
on his plan of attack. He would not ask direct questions, for her
husband had doubtless pledged her to secrecy. He would delicately but
unhesitatingly speak of Miss Forrest as though he had full knowledge of
her past, and he felt assured that he could read in the patient's face,
even in the unlikely event of her silence, whether or no his theories
were correct. Besides, he had ventured an inquiry or two of an old New
York associate and club-fellow, a man who had known the Courtlandts
well.

"We must not judge Miss Forrest harshly, dear lady," he soothingly
remarked, after a moment of deep thought and apparent hesitation. "I
confess that I felt a little aggrieved at first when she saw fit to
summon Dr. Weeks despite the fact that I was in the house as your
physician two or three times a day; but, after thinking it all over,
her motives were apparent and--quite natural. You probably did not know
that I was well acquainted with Mr. Courtlandt, did you?"

"No! were you?" asked Mrs. Forrest, with dilating eyes. "And Fanny
knew,--and did not tell me----"

"Yes. We were members of the same club, and I used to see a great deal
of him before coming West." It was very long before, and it was only
seeing, but Bayard did not care to explain this. He wished to convey
the idea that his acquaintance with the old gentleman had been recent
and confidential, and he succeeded.

"How strange that you should be here--where she is. I'm sure Captain
Forrest has no idea of it, doctor. Did--did you ever speak with her
about--the Courtlandts?"

"Yes, once. Of course she did not care to talk of the matter at first.
It was only when she found that I knew Mr. Courtlandt so well, that she
became at all communicative."

"And did she talk of her affair--of Mr. Courtlandt--the younger one I
mean?"

"My dear Mrs. Forrest! We could hardly expect a young lady to be
communicative on such a topic as that. Of course there were some things
I could not help knowing, and that is why I say we ought not to judge
her harshly now. Her experience of last year was not calculated to make
a girl look upon the world with kindlier eyes, and the contrast between
the life she leads now and that she led under her kinsman's roof is
enough to dishearten any woman."

"I'm sure I do everything I possibly can to make her content and
happy," impetuously exclaimed Mrs. Forrest. "And it's all her own fault
if she isn't. She--she needn't have come at all. Mr. Courtlandt told
her and told Captain Forrest that it should make no difference; but she
is self-willed and obstinate, and nothing would do but she must quit
his roof forever and come to be a burden on her brother, who has quite
enough to stagger under already." ("Hum!" thought Bayard at this
juncture, "how little she realizes the truth of that assertion!") "Mr.
Courtlandt had been devoted to her from her childhood, had lavished
everything on her, had educated her, sent her abroad, provided for her
in every way, and--she rewarded him by taking this silly prejudice
against his son, whom she ought to have had sense enough to know he
expected her to marry."

Bayard's pulse gave a leap, but his fine face made no sign.
Professional imperturbability alone expressed itself. She paused one
instant for breath. Then it occurred to her that perhaps she was
broadly trenching on forbidden ground and revealing that which her
husband had bidden her keep inviolate. Bayard read her like an open
book, and promptly took the initiative before she could question.

"And yet, Mrs. Forrest, would you have had her--a woman of such
superior attainments and character--would your husband have had her
marry a man to whom she could not look up?--whose character and, pardon
me, whose habits were so, let us say, unsettled?"

"Then she ought to have left before. I know she says she never dreamed
of its being her uncle's plan or hope,--never dreamed that the young
man was in earnest. It was all nonsense to say she couldn't marry a man
whom she did not look up to and respect. He is only a year younger than
she is, and lots of girls marry men younger than themselves,--especially
when such a fortune was involved. Why! Mr. Courtlandt would have left
them everything he had in the world, if she would only have consented."

"But women form their own ideals, dear lady, and she may have had a man
in view whom she did look up to, honor, and love. Is not that a
reasonable theory?" And the doctor's eyes, full of sympathy and
deference, watched his impulsive patient narrowly withal. How well he
knew her! She fell instantly into the trap.

"But she hadn't! I could forgive her easily if that were so, but she
told the captain it was purely and simply that she could not and would
not marry Philip Courtlandt or any man like him."

"But I fancied from what--from various circumstances--that the young
man was very dissipated--dangerously so, in fact. Would you counsel
your sister to marry such a man?"

"Well, why not? He has been wild, I know. My husband looked into the
whole case, and, of course, he sustains her. Phil Courtlandt had to go
into a retreat once, but I believe it was because she treated him so.
His father was sure that she could reform and make a man of him, and he
almost implored her to take pity on his gray hairs and save his boy. I
tell you I think it was sheer ingratitude. Even if she couldn't have
reformed him, there would have been all that money." And Mrs. Forrest
sighed pathetically at thought of the thousands her hard-headed,
hard-hearted sister had refused. Bayard, congratulating himself on his
success thus far, had still another point on which he desired
information,--a vital point.

"What seems so bad about the whole matter," he said, after a
sympathetic echo of the lady's sigh, "is the disappointment of old Mr.
Courtlandt. No doubt, despite their cousinship, this has long been his
cherished scheme; and it must make him--at least I do not wonder that
it makes him a trifle bitter against her."

"Why, doctor, that is one of the queerest things to me! One would
suppose that any girl of ordinary gratitude would try and repay and
appreciate such devotion as has been lavished on her. She simply repels
people who try to be loving to her. I'm sure I've tried every way in my
power. Of course, at first he was very bitter and said some severe
things,--at least she so told Captain Forrest,--but she has no right to
treasure them up against him. He said he had reared and educated and
cherished her purposely to be the salvation of his wayward son, and, as
she would not have the son, he said she could not live under his roof.
Then he had always given her a liberal allowance, besides paying the
most extraordinary bills, and she hurt him fearfully--I know she
did--by refusing to accept it afterward. He has sent it to her even
here, and she almost hurls it back at him,--and here are Maud and
Vickie without a decent dress to their names," wailed Mrs. Forrest in
somewhat irrelevant conclusion, and the tears welled again from her
weary eyes.

Bayard was again silent a moment, waiting for his patient to recover
her composure and her tongue. It was comfort to think that, at least,
Mr. Courtlandt's munificence was still a fact. But how about the
future?

"Anything that might tend to widen the breach between them would, of
course, be deplorable," he presently said; "but I infer, from the fact
that he continues to send her allowance to her, that he will be apt to
provide liberally for her in his will."

"He would do anything for her, I've no doubt, despite her ingratitude;
but she has told Captain Forrest that after what has passed she cannot
and will not accept a penny from him. Now what can one say to a girl
like that?"

And this question the doctor could not answer. After a few moments'
thought, he arose as if to go.

"I am heartily glad to know that she is so much better this afternoon.
These are anxious days for us all, and it is not to be wondered at that
so many of our ladies are prostrated. Will you kindly say to her that I
called to inquire after her, and am rejoiced to think we will soon be
able to welcome her out again? And, Mrs. Forrest, you might say to her
that it would gladden my little girl if she would come over and sit
with her or sing to her. Elinor has been very low-spirited to-day,
owing, no doubt, to the fact that Jeannie Bruce has been in tears much
of the time since Hatton left. Good-afternoon, Mrs. Forrest. Good-by,
little ones." And the courtly doctor took his leave.

As he descended the stairs with characteristic deliberation and
dignity, Celestine came forth from the dining-room and met him at the
foot of the stairs.

"Mr. Holmes is come, doctor," she said, showing her white teeth.
"Specks he'll be glad to find Miss Nellie sittin' up again. T'warn't no
use 'n Miss Fanny t' try to catch him, 'n' I told her so when she was
writin' to him. He's out yahnder along with Major Miller now."

And though the doctor frowned majestically and strode by the gabbling
hussy without a word, it gave him an uncomfortable start to hear her
words. What had happened that Fanny Forrest should be writing now to
Roswell Holmes? This was something to be looked into.



XVI.


It was nearly two days before authentic news came in from the Niobrara,
where Hatton's little command had been "corralled." Just as at first
reported, the Indians in overwhelming numbers had suddenly charged down
upon the detachment from behind a ridge that lay full half a mile to
the east of the road; while others, crouching in a dry watercourse, had
picked off the leading soldiers,--the two men thrown out to the front
to scout the trail and secure the main body against surprise. Hatton,
all told, had only twenty men, and the fall of the two far in the
advance had for an instant flurried their comrades back at the wagons.
There was no time to run these lumbering vehicles, empty though they
were, into the familiar, old "prairie fort," in square or circle; but,
while some of the teamsters sprang from their saddles and took refuge
under their wagons, others seized their arms and joined the soldiers in
a sharp fire upon the charging and yelling warriors, with the usual
effect of compelling them to veer and wheel and scamper away, still
keeping up a lively fusillade of their own. One mule team and wagon
went tearing off full tilt across the prairie pursued by a score of
jeering, laughing, and exultant braves, and was finally "rounded up"
and captured by them a mile away to the west; and Hatton had promptly
availed himself of the episode to make a rush with his entire party for
a little hillock three hundred yards east of the road. He had marked
the spot before and knew its possibilities for defence, and there in
less than five minutes he had his men sheltered in an oval "dip" along
the crest and yet commanding the approaches in every direction. From
here they not only successfully "stood off" every attack until dark,
but prevented the Indians reaching the bodies of the slain and securing
the coveted trophy of their scalps, and covered the teamsters who were
sent down to unhitch and secure the mules. When night came a half-breed
scout slipped away with news of the "corral," and Hatton found that two
of his men were severely wounded and that few of them had any water in
their canteens. The river was full six miles to the south. Neither
stream nor spring was close at hand, and with characteristic
improvidence the teamsters had failed to fill their water-barrels at
the stockade before starting. "What was the use, with the Niobrara only
a few hours' march away?" Bitterly did Hatton reproach himself for his
neglect in having left so important a matter to the men themselves, but
there was no sense in fretting over the past. Something had to be done
at once to provide water for the morrow's siege. They heard the
exultant whoops of the savages, who, under cover of the darkness, had
crept out and succeeded in scalping the two dead soldiers. They knew
that very soon the Indians would be crawling out to the wagons in an
attempt to run them away or fire them. Hatton himself ventured down to
examine the water-barrels, and found not more than half a barrel of
dirty, brackish, ill-flavored fluid in all. The darkness grew black and
impenetrable. Heavy clouds overspread the heavens, and a moaning wind
crept out of the mountain-passes of the Big Horn range and came
sweeping down across the treeless prairie. Every now and then they
could hear the galloping beat of pony-hoofs, and knew that they were
closely invested in their hillock citadel, and at last, about ten
o'clock, a sergeant who had been sent with a couple of men to see what
was going on at the wagons, came running back breathless. The wagons
were gone! Every one of them had been run off by the Indians under
cover of the wind and darkness; and presently, half a mile over to the
south-east, a glare of flame arose, and the white tops became for a
moment visible, and dancing, capering naked forms around them, and then
the cotton duck attracted the eager, fiery tongues, and in another
moment the flames seemed to leap high in the air, but the performers in
the aboriginal ballet scurried for shelter. The soldiers sighted their
rifles for nine hundred yards, and the little hill blazed and sputtered
half a minute with a rapid discharge that sent leaden messengers
whistling through the burning wagon-covers and humming about the ears
of the revellers.

Fifteen minutes later, Hatton resolved on a bold move. Mounting his
wounded men on mules, and leading his little party, soldiers,
teamsters, and quadrupeds, he slipped away from the hillock, and,
keeping well to the east of the road, groped through the darkness back
to the high range overlooking the valleys of "Old Woman's Fork" of the
South Cheyenne and Hat Creek to the eastward; and morning found him
bivouacked at a little spring not ten miles from the stockade. Thither,
of course, the Indians trailed and followed at daybreak. There again
they attacked and besieged and were repulsed, again and again; and
there at dawn on the second day, after an all-night march, the trumpets
of the cavalry rang the signal of rescue, and the charging troopers
sent the Sioux whirling in scattered bands over the bold and beautiful
upland. The little detachment was safe, but its brave commander was
prostrate with a rifle-bullet through the thigh and another in the
shoulder. Dr. Weeks declared it impossible to attempt to move him back
to Laramie; and in a litter made with lariats and saddle-blankets the
men carried their wounded leader back to the stockade at the head of
Sage Creek, and there, wrote Weeks, he might have to remain a month,
and there, unless otherwise ordered, the other wounded men would remain
with him, Weeks himself attending them in his improvised
field-hospital.

Major Miller and Dr. Bayard, after brief consultation, had decided that
the young surgeon's ideas were sound. The stockade was well guarded and
provisioned. Medical and surgical supplies were promptly forwarded
under strong cavalry escort, and that same day the entire cavalry
battalion struck its tents and moved away northward over the route
Hatton had taken. Once more was Laramie left with only a handful of men
and hardly a company officer for duty.

Old Bruce turned out, despite his rheumatics, and announced that he was
game for any garrison service under the circumstances. Roswell Holmes,
who had stowed a box of wine and several boxes of cigars in the
supply-wagons, with his compliments to Dr. Weeks and his patients, and
who had remained at Laramie instead of going to the front solely
because of an odd turn in local events, now declared that he must be
considered a brevet second lieutenant, and besought Dr. Bayard's
permission to visit his patient, Mr. McLean, to solicit the loan of his
uniforms, sword, etc. Major Miller laughed gleefully at the idea, and
all the garrison was beginning to pluck up heart again, for Hatton's
wounds were pronounced not dangerous, though painful, and all the
infantry people were proud of the way he and McLean had upheld the
honor of their corps. Jeannie Bruce and Elinor had had long hours of
who knows what delicious confidence and tearful exchange of sympathy.
McLean was reported doing very well; Blunt was improving; Miss Forrest
was taking the air on the gallery. Everybody seemed in better spirits,
despite a certain constraint and mystery that overhung the
garrison,--everybody, with one exception--Dr. Bayard.

"Mr. McLean is improving so rapidly that he is able to sit up already
and will need his uniform himself," was his response to Holmes's
laughing suggestion, but both Major Miller and the gentleman addressed
looked at the speaker in surprise. One might have hazarded the
assertion that it was a matter of regret to the post surgeon that his
patient was on the mend. Miller eyed him narrowly. Ever since the
strange conversation held with the doctor, the post commander had
become almost distrustful of his motives. What could he mean by
intimating that McLean was the guilty party in these recent mysterious
larcenies? What could have put such ideas into his head? For the first
time in several days the major was tempted to reopen the subject which
he had practically forbidden his wife to mention again. He longed to
know what she would say or think if she knew that the surgeon was
trying to divert suspicion from Miss Forrest to the wounded and
unsuspecting officer. Now that the cavalry had gone out to the front
and more troops were marching up from the railway, all anxiety as to
his immediate surroundings was dispelled, and the major could not avoid
drifting back to the strange complications in which two of the
prominent people of his military bailiwick were involved. He had taken
a great liking to Mr. Holmes, and had striven to open the way for that
gentleman in case he had the faintest inclination to speak of his
losses; but, though the civilian instantly saw what the simple-minded
old soldier was aiming at, he changed the subject, and it presently
became plain to the commander that he would not speak about the matter
at all. Miller could not well seek his advice without telling of the
other thefts of which he believed Mr. Holmes to know nothing, and yet
he felt that as commanding officer it was his duty to say to the
visitor how much he regretted the occurrence and how earnestly he was
striving to discover the offender. But Holmes would not give him a
chance. He was doing a little ferreting on his own account.

As for the doctor, two things had conspired to make him blue and
unhappy. Miss Forrest was up and out on her gallery, as has been said,
but was never in her sister's room when the doctor called; declined his
professional services with courteous thanks and the assurance that no
physician was necessary, yet begged to be excused when he sent a
message by Celestine asking if she would not see him. Then he wrote her
a note, and, remembering her antipathy to the mulatto girl, he sent it
by Robert, charging him to take it to her door if she was not in the
sitting-room, but to deliver it in person and wait for an answer.
Robert found her promenading with Mrs. Post on the upper gallery, and
people who had been saying that Mrs. Post had nothing to do with her at
Robinson were surprised at the growing intimacy between them now.
Robert presented the note with a grave and courtly Virginia bow, then
withdrew to a little distance and respectfully awaited her answer. Over
at the Gordons' a group of ladies, old and young, watched the scene
with curious and speculative eyes. Everybody knew that Miss Forrest had
declined to see Dr. Bayard during her illness. Everybody had noted
that, while the entire feminine element of the garrison flocked to
inquire for Nellie in her invalid state, nobody went to see Fanny
Forrest. Now, what could this strange girl be doing with letters from
"Dr. Chesterfield"? Even Mrs. Post watched her narrowly as she
hurriedly read the lines of the doctor's elegant missive. Her eyes
seemed to dilate, her color heightened and a little frown set itself
darkly on her brow; but she looked up brightly after a moment's
thought, and spoke kindly and pleasantly to the waiting messenger,--

"There is no answer, at least not now, Robert. Thank the doctor and
tell him I am very much better."

And so, empty-handed, he returned to his master, who waited expectant
in his study. The message was almost an affront,--such was his pride
and self-esteem; and for nearly an hour he sat there pondering over the
strange characteristics of the girl who, despite the story of her
poverty and dependence, had so fascinated him. It cut him to the quick
that she should so avoid him, when he knew well that between her and
Mr. Holmes there had been an exchange of notes. Mr. Holmes had seen fit
to preserve a mysterious silence as to this significant circumstance,
and finally, apparently by appointment, Mr. Holmes had called at Bedlam
the evening after his arrival, and had enjoyed a long and uninterrupted
conversation with Miss Forrest out on the upper gallery. Now what did
this portend? It was Celestine who gave him this very interesting
information as he entered the lower hall, and, despite his repellant
mien, that enterprising domestic was sufficiently a judge of character
to venture on a low and confidential tone of voice in addressing him.
He had scowled malignantly at her and had bidden her hold her peace as
he passed her by, but Celestine was in no wise dismayed. She knew her
man. It was on his return from his visit that he sent his note, and
then, in the gloom and silence of his library, pondered over the
palpable rebuff. Over across the hall he could hear the soft voices of
his daughter and her now intimate friend Jean. They were cooing and
murmuring together in some girlish confidences which he was in no mood
to appreciate, and with which he could feel no sympathy whatever. Then
in came Holmes from the sunshine of the parade; and he heard him
cheerily enter the parlor, and in hearty, cordial tones announce that
he had just come from Mr. McLean's room, that that young gentleman was
doing finely, and would be able to sit out on the piazza in a day or
two, and that Mrs. Miller was nursing him like a mother. For a time the
chat went blithely on, Jeannie Bruce and Holmes being the principals,
and then came a message which called that young lassie homeward.

Presently Bayard heard the manly voice growing deeper and softer. The
words were indistinguishable, but there was no misjudging the tone,
such was the tremor of tenderness of every syllable. Faint, far
between, and monosyllabic were Nellie's replies, but soon the father
knew she was answering through her tears. It did not last long. Holmes
came to the hall, turned and spoke once more to her,--no touch of
reproach, no tinge of pleading, but with a ring of manly sympathy and
protecting care in every word; Bayard could not but hear one sentence:
"It makes me only more firmly your friend, little girl,--and his, too."
And then he strode forth into the breeze and sunshine again, and no man
who met him knew that he had tempted his fate and lost. Something had
told him, days before, that Miss Forrest's words were prophetic,--Nellie
Bayard would prefer one nearer her own years.

It was to satisfy himself that Randall McLean was that enviable
somebody that he had sought this interview; and, though she had
admitted nothing and he had not questioned, he had read in her tears
and blushes a truth that only recently had she tremblingly admitted to
herself. Now he saw his way clearly to the end.

But to Bayard the abrupt close of the murmured interview meant a
possibility that filled him with double dismay. That one hope should be
dashed to earth this morning was an evil sufficient unto the day. That
it should be followed by the conviction that his daughter had utterly
declined to consider this wealthy and most estimable gentleman as a
suitor for her hand was a bitter, bitter disappointment; but that she
should have refused Roswell Holmes, with all his advantages, because of
Randall McLean--with what?--was more than he could bear.

Just as she was hurrying to her room, still weeping, he interposed.

"My little Nell!--my precious!" he cried, in tenderest tones, as he
folded her in his arms. "Is it so hopeless as this? Is it possible that
my little daughter's heart has been stolen away--right under my
eyes--and I never saw it?"

For an answer she only clung to him, hiding her bonny face, weeping the
more violently. Speak she could not.

"Nell! Nellie!" he pleaded, "try and tell me, dear. You don't know what
it means to me! You don't know what fears your silence causes me! My
child--tell me--that it isn't Mr. McLean."

No answer--only closer nestling; only added tears.

"Nell, my own little one! If you knew with what awful dread I waited!
If you knew what this meant to me--to you--to us all! Speak to me,
daughter. Tell me it isn't that unhappy young man."

And now, startled, shocked, she lifts her brimming eyes in wonderment
to her father's face, gazing at him through the mist of tears.

"Why unhappy?" she almost gasps. "Why--why not Mr. McLean, papa?"

For a moment Bayard stands as though stunned. Then slowly relaxes the
clasp of his arms and turns drearily away, covering his face with his
hands.

"My God!" he moans. "This is retribution, this is punishment! Blinder
than the veriest mole have I been through it all. Nellie!" he cries,
turning suddenly toward her again as she stands there trembling at his
melodramatic misery. "There is no engagement! There has been nothing
said, has there? Tell me!"

"Not a word,--from me," she whispers low. "He sent me a little note
yesterday through Jeannie. Indeed, you can see it, papa; but I have not
answered. It doesn't ask anything."

"Then promise me no word shall go, my child! Promise me! I cannot tell
you why just yet, but he is not the man to whom I could ever consent to
give you. My child! my child! his name is clouded; his honor is
tarnished; he stands accused of crime. Nellie--my God! you must hear it
sooner or later."

But now she draws away from him and leans upon the balusters, looking
into his face as though she doubted his sanity.

"Father!" she slowly speaks at length, "I could no more believe such a
thing of him--than I could of you."

A quick, springy step is suddenly heard on the wooden walk without, the
rattle of an infantry sword against the steps, an imperative
rat-tat-tat at the door. Elinor speeds away to hide her flushed cheeks
and tearful eyes in the solitude of her room. Bayard quickly composes
his features to their conventional calm and recedes to the gloom of the
library. Robert majestically stalks through the hall and opens the
door.

"Dr. Bayard in?" asks the brusque voice of the adjutant. "Ah, doctor,"
continues that officer, marching straightway into the den, "Major
Miller is at the gate and on his way to visit Mr. McLean. He begs that
you will be present at the interview, as it is on a matter of much
importance."

"Very well, Mr. Adjutant," answers Bayard, gravely, as though divining
the solemn import of their errand. "I am at your service at once."



XVII.


An odd despatch was that which went by the single wire of the military
telegraph line to Fort Fetterman late that night. It was known that a
small escort would leave that point early in the morning, going
through with a staff-officer _en route_ to join the field column now
busily engaging the hostile Indians along the northern foot-hills of
the Big Horn range. Major Miller asked the commanding officer at
Fetterman to hold back a brace of horsemen to await the arrival of a
courier just leaving Laramie, and bearing an important and
confidential letter to the general commanding the department, who was
with his troops in the field. It was over eighty miles by the river
road; the night was dark and the skies overcast. There might be
Indians along the route; there certainly were no soldiers, for, with
the exception of eight or ten men, all of Captain Terry's troop were
with him scouting on the north side of the Platte and over near the
Sioux reservations. All the same, a single trooper, armed only with
the revolver and unburdened by the usual blankets and field
kit,--riding almost as light as a racer,--was to make the run and
reach Fetterman the next afternoon.

This was the result of the interview with Lieutenant McLean, a
conference at which were present Major and Mrs. Miller, Dr. Bayard, and
the adjutant. Why Mrs. Miller, the wife of the commanding officer,
should have been present in any capacity, it is not the province of the
narrator to defend. She had been assiduously nursing and caring for the
young officer in his weak and wounded condition. She had him where he
could not escape her shrewd and relentless questionings. She was
enabled to tell him much that Hatton had told her and a few things she
certainly thought he had and therefore said he had. She was further
enabled to tell him of the letters from Robinson and all they
portended; of Mr. Holmes's loss and what she had seen in the mirror; of
her own meeting with Miss Forrest in the darkness of the doctor's hall;
of the registered letters sent away when everybody knew Mrs. Forrest
hadn't a penny except the captain's pay, and that she had openly and
repeatedly announced that her sister-in-law had now come to be a
burden, too, having quarrelled with her relatives in the East. And so,
little by little, she had drawn from McLean the story of Hatton's
farewell words and the discovery of the card in the handkerchief. Then,
fortified with this intelligence, and firmly convinced that she could
not be mistaken in the guilt of her Majesty of Bedlam, Mrs. Miller
reopened the subject and prodded the major into immediate action. She
meant well. She intended no public exposure, no unnecessary disgrace.
She merely wanted that Captain Forrest should come at once, compel his
much-afflicted sister (for, of course, kleptomania was the sole
explanation) to make restitution, and then remove her to some safe
retreat in the distant East. Miller decided to see McLean at once,
taking his adjutant to jot down the statements made, and Dr. Bayard
because of his rank in the service and his professional connection with
the officer in question. Mrs. Miller decided to be present because of
McLean's great reluctance to tell what he knew and because she
conceived it her duty to prompt him; and this was the quartet that
swooped down upon the poor fellow in his defenceless condition late
that sunshiny afternoon. No wonder his recovery was delayed!

The most stunned and bewildered man of the party while the painful
interview was in progress was Dr. Bayard. He had gone in the confident
expectation that McLean was to be confronted with the evidences of his
guilt, and offered the chance of immediate resignation. His patient was
sufficiently removed from the danger-line to enable him to sustain the
shock, and he had not interposed. It was too late, therefore, to put an
end to matters on that plea when to his horror-stricken ears was
revealed the evidence against the woman who had so enthralled and
piqued him. Miller led him away in a semi-dazed condition after the
close of the conference, and then at last the doctor's vehement
emotions found tongue.

"And all this time you have been suspecting that poor young fellow!"
said the major, with a touch of reproach in his voice.

There was silence an instant. The doctor stopped short and leaned
against the fence in front of the adjutant's quarters, his face
purpling with wrath and indignation, his lips twitching, his hands
clinched. Miller looked at him in amaze, and then came the outburst:

"Suspect him! By heaven, sir! What it was before is nothing to what I
feel now! That in his depravity he should have stolen was bad enough;
but that now, to cover his tracks, he should accuse and defame a
defenceless woman is infamy! Look at his story, and tell me could
anything be more pitiful and mendacious? Her handkerchief was found in
his bureau the night of the robbery. Where is the handkerchief now? He
burned it! He found a note on a card from her hidden in the
handkerchief she had given Hatton to replace in the drawer. Where is
the card? He burned it! He 'purposely destroyed all evidence against
her.' A sham Quixote! Who found her handkerchief in his bureau? Who saw
the burning? Who put the handkerchief in the drawer? Who told him of
her confession? Who heard her beg that you should be delayed in your
investigation? Who, in fact, is corroborating witness to everything and
anything he alleges, but the man he believes, and I believe, you can
never reach again. Hatton is failing rapidly."

"How could he have heard that?" asked Miller, with mingled wrath and
stupefaction in his face,--wrath at the doctor's contemptuous disregard
of all other opinions, and stupefaction at the suddenly presented view
of the case.

"The attendant, sir, was down at the telegraph office when the news
came in, and he had to tell McLean; the latter insisted on being told
the truth. Weeks fears blood-poisoning, and if that has set in nothing
can save him. Then where will be your evidence against this most foully
wronged lady?"

"Hush!" exclaimed Miller, quickly, with a warning, sidelong glance
toward Bedlam. "Come with me!" And, following his commander's look, the
doctor saw, standing close together, leaning on the southern balustrade
and gazing down upon them in evident interest and equally evident
surprise, Fanny Forrest and Mr. Roswell Holmes. Silently he turned and
accompanied the major until he reached his own gateway, and then
stopped.

"I presume there is nothing further I can do just now, and, with your
permission, sir, I will leave you. I want to think this all over."

"Do so, doctor. And, when you are ready, come and see me. Let me only
say this to you: You have hardly known McLean at all. We have known him
nearly five years, and he has ever been in our eyes the soul of honor
and truth."

"The soul of honor and truth, sir, would not be writing love-letters
and destroying the peace of mind of a young and innocent girl when all
he has to offer her is a millstone of debt and a tarnished name." And
with this parting-shot the doctor majestically turned away.

"So that's where the shoe pinches!" thought Miller, as he entered his
quarters, where presently he was joined by his excited wife.

"He isn't half as prostrated as you thought he'd be," she instantly
exclaimed, as she entered the room. "Of course it wouldn't be Mac if he
were not greatly distressed, but I have promised him that not a word
shall leak out until Captain Forrest gets here, and that then he is to
see him himself. Isn't it dreadful about Mr. Hatton? Can nothing be
done?"

"I am to see Bayard again by and by. This affair has completely
unstrung him, for he is evidently deeply smitten; I never dreamed it
had gone so far. Now that letter must be written to the general, and I
am going to the office. You must not know a thing about it, or about
this affair. Of course you will be besieged with questions." And so the
major sallied forth.

Darkness was settling down. The sunset-gun had been fired just as they
left McLean's. By this time the doctor should be entertaining his guest
at dinner, and Miller wondered how even "Chesterfield" would rally to
the occasion and preserve his suavity and courtliness after the shock
of the last hour. But Miller had no idea that it was the last of three
shocks that had assailed him in quick succession and with increasing
severity that very day, and never dreamed of the gulf of distress in
which poor Bayard was plunged. He had gone at once to his library and
thrown himself in the easy-chair in an attitude of profound dejection,
barely paying attention when Chloe entered to say that Miss Nellie
begged to be excused from coming down to dinner, as she felt too ill.
Then Robert entered to ask should he serve dinner or wait until Mr.
Holmes came in. "Wait!" said Bayard, bluntly. But five minutes passed;
the dinner would be overdone; so Robert slipped out in search of the
truant, and Miller saw him going over to Bedlam. But the upper gallery
was empty; Mr. Holmes and Miss Forrest had disappeared; the adjutant
came striding up from the guard-house, and together the two officers
turned away.

"Orderly," said the major, to the attendant soldier following at his
heels, "find Sergeant Freeman, who is in charge of the cavalry
detachment, and tell him I want him at once. Then go and get your
supper."

Meantime, realizing that the dinner-hour was at hand, and knowing the
punctilious ideas of his host, Mr. Holmes had somewhat abruptly bidden
adieu to the young lady with whom he had been in such interesting
conversation. "I must see you again about Hatton if possible, and just
as soon as I have found out what this means. If all the four were
together at McLean's room the mischief is probably done, but I'll see
him at once unless it be forbidden." He was turning away without more
words, when something in her deep, dark eyes seemed to detain him. He
held forth his hand.

"Miss Forrest, I cannot tell you how I appreciate the honor you have
done me in this confidence. It may be the means of my making more than
one man happy. One word, where is Celestine now?"

"She should be in the dining-room, setting the table for tea. Good-by,
then, till tattoo. See him if you can."

"Indeed I will," he answered, and bowing over the slender,
richly-jewelled hand she so frankly placed in his, he slowly released
it, and turned away.

"In the dining-room, is she?" muttered Holmes to himself, as he ran
lightly through the hall and down the stairs. "If that was not Miss
Celestine I saw this moment scurrying in from the direction of the
wood-piles out yonder, I'm vastly mistaken, and she was talking with a
soldier there. I saw the glint of the sunset on the brasses of his
forage-cap. I thought they all had to be at retreat roll-call, but this
fellow missed it."

Turning at the foot of the stairs, he strode to the rear door, and
looked out through the side-light upon the unpicturesqueness of the
yards, the coal- and wood-sheds, the rough, unpainted board fences; the
dismantled gate, propped in most inebriate style against its
bark-covered post, and clinging thereto with but a single hinge. At
this half-closed aperture suddenly appeared the mulatto girl, stopped,
turned, gave a quick glance at the various back windows of Bedlam,
waved her hand to a dim, soldierly form just discernible in the
twilight striding toward the northern end of the garrison, then she
came scurrying to the door, and burst in, panting.

"Ah, Celestine! That you?" asked Holmes, pleasantly. "I thought to find
you in the dining-room, and stopped to ask for a glass of water."

At sight of him the girl had almost recoiled, but his cheery voice
reassured her.

"Laws, Mr. Holmes! I done thought 'twas a ghost," she laughed, but
turned quickly from him as she spoke and hurried into the dining-room,
filling a goblet with a trembling hand. He drank the water leisurely;
thanked her, and strolled with his accustomed deliberation through the
hall and out across the piazza, never appearing to notice her
breathlessness or agitation. Once outside the steps, however, his
deliberation was cast aside, and with rapid, nervous strides he
hastened up the walk,--out past the old ordnance storehouse and the
lighted windows of the trader's establishment, turned sharply to the
west, and, sure enough, coming toward him was a brisk, dapper,
slim-built little soldier in his snugly-fitting undress uniform. Holmes
stopped short, whipped out his cigar-case and wind-matches, thrust a
Partaga between his teeth, struck a light as the soldier passed him and
the broad glare from the north window fell full upon the dapper shape
and well-carried head. There was the natty forage-cap with the gleaming
cross-sabres; there was the dark face, there the heavy brows, the
glittering black eyes, the moustache and imperial, the close-curling
hair, of the very man he had seen peeping into the parlor windows back
of Mrs. Griffin's little post-office the night of his talk with
Corporal Zook.

Ten minutes later and he was tapping at McLean's door. It was opened by
the hospital attendant,--slowly and only a few inches.

"Can I see the lieutenant?" he asked.

"I am very sorry," whispered the man, mindful of the visitor's
prodigality in the past and hopeful of future favors. "I have strict
orders to admit nobody to-night until the doctor sees him again. The
lieutenant isn't so well, sir, and Dr. Bayard had to administer
sedatives before he left. I think he is sleeping just now, though he
may only be trying to."

Holmes paused, reluctant and a little irresolute.

"Is there nothing I can do or say, sir, if he wakes?" asked the
attendant.

"Can you give him a letter and say nothing about it to anybody?"

"Certainly I can,--if it's one that won't harm him."

"It will do him good, unless I'm mistaken; and he ought to have it
to-night: he'll sleep better for it. I'll give it to you at
tattoo.--Ah, Robert! I might have known you'd be in search of me and
that I was delaying dinner. Say I'll be there instantly."

Meantime, Sergeant Freeman had reported to Major Miller as directed,
and was standing attention, cap in hand, at that officer's desk, while
the adjutant was scratching away across the room, his pen racing over
the paper as he copied the despatch his commander had slowly and
thoughtfully dictated.

"You say that Parsons is the best man to send, sergeant?"

"I don't say that, sir, exactly; but he's the lightest man in the troop
and has the fastest horse now in the post. He could make it quicker
than anybody else, but----"

"But what? Doesn't he want to go? Is he afraid?" asked the major,
impatiently.

The sergeant flushed a little, as he promptly answered,--

"It isn't that, sir. He wants to go. There's no man in the troop, sir,
that would be safe in saying he didn't want to go."

"Then why do you hesitate?"

"Because we don't know Parsons well, sir; he hasn't been with us more'n
a year. He was Lieutenant Blunt's striker till the lieutenant was
wounded, but Captain Terry had him returned to the troop because we
were so short of men and had so much scouting to do. Then Parsons got
into the office as company clerk, and that's where he is now, sir. He
writes a fine hand and seemed to know all about papers."

"Where had he served before joining you?" asked the major.

"Nowhere, sir. He says he learned what he knows in the adjutant's
office at St. Louis barracks, where they had the cavalry depot. He's
been a barber, I think, on a Mississippi steamboat, but he can ride
well."

"Well, let Parsons be the man. If he wants to go I see no reason why he
shouldn't. Tell him to report here mounted and ready at tattoo."

But it was nearly ten o'clock before Parsons was ready,--a singular
fact when it is remembered that he wanted to go,--and Mr. Holmes, who
had stopped a moment to speak with Miss Forrest as the bugle ceased
playing tattoo, found sufficient interest in their chat to detain him
until just as the signal "Lights out" was ringing on the still
night-air. Then a horse came trotting briskly into the garrison and
over to the adjutant's office. Holmes caught a glimpse of the rider as
he shot under the gallery and through the gleam from the lower windows.
That face again!

Ten minutes afterward this inquisitive civilian was at the store, and,
singling out one of half a dozen cowboys who were laughing and drinking
at the bar, he beckoned him to come outside. The others followed, for
the barkeeper, in obedience to post orders, was closing up his shop.
Holmes led his silent follower beyond earshot of the loungers at the
door-way.

"Did you see the soldier who rode past here just now?"

"Yes, sir."

"Drake, I've picked you out for service that I can intrust to no one
else. You've never failed me yet. Are you ready for a long ride
to-night?"

"Anything you want, Mr. Holmes."

"That man's orders are to go with all speed to Fetterman and, after
resting there twenty-four hours, to take it easily returning. He'll go
there all right, I believe, but what he does there and after he leaves
there I want to know, if you have to follow to Cheyenne. Here's fifty
dollars. If he jumps the track and starts for the railway after
quitting Fetterman, let him go; wire me from Chugwater, but don't lose
track of him. I'll join you at Cheyenne or Laramie City, wherever he
goes, and the moment you strike the settlements put the sheriff on his
trail."



XVIII.


Three days slipped away without noticeable changes in the situation at
Laramie. It was late on Tuesday evening when the courier rode away with
his despatch, and on Wednesday afternoon the wire from Fetterman
flashed the tidings of his safe arrival there and the prompt
transmission of the packet in pursuit of the escort that had left for
the north at morn. Miller breathed more freely, as did his good wife,
as now the onus of this great source of distress would be shifted to
other shoulders. "A family affair of much importance--no less than the
more than probable connection of one of his household with a series of
extensive thefts--demanded that Captain Forrest, if a possible thing,
be sent hither at once," was the burden of the major's letter, and he
knew that, if a possible thing, the general would find means of
ordering the captain in on some duty which would give no inkling of the
real nature of the ordeal awaiting him. Thursday afternoon, late,
Parsons was to start on his return, would probably rest or camp at the
deserted huts of the ranchmen at La Bonté, possibly at the "Lapperell,"
as the frontiersmen termed the little stream the French trappers had
years before named _La Prêle_, and should reach the fort some time
Friday evening, though there was no hurry and he had full authority, if
he saw fit, to rest his horse another night at Bull Bend or anywhere he
pleased. No one in authority was giving that matter a thought, but it
was exactly that matter that kept Roswell Holmes on the watch at
Laramie when he would rather have gone away. To his keen eyes it was
evident that, despite all Bayard's efforts to appear jovial and
courteous as ever, he was in sore perplexity. Nellie, too, was again
keeping her room, and Jeannie Bruce, with white face and red-rimmed
eyes, was the only companion she really welcomed. Thursday night had
come, and the letter he was to have handed in for McLean's benefit and
peace of mind was still withheld. Any hour might enable him to speak
positively, whereas now he could only theorize. Meantime, Mrs. Miller
assured him that the young officer who "had been temporarily set back
by the bad news from Mr. Hatton" was doing very well under the
influence of better tidings. On Thursday morning a despatch from the
stockade brought the welcome information from Dr. Weeks that Hatton's
rugged constitution seemed proof against the enemy; he was gaining
again.

Meantime, not a word did Miller, Bayard, or the adjutant breathe of
that conference with McLean, and neither Mr. Holmes nor Miss Forrest
could form the faintest idea of what had taken place. They had their
theories and had frankly exchanged them, and what caused Mrs. Miller
infinite amaze and the garrison a new excitement was this growing
companionship between the Chicago millionaire and the "Queen of
Bedlam." Thrice now had they been seen on the gallery _tête-à-tête_,
and once, leaning on his arm, she had appeared on the walk. To the
ladies there was no theory so popular as the one that she was setting
her cap for him in good earnest now that Nellie Bayard was confined to
her room; and when Mrs. Miller met him she longed to speak upon the
subject. She could well-nigh thank any woman who could draw this
formidable rival away and leave the ground to her wounded and
deeply-smitten lieutenant; but could she see him becoming entangled in
the toils of Miss Forrest, knowing what she did of that young woman's
dreadful moral affliction? There was no way in which she could warn
him. She had pledged her word to the major that not a whisper should
escape, and though Mrs. Bruce had managed to derive from a
conversation with her that Captain Forrest had been sent for, it was
accomplished by that feminine device, now so successfully imitated by
the so-called interviewers of the public press, of making assertions
and hazarding suggestions which could not be truthfully denied. The
lady longed to take Holmes into her confidence,--and could not; and
Holmes longed to ask her what allegations had been made against McLean
and how he had borne them,--yet dared not. Both to him and the Queen
of Bedlam that was the explanation of the simultaneous gathering, at
the quarters of the young officer, of the commandant, surgeon, and
adjutant. Holmes boldly inquired of the doctor what had taken place,
asserting that he was interested in McLean and wanted to help him, if
he was in trouble; and in great embarrassment the doctor had begged to
be excused from reply. He would not deny that McLean was in
trouble,--in grave trouble,--but there was nothing tangible as yet.
Nothing was to be said or done until--well, until he was much better
and able to be about.

Friday afternoon came, warm, sunshiny, and delightful. At four o'clock
the doctor's carriage--an open, easy, old-fashioned-looking
affair--rolled out of the garrison with Nellie Bayard and Jeannie Bruce
smiling on the back seat, while Bayard himself handled the reins. There
was a vacant place beside him, and, just as he possibly expected, Miss
Forrest came out on the gallery and waved her hand and smiled cordial
greeting to the two girls. Instantly he reined in his eager horses,
almost bringing them upon their haunches, and called up to her:

"This is the best piece of luck that has befallen me since I came to
Laramie. I've caught you when you could not be engaged. Do come and
join us, Miss Forrest! I'm taking my little invalid out for a drive in
the sunshine, and it will do you, too, a world of good. Do come!"

But Miss Forrest's clear voice was heard in prompt and positive regret.
It was impossible: she had an engagement that would occupy her a full
hour, and while she thanked the doctor--thanked them all--for stopping
for her, it could not be. "I am so glad to see you out again, Miss
Nellie," she called. "Now, I shall hope to have you come and spend an
hour with me over here."

The doctor could hardly conceal his chagrin. Again he begged. Again his
offer was courteously but positively declined. Nellie gave but faint
response to Miss Forrest's greetings. Jeannie Bruce looked fixedly
away, and finally the horses received a sharp and most unnecessary
touch of the lash, and went bounding away from "Bedlam" in a style that
reflected small credit on the merits of the driver, and that nearly
bruised the backs of his fair passengers.

Reclining half dressed, in a big easy-chair, Randall McLean heard the
crash of the horses' hoofs and the whirr-r-r of the wheels on the
gravelly road in front, and demanded of the attendant an account of the
party.

"The doctor, sir, and the two young ladies--out for a drive."

McLean was silent for a moment. Mrs. Miller had gone home some time
before on household cares intent, and the doctor was by this time out
of the garrison. It left the patient master of the situation.

"Get this chair out on the gallery," he presently said, as he slowly
raised himself to his feet and leaned for support against the table.
"Put a robe and pillow in it. Then come back and help me out."

The soldier demurred and would have argued, but Mr. McLean silenced
him, and presently, in his best blue fatigue-coat and with a white silk
handkerchief around his neck and his fatigue-cap tilted over one eye,
the young officer, leaning on the attendant's arm, slowly made his way
into the open air and was soon comfortably ensconced in the big
arm-chair again. Several men of his company, smoking on the piazza of
the quarters across the parade, arose, put away their pipes, and came
over to stand attention and salute their popular lieutenant, and to say
how glad they were to see him able to sit up again. It touched McLean's
sad and lonely heart to see the pleasure and the trust and faith in
their brown, honest faces, and the tears came welling up to his eyes as
he held out his hand, calling them by name to step up on the gallery
where he could see them better and give each man a cordial though
feeble response to the hearty pressure of their brawny hands. Then he
bade the attendant, after a little chat about Mr. Hatton's condition
and the more hopeful news, to take them in and give them a drink of
Monongahela; but Corporal Stein promptly declined: he wouldn't have it
thought they came with that hope, when their sole wish was to
congratulate their young officer; and, though one or two of them, not
so sensitive as the corporal, doubtless took him to task at a later
moment, they one and all upheld him now. They would not go in and
drink, but presently returned to their barracks, comforted with the
reflection that they had done the proper thing.

Meantime, Miss Forrest had seen their approach, and, hearing the voices
on the lower gallery, readily divined that Mr. McLean must be sitting
up and taking the air. Five minutes after the men were gone, and as
that young gentleman was wondering about what time the carriage would
return, he heard a quick, light footstep along the wooden floor, the
rustle of feminine skirts, and almost before he could turn, the
cordial, musical voice of the Queen of Bedlam:

"Mr. McLean, how rejoiced I am to see you sitting up! This is simply
delightful."

For an instant he knew not what to say--how to greet her. Heavens! what
thoughts of that gloomy council went surging through his brain. He
tried to speak, tried to conceal his grievous embarrassment, but his
gaunt face flushed painfully and the thin hand he extended in
acknowledgment of hers was cold as ice. The nurse promptly brought a
chair, set it close by the side of the big arm-chair; then as promptly
vanished, as she gracefully thanked him and took it. This was a
contingency that had not occurred to McLean for an instant. His whole
idea had been to be where he could see Nellie's face, possibly receive
a smile and bow, possibly a joyous word or two on her return. He had
been able for the time being to forget all about Miss Forrest and the
part he had been compelled to play in surrounding her with that web of
evidence and suspicion, and now, at this most inopportune moment, here
stood this gracious and graceful girl smiling at his side.

For a few moments more it was she who did most of the talking; Hatton,
Captain Terry's Grays, and the fight down the Platte furnishing her
with abundant material for blithe comment and congratulations. His
constraint and solemnity of mien she attributed to physical suffering
combined with distress of mind over the charges she believed to have
been laid at his door; and, while avoiding all mention of that subject,
it was her earnest desire to show him by every trick of woman's
infinite variety and shade of manner that she had nothing but
admiration for his soldierly conduct, and trust and friendship for him
in his troubles. Poor Mac was but vague, unresponsive, and embarrassed
in his acknowledgments, and then--she noted how his eyes were
constantly wandering away up the road, and, with woman's quick
intuition, divined that he was out there for no other purpose than to
watch for the return of the doctor's carriage.

Presently it came in sight, driving rapidly, and, recalling everything
that she had heard from Mr. Holmes in their recent talks of the
doctor's distrust and antipathy toward McLean, Miss Forrest quickly
arose and stepped to the end of the gallery. She had determined that
the young soldier should not be balked in so modest a hope as that of
seeing and being seen by the girl he loved. She felt assured that
unless he was signalled or checked in some way the doctor would drive
by "full tilt," and, with the quickness of thought, she had formed her
plan. The sight of Fanny Forrest, standing at the north end of the
gallery and holding aloft her white palm in the exact gesture of the
Indian and frontiersman signalling "stop," was enough to make him bring
the powerful team back on their haunches directly in front of the
steps, and, before a word could be said in explanation, there, flushing
feebly, was Randall McLean, striving to lift himself from his nest of
robes and pillows, and salute the lady of his heart.

Lachlan stepped quickly forward from the hall and, with him on one side
and Miss Forrest smiling on the other, McLean was half lifted to the
railing, where he could look right into the bonnie face he longed to
see. Nellie Bayard, sitting nearest him, flushed crimson at the first
glimpse at the tall, gaunt figure, and her little hand tightly closed
beneath the lap-robe on the sturdier fingers of Miss Bruce. A joyous
light danced only one instant in her eyes, and died out as quickly as
the flush upon her cheek at sight of Miss Forrest's supporting arm. Was
this, then, the engagement which prevented her acceptance of the
doctor's offer? Was this the way in which the hero of her girlish
dreams should be restored to her,--with that bewilderingly handsome and
fascinating New York girl at his side, almost possessively supporting
and exhibiting him? The sight had stung the doctor too, and the same
idea about the engagement seemed to flash through his head.

"This will never do, Mr. McLean," he sternly spoke, "you are in no
condition to venture out; I'll be over to see you in a minute. Get back
to your room as quick as you can." And with these words he whipped up
his team again, and the carriage flashed away. Nellie had not spoken a
word.

For a moment they stood there stunned. McLean gazed bitterly after the
retreating vehicle a moment, then turned with questioning eyes to his
silent companion. She, too, was gazing fixedly after the doctor's
little party, her color fluttering, her eyes glowing, and her white
teeth setting firmly. Then impulsively she turned to him:

"This is all my fault, all my stupidity, Mr. McLean; I might have
known. Forgive me for the sake of my good intentions, and depend upon
it, good shall yet come of this, for now I have a crow to pick with Dr.
Bayard, and I mean to see him before he sees you. Are you going in,--at
once?"

"Yes. There's nothing else to do," he answered, wearily, hopelessly,
wretchedly, as he slowly turned away.

"Mr. McLean!" she exclaimed, with sudden and irrepressible excitement
of manner. "Stop!--one moment only. There's something I must say to
you. Lachlan, please step inside the hall," she hurriedly continued.
"I'll call you in plenty of time before the doctor can get here. Now,
Mr. McLean, listen! I know something of your trouble. I know something
of the toils by which you have been surrounded, and how unjustly you
have been treated; but let me tell you that the very man you have most
feared is the man of all others who stands your steadfast friend. Look!
He's coming now. Coming fast, too--from the telegraph office. I almost
know what it is he brings. One more thing I must say while yet there is
time. I could not help seeing how your heart was bound up in Nellie
Bayard. Nay, don't turn away in such despair. I read her better than
you do, and I know you better than you think. I tell you brighter days
are near. Keep up a brave heart, Mr. McLean. Remember your name;
remember 'The race of Clan Gillian--the fearless and free.' I tell you
that were I a man I could envy you the truth I read in Nellie Bayard's
eyes. All is coming out well, and there's my hand and my heart full of
good wishes with it."

He took it wonderingly, silently. Good heavens! Was this the woman who,
through his testimony, stood accused of degrading crimes? Was it
possible that she could have been the criminal, and yet at the very
time could write those mysterious words upon the hidden
card--proffering aid and friendship? What manner of woman was this now
quivering with excitement at his side, her glowing eyes fastened on the
rapidly advancing form of Roswell Holmes? What meant she by speaking of
the man he most feared as his most steadfast friend?

Just as Major and Mrs. Miller with Dr. Bayard stepped upon the broad
gallery of Bedlam at its southern end and stopped in embarrassment at
sight of the group at the other, Mr. Holmes had bounded up the steps
and, placing in her hand a telegraphic despatch, held forth his own to
Randall McLean.

"Read it aloud!" was all he said, and eagerly she obeyed:

    "CHUGWATER, Friday, 4 P.M.

    "ROSWELL HOLMES, ESQ., Fort Laramie.--Parsons streaking it for
    Cheyenne. Has plenty money. Close at his heels.

    "DRAKE."



XIX.


Whatever sensation or suppressed mystery may have existed at the post
prior to the receipt of the brief despatch announcing that the soldier,
Parsons, had "bolted," it was all as nothing compared with the
excitements of the week that followed. Miller's first impulse, when Mr.
Holmes placed the brown scrap of paper in his hands, was to inquire how
it happened that a civilian should concern himself with the movements
of his men, either in or out of garrison, but something in the
expression of Miss Forrest's face as she walked calmly past him on the
way to her room, and in the kindling eyes of this popular and respected
gentleman gave him decided pause.

"There is a matter behind all this which I ought to know, is there
not?" was therefore his quiet inquiry; and when Mr. Holmes assured him
that there was, and the two went off together arm in arm, leaving Mrs.
Miller to wonder what it all could mean, and to go in and upbraid her
pet lieutenant for venturing from his room when still so weak, it was
soon evident to more eyes than those of Dr. Bayard that something of
unusual interest was indeed brewing, and that the ordinarily genial and
jovial major was powerfully moved. In ten minutes the two men were at
the telegraph office and the operator was "calling" Cheyenne. An hour
later, after another brief and earnest talk with Miss Forrest on the
upper gallery of "Bedlam," Mr. Holmes's travelling wagon rolled into
the garrison and away he went. At midnight he was changing horses at
"The Chug." The next day he was at Cheyenne and wired the major from
that point. Two days more and he was heard from at Denver, and then
there was silence.

At the end of the week Private Parsons, of Terry's Grays, who had been
carried for three or four successive mornings as "on detached service,"
then as "absent without leave," was formally accounted for as
"deserted," and it began to be whispered about the garrison that grave
and decidedly sensational reasons attended his sudden disappearance.
Dr. Bayard had a long and private interview with the commanding
officer, who showed him a letter received from Mr. Holmes, and went
home to Nellie with a dazed look on his distinguished face. The sight
of Randall McLean, seated on the front piazza, and in blithe
conversation with that young lady and her friend Miss Bruce, for an
instant caused him to halt short at his own gate, but, mastering
whatever emotion possessed him, the doctor marched straight up to that
rapidly recuperating officer, who was trying to find his feet and show
due respect to the master of the house, and, bidding him keep his seat,
bent over and took his hand and confused him more than a little by the
unexpected and really inexplicable warmth of his greeting.

McLean, who had been accustomed to constraint and coldness of manner on
the part of the post surgeon, was at a loss to account for the sudden
change. Nellie, whose sweet eyes had marked with no little uneasiness
her father's hurried coming, flushed with relief and shy delight at
this unlooked-for welcome; and Jeannie Bruce, to use her own expression
when telling of it afterward, was "all taken aback." She and Mrs.
Miller had between them planned that Mr. McLean should walk over with
the latter, early in the afternoon, just as though out for a little
airing and to try his legs after their unaccustomed rest. Nellie and
Miss Bruce were to happen out on the piazza at the moment (and the
details of this portion of the plan were left to the ingenuity of
"Bonnie Jean" herself, who well knew that it must be accomplished
without a germ of suspicion on the part of her shy and sensitive little
friend), and McLean was to be escorted in by Mrs. Miller, who was
presently to leave, promising to come back for him in a few moments.
Then, when the ice was broken and Nellie was beginning to feel more at
ease after the mysterious estrangement and this sudden reappearance of
her old friend, Jean, too, was to be called away and the pair be left
alone. Arch plotters that these women are! They had chosen the hour
when the doctor almost invariably took his siesta, and both ladies had
warned their friends on no account to select that opportunity to rush
over and congratulate the lieutenant on his convalescence,--a thing the
Gordon girls would have been sure to do. Miss Bruce had gone so far as
to ask Mrs. Miller if she did not think it might be well to "post" Miss
Forrest, who had been almost daily seen conversing with Mr. McLean
since he began to sit out on the gallery again; but Mrs. Miller
promptly replied that there was no need to tell Miss Forrest anything.
"She has more sense than all of the rest of us put together," were the
surprising words of the reply, "as I have excellent reasons to know."

What could have happened to so radically change Mrs. Miller's estimate
of and regard for the "Queen of Bedlam?" was Jean Bruce's natural
question of her mother that night, and Mrs. Bruce was in a quandary how
to answer and not betray the secret that had been confided to her. From
having avoided and distrusted Miss Fanny Forrest, it was now noticeable
to the entire garrison that Mrs. Miller was exerting herself to be more
than civil.

It was too late to change the plan of the afternoon's campaign when the
major's orderly came around to Dr. Bayard's with the compliments of the
commanding officer and a request that the doctor join him at his
quarters as soon as possible. Although he was gone nearly an hour, he
returned before McLean had been with the girls more than a quarter of
that time, and changed their apprehension into wonderment and secret
joy by the extreme--almost oppressive--courtesy of manner to his
unbidden guest.

"It was just as though he was trying to make amends for something," said
Miss Bruce, in telling of it afterward. Be that as it may, it is certain
that after urging McLean to take a good rest where he was and to come
again and "sun himself" on their piazza, and being unaccountably cordial
in his monologue (for the younger officer hardly knew how to express
himself under the circumstances), the doctor finally vanished. Jeannie
Bruce was so utterly "taken aback" by it all that for some minutes she
totally forgot her part in the little drama. Then, suddenly recalling
the _rôle_ she was to play, despite the appeal and protest and dismay in
Elinor's pleading eyes, Miss Bruce, too, sped away and the two were left
alone. From the south end of the gallery at Bedlam Miss Forrest looked
smilingly upon the scene and would fain have rewarded Bonnie Jean by
blowing a kiss to her, but Jeannie's eyes were focussed on a little
party of horsemen just dismounting in front of the commanding officer's.
They might bring news from the cantonment,--perhaps a little note from
her own particular hero, Mr. Hatton.

Nearing them she recognized the leader as a sergeant of Captain Terry's
troop, and knew well from the trim appearance of the men and their
smooth-shaven cheeks and chins that they were just setting forth, not
just returning from the field. The adjutant came hurrying down the
steps of the major's quarters just as she reached the gate, and raised
his forage-cap at sight of her.

"You can start at once, sergeant," she heard him say. "Now remember:
to-morrow evening will be time enough for you to land your party at
Fort Russell. Report on arrival to the commanding officer, and permit
none of your men to go into Cheyenne until he sends you. Then you are
to return here with whatever may be intrusted to your care."

She was not at all surprised on reaching home to find her mother and
Mrs. Miller watching with eager eyes the departure of the cavalrymen.
McLean and Nellie Bayard saw it too, and it gave them something to talk
about a whole hour that afternoon, and paved the way for another talk
the next day--and the next.

That night, in quick succession, the telegraph brought four despatches
to Laramie. As in duty bound, the messenger went first to the
commanding officer, who held out his hand for all four and was
surprised at being accorded only two. "These are for Miss Forrest,
sir," said the messenger. The major broke the envelope of his own,
glanced at the first, and snapped his fingers with delight and
exultation.

"They've got him, Lizzie!" he chuckled to his eager helpmate. Then he
tore open the other. The glad look vanished in an instant; the light of
hope, relief, and satisfaction fled from his eyes and the color from
his cheeks. "My God!" he muttered, as his hand fell by his side.

"What is it, dear?" she queried, anxiously.

"Forrest is coming--post-haste. Will be here to-morrow night. Now she's
got to be told."

"Then, as it is all my fault, I must be the one," was the reply.

But even as they were discussing the matter, irresolute, distressed,
there was a ring at the bell; and in a moment who should enter the
parlor, holding in her hand those fateful telegrams, but Miss Forrest
herself? She came straight toward them--smiling, and Mrs. Miller and
her half-dazed major arose to greet her.

"I suppose I may be taken into official confidences to-night; may I
not, major?" she said, gayly. "Mr. Holmes has probably wired us news
which we can exchange. I congratulate you on the recovery of your
deserter, and you can rejoice with me in the recovery of my diamonds."

"Your diamonds!" exclaimed the major and his good wife in a breath.
"When--how were they taken? Why did you not tell us?"

"They were taken from my room--from my locked trunk--the night of Dr.
Bayard's dinner,--the same night that his porte-monnaie and his
beautiful amethyst set were stolen from Mr. Holmes. I did not tell any
one at first, because of Mrs. Forrest's prostrated condition, and
because at first I suspected her servant Celestine and thought I could
force her into restoring them without letting poor Ruth know anything
about it. Then I couldn't speak of it, for the next discovery I made
simply stunned me and made me ill. Then, finally, I told Mr. Holmes,
and he took the matter in charge. You have heard from my brother, too?"
she asked eagerly. "I am rejoiced at his coming, for it will do her a
world of good, and she is wild with excitement and happiness now. How
was it all managed, major? He wrote to me a fortnight ago that with the
prospect of incessant fighting before them it was impossible for him to
ask for leave of absence, and begging me to help Ruth in every way in
my power and save her from worry of any kind. You see how I was placed.
And now, all of a sudden, he is virtually ordered in, he wires me, and
can attribute it to nothing but dangerous illness on her part. Did you
get it for him? I _know_ you did."

Miller and his wife looked at her, then at one another in dumb amaze.
What could he say? How could he force himself to tell this brave and
spirited and self-sacrificing girl of the cloud of suspicion with which
she had been enveloped!

"Tell me about the diamonds," gasped Mrs. Miller to gain time. "Were
they valuable? Though of course they must have been. Everything of
yours is so beautiful and--well, I must say it all now--costly."

"They were a present from my uncle, Mr. Courtlandt," she answered,
simply. "I valued them more than anything I had. The trunk was entered
by false keys, and the diamonds were taken out of their locked case and
spirited away. My first suspicion attached to Celestine and her soldier
friend. They had been aroused before at Robinson. Then came this
stunning surprise in my discovery next day, and a week of great
indecision and distress. Now, of course, the inspiration of the villany
is captured, though more than ever do I suspect Celestine as being
confederate, or possibly principal actor. She has been utterly daft the
last four days and constantly haunting the post-office for a letter
that never comes."

"She will be wild enough when she knows the truth," said Miller,
hoarsely. "The scoundrel had a wife in Denver, where he was finally
tracked and jailed. It was she who offered the diamonds in pawn. They
did not manage things well, and should have waited, for he had over two
hundred dollars,--must have had,--for you and Mr. Holmes were not the
only losers here."

"Who were the others?" she quickly asked.

"Mr. Hatton and Mr. McLean."

"Mr. McLean! Oh, the shame of it!" Miss Forrest paced rapidly up and
down the parlor floor, her eyes flashing, her cheeks flushed, her hands
nervously twisting the filmy handkerchief she carried. Her excitement
was something utterly foreign to her, and neither Miller nor his wife
could understand it. Suddenly, as though by uncontrollable impulse, she
stopped before and faced them.

"Major Miller!" she exclaimed, "I must tell you something. I had made
up my mind to do it yesterday. It will not add to my faint popularity
here, but I respect you and Mrs. Miller. I know you are _his_ friends,
and I want your advice. How am I to make amends to Mr. McLean? What am
I to say to him? Do you know that for a few days of idiocy I was made
to believe that you suspected him of the thefts? and it was his
handkerchief I found on the floor behind my trunk. What will the man
think of me? And yet I _must_ tell him. I cannot sit by him day
after day, see him, speak with him, and have my heart hammering out
the words, 'He thinks you are his friend, and you thought him to be a
thief.'"

It was more than Miller could stand. "Miss Forrest! Miss Forrest!" he
exclaimed, as his wife sank into an easy-chair and hid her face in her
hands. "You cover me with shame and confusion. Never in my life have I
heard of so extraordinary a complication as this has been! never have I
been so worried and distressed! My dear young lady, try and hear me
patiently. You have been far more sinned against than sinning. A few
hours ago Dr. Bayard--he who led you in your suspicions, for he told me
so--left here crushed and humbled to find that he had been so blind and
unjust. But I would gladly exchange places with him, for I've been
worse. I've been weak enough to be made to look with other's eyes and
not my own. McLean was indeed involved in grave suspicion, but nothing
as compared with that which surrounded another,--a woman who was
entitled to our utmost sympathy and protection because her natural
protector was in the field far from her side,--a woman who did find
friends and protectors in my young officers,--McLean and Hatton,--God
bless 'em for it! for they stoutly refused to tell a thing until it was
dragged from them by official inquiry, and then they had burned every
tangible piece of evidence against her. She was at Robinson last
winter, and money and valuables were constantly disappearing. Silken
skirts were heard trailing in dark hall-ways at night; her form was
seen in the room of the plundered officers. The stories followed her to
Laramie. The night McLean and Hatton were robbed her silken skirts were
heard trailing up the north hall of Bedlam and her feet scurrying over
the gallery. Her handkerchief was found at McLean's bureau, and, while
they were all waiting for her at Mrs. Gordon's, McLean himself collided
with a feminine shape in the darkness out on the parade, and it slipped
away without a word as though fearing detection. The night of the
robbery at Bayard's she was alone up-stairs. Another night she was seen
entering the hall-way without ringing the bell or knocking at the door.
Another evening I, who was in the Bayards' library, listened for ten
minutes to some one who was striving to pick the lock and make a secret
entrance while Elinor was confined to her room and the doctor was known
to be a quarter of a mile away at the hospital. At last, wearying of
waiting for the thief to effect an entrance and permit of my seeing him
or her in the hall, I sprang out upon the piazza and found--you. Then
that night I strove to see Hatton and wring from him his knowledge of
what had been going on in Bedlam. You implored him not to go. You,
unwittingly, made him and, through him, McLean believe it was your own
trouble you sought to conceal; and, though I thank God I was utterly
mistaken, utterly wrong in my belief, I crave your forgiveness, Miss
Forrest. It was I who urged that your brother be sent here at once,
though the general believes it was on Mrs. Forrest's account, that he
might put an end to these peculations and restore what property could
be recovered from you,--you who have suffered a loss far greater than
all the others put together and never said a word about it."

And poor Miller, who had never made so long a speech in his life
before, turned chokingly away. Then Mrs. Miller spoke, and Miss
Forrest's dilated eyes were turned slowly from the major's bulky shape
to the matronly form upon the sofa and the woe-begone face that
appeared from behind the handkerchief. Miss Forrest's cheeks had paled
and her lips were parted. She had seized and was leaning upon the back
of a chair, but not one word had she spoken. As Mrs. Miller's voice was
heard, it seemed as though a slight contraction of the muscles brought
about a decided frown upon her white forehead, but she listened in
utter silence.

"Indeed, Miss Forrest, you musn't blame the major too much. He wouldn't
have listened to a word against you--if--if it hadn't been for me. I
was all at fault. But I couldn't have believed a word against you had
it not been for those letters from Robinson. They--they----"

And here Mrs. Miller had recourse to her handkerchief, and Miss Forrest
stretched forth her hand as though to urge her say no more. There was
intense silence in the parlor a moment. Then through the open windows
came the sudden sound of a scuffle, a woman's shriek, a sudden fall,
voluble curses and ravings in Celestine's familiar tones, and the rush
of many feet toward Bedlam.

Seizing his cap and hurrying thither, the major pushed his way through
an excited group on the lower gallery. The sergeant of the guard,
lantern in hand, was wonderingly contemplating the Scotch "striker"
Lachlan, who firmly clung to the wrist of the struggling, swearing
girl, despite her adjurations to let her go. Other men from the
quarters were clustered around them, hardly knowing what to say, for
Lachlan contented himself with the single word "thief!" and never
relaxed his grasp until the major bade him do so, but instantly renewed
it as his prisoner attempted to spring away. McLean came limping to the
scene from the direction of the doctor's quarters just as Miss Forrest,
too, appeared, and him Lachlan addressed:

"I found her rummaging in the bureau, sir."

And then Miss Forrest's quiet voice was heard as soon as the major's
orders to bring a gag had silenced the loud protestations and
accusations of the negress.

"It is as we supposed, major. That is the skirt of an old silk I gave
her last winter."

An hour later Celestine was locked in a room at the laundress's
quarters, where stout "Mrs. Sergeant Flynn" organized an Amazon guard
of heroines, who, like herself, had followed the drum for many a year;
who assured the major the prisoner would never escape from their
clutches, and whose motto appeared to be, "Put none but Irishwomen on
guard to-night."



XX.


Confessions, of various sorts, were the order of the day at Laramie
during the week that followed this important arrest, and then the
fortnight of accusation was at an end. Parsons, the deserter, led off
the day after his return to the post under escort of the little squad
sent down from Terry's troop to meet him at Cheyenne. He was stubborn
and silent at first, but when told by the corporal of the guard that
Celestine had "gone back on him the moment she heard he had a wife at
Denver, and had more than given him away," he concluded that it was
time to deny some of the accusations heaped upon his head by the
furious victim of his wiles. The girl had indeed obeyed his beck and
will, and shielded him even in the days of suspense that followed his
desertion; but no word can describe the rage of her jealousy, the fury
of her hate, the recklessness of her tongue when she found that he had
used her only as a tool to enrich another woman,--his lawful wife.
Parsons told his story to an interested audience as though he had
rather enjoyed the celebrity he had acquired, and Major Miller, Dr.
Bayard, Captain Forrest, and Mr. Roswell Holmes were his most attentive
listeners. He had been a corporal in the Marine Corps at the Washington
Navy-Yard, and had seen Dr. Bayard many a time. Reduced to the ranks
for some offence, he had become an officer's servant, and was employed
at the mess-room, where Bayard must have seen him frequently, as the
doctor rarely missed their festivities at the barracks. Here his
peculations began and were discovered. He deserted and got to St.
Louis, where he began to "barber" on a boat; got married and into more
trouble; fled to Denver and found people's wits too sharp for him; so,
leaving his wife to support herself as best she could, he ran up to
Cheyenne and enlisted in the cavalry. Doors and windows, desks and
trunks, were found lying open everywhere at Robinson; Celestine was
speedily induced to learn the business, and proved an adept. He warned
her she would be suspected, but she laughed and said she knew how to
hoodwink folks. They kept up their partnership at Laramie, he receiving
and hiding the valuables she brought him; but he was sure the doctor
had recognized him; he knew there was danger, and he was determined to
slip away the first chance that came, especially after securing the
diamonds. The Fetterman despatch gave him the longed-for opportunity.
Celestine was quieted by the promise that, as soon as the thing had
blown over and he was safe, he would get word to her where to join him,
send her plenty of money, and then they would be married and live
happily ever after. On the way back from Fetterman he stopped at an
abandoned hut near Bull Bend, where he had hidden his plunder on the
way up, stowed the money and jewels in his saddle-bags, then pushed for
Hunton's on the Chug; got safely by in the night, rode his horse hard
to Lodge Pole Creek, where he left him at a ranch and secured the loan
of another. Then keeping well to the west of Fort Russell and never
going near Cheyenne, he crossed the Union Pacific and made his way to
Denver. But there, to his dismay, the "Rocky Mountain" detective
officials were on the watch for him, and every precaution had been
vain. He was captured; Miss Forrest's diamonds, Mr. Holmes's amethysts,
and Mr. Hatton's pins were found secreted in his possession, though
most of the money was gone,--gambling,--and that was all. He never knew
that Mr. Holmes had tracked him all the way and rolled up a volume of
evidence against him.

Celestine, tiger-cat that she was, had at first filled the air with
shrieks of rage and loud accusations, first against Lachlan and then
Miss Forrest, but the Irish laundresses only jeered at her; and, when
the deserter was fairly back in the garrison and the circumstances of
his capture were made known, taunted her with having been victimized by
a man who had a wife to share the profits of her plundering. Once made
to realize that this was truth, she no longer sought to conceal
anything. She seemed bent only on heaping up vengeance upon him. 'Twas
he who corrupted her; he who taught her to steal; he who showed her how
to pick locks; he who told her to wear Miss Forrest's silk skirts and
steal her handkerchiefs and leave them where they would be found; he
who let her in to the doctor's the night of the dinner and stole the
porte-monnaie from the fur coat while she went up-stairs and took the
amethysts from Mr. Holmes's room. She wasn't afraid. If any one came
all she had to do was to say she had returned for something she had
lost when accompanying Miss Forrest. 'Twas he who told her to take some
of McLean's handkerchiefs and drop one in Mr. Holmes's room where he
would be sure to get it, "'cause Dr. Bayard wanted to get rid of Mr.
McLean and would believe nothing against Miss Forrest;" 'twas he who
tried to pick that latch again and get in and steal the doctor's
silver, but was interrupted by Miss Forrest's coming, and had just time
to slink away on tiptoe around the corner of the house; 'twas he who
gave her keys to open Miss Forrest's trunk and showed her how to pick
the lock of the little box that held her diamonds, and he who bade her
lose one of McLean's handkerchiefs behind the trunk. Oh, yes! She was
ready to swear fire, murder, and treason against him--her scoundrelly
deceiver. In one short day this precious pair had succeeded in saddling
each other with the iniquities of the garrison for a month back, and
all other suspicions were at an end.

But there was still another feather in Mr. Holmes's cap. He had known
these Denver detectives for years and had placed much valuable business
in their hands. He had munificently rewarded every man who had been
efficient in the present chase and capture; had had the pleasure of
restoring to Miss Forrest in a new case and well-repaired setting the
diamonds of which she had been despoiled, and then he sought McLean.

"Did you ever get a little card I left in your drawer one night while I
was here with Mr. Hatton?" he asked.

McLean looked up in eager interest. "A card?--yes, but never dreamed it
was from you. Indeed I thought--I was told--it came from an entirely
different source, and it has puzzled me more than words can tell you."

"It was perhaps a piece of officiousness on my part, but we were in a
peculiar state just then with all these thefts going on. I stowed it in
one of your handkerchiefs while Hatton was out. What did you do with
it!"

"Burned it--long ago. I couldn't understand at all. It said that one
who had been as hard pressed as I was--pecuniarily, I supposed--wanted
to be my friend, and----"

"Yes, that's about it! I suppose you couldn't see your way clear to
accepting help from me----"

"I didn't know it was your card or your writing. No initials appeared.
The card was otherwise blank, and Hatton and I--well--there's no sense
in telling the absurdity of our beliefs at that time. We were all at
sea."

"Let all that pass," said Holmes, with a grave smile on his face. "The
man that hasn't been a fool in one way or another in this garrison
during the last month or so is not on my list of acquaintances, and I
think I know myself. What I want now is a description of Sergeant
Marsland. One of my Denver friends thinks he has spotted him as a swell
gambler down at El Paso."

And so, that night, a full pen-picture of the lamented
commissary-sergeant was wired to Denver. Two days later a special
detective was speeding southward; and though Roswell Holmes had left
Fort Laramie and gone about his other affairs long before the result
was known, and long before the slow-moving wheels of Wyoming and
military justice had rolled the two later culprits before the courts,
it was his name that came up for renewed applause and enthusiastic
praise when the telegraph brought to the commanding officer the news
that a "rich haul!" had been made on the far-away Texan frontier.
Marsland and over one thousand dollars had been gathered in at "one
fell swoop."

Then came July, its blazing sunshine tempered by the snow-cooled
breezes from the mountain-peaks, and its starry nights made drowsy and
soothing by the softer melody of the swift-rushing Laramie. The roar
and fury of the May torrents were gone and with them the clouds and
storms of human jealousies and suspicions. The crowded garrison had
undergone a valuable experience. The social circle of the post had
learned a lesson as to the fallibility of feminine and masculine--judgment.
Bruce was slyly ridiculing Miller because of his surrender to the
views and theories of his better half, and, even while resenting
verbally the fact that he had been excluded from all participation in
the momentous affairs of the early summer, was known to be devoutly
thankful in his innermost heart that he had not been drawn into the
snarl. Bruce was hand in glove with Captain Forrest now, who, having
set his house in order and silenced the querulous complaints of his
wife at the loss of Celestine, was eager to get back to his troop.
Between Forrest and McLean, too, there had sprung up a feeling of
cordial friendship. Forrest had heard from his sister's lips the story
of how he and Hatton had burned her handkerchief and striven in every
way to shield her in his absence, and the cavalryman's heart warmed to
them more than he could express. To Miller and McLean he told the
story of his sister's differences with her uncle, pretty much in
effect as Mrs. Forrest told the doctor. It was Courtlandt's son she
would not marry because of his repeated lapses into inebriety, and
Courtlandt's bounty she would no longer accept since she could not
take the son. The registered letters she had mailed contained the
remittances the sorrowful old man persisted in sending her and she
persisted in returning. Dr. Bayard, too, had shown vast cordiality to
the stalwart cavalry brother, but Forrest seemed to share his sister's
views, and only moderately responded.

Poor Bayard! Again and again did he curse the cruel fates that had
exiled him to this outlying, barbarous, incomprehensible community.
Again and again did he bemoan the blunders he had made. In the
_éclaircissement_ that followed the arrest of Celestine and Parsons he
had striven to pose as the champion of Miss Forrest and to redouble
his devotions. There was no doubt of his devotion: the grandiose old
beau was completely fascinated by the brilliancy, daring, and
self-control of that indomitable Queen of Bedlam. After the first
shock and a few hours of solitude, in which she refused to see or talk
with anybody, Miss Forrest had emerged from her room in readiness to
welcome her brother on his arrival, and no one in all that garrison
could detect the faintest sign of resentment or discomposure in her
manner. If anything, she was rather more approachable to people she
could not fancy than at any time before, and, now that the Bruces and
Gordons and Johnsons and everybody seemed in mad competition to see
who could be most cordial and friendly with her, it speedily became
apparent that it was their offishness, not hers, that had kept them
asunder earlier in her visit. Mrs. Post had found her out, she proudly
asserted, just as soon as she came to live under the same roof with
her, and it was now her privilege to claim precedence over the others
of the large sisterhood. But all this sudden popularity of the young
lady in question was no great comfort to Bayard, who found it almost
impossible to see her alone. She would gladly have gone to spend hours
with Elinor, who was still far from strong, for "her Majesty," as she
was often playfully referred to, was disposed to be very fond of that
sweet-faced child; but Elinor seemed to shrink from her a little. She
feared that her father had really fallen deeply in love again, and if
so who could resist him? She admired Miss Forrest and could be very
fond of her, but not as a second mother. Another matter that stood in
the way of going thither was the fact that Bayard seemed to track her
everywhere, and the situation was becoming unendurable. One night, at
last, he dropped in at the Millers' when she was there, and promptly,
when she retired, offered to escort her home. She thanked him, took
his arm, walked slowly with him to the south hall of Bedlam, and there
bid him adieu. No one knows just what was talked of on that eventful
walk, but it was the last he ever sought with her, and for weeks
Bayard was a moody, miserable man. All Laramie swore he had proposed
and had been rejected, but no one could positively tell.

Elinor redoubled her loving ways from that time, and strove to cheer
and gladden him, but he was almost repellant. There was only one thing,
he declared to her, that made him wretched, and that was her attachment
to Mr. McLean. If she would only be sensible, and see how absurd that
was, he could smile again, but that was a matter in which his little
girl had decided as her mother had decided before her. Poor Bayard! To
revenge himself on his father- and mother-in-law he had wrested this
sweet child from their arms and brought her hither, only to see her won
away in turn, and, by all that was horrible, by an army lieutenant. He
had to admit that McLean was a gentleman, a splendid officer, without a
vice or a meanness, and, now that the stolen stores were replaced by
their money value, without a debt in the world; but he was poor,--he
was nothing, in fact, but what he himself had been when he won Elinor's
mother. McLean had spoken to him manfully and asked his consent, but he
rebuffed him, saying she was a mere child. McLean declared he would
wait any reasonable time, but claimed the privilege of visiting her as
a suitor, and this he would have refused, and for a few days did
refuse, until her pallor and tearful eyes so upbraided him that he gave
up in despair. Meantime she had poured out her heart to the loving
grandparents at home, and they took her part, and, almost to her
surprise, actually welcomed the news that she had a lover. The judge
wrote to Bayard (the first time he had so honored him since their
difference the previous winter), saying he knew "the stock" well and
expressing his hearty approval of Nellie's choice. As to her future, he
said, that was his business. It made no difference to him whether Mr.
McLean was rich or poor. That matter was one he could settle to suit
himself. It was a comfort to know she "had given her heart to a
steadfast, loyal, and honest man." And so, having stirred up his
son-in-law and made him wince to his heart's content, the old statesman
bade him stand no longer in the way, but tell the young gentleman that
he, too, would be glad to know him; and this letter, that evening, "old
Chesterfield" placed in his daughter's hand and then magnanimously gave
her his blessing. It was not to be shown to McLean, said the doctor,
but he did not tell her why. He was afraid the young fellow would read
between the lines and see what the judge was driving at when he spoke
of the loyalty and honesty of Nellie's lover.

Heavens! What billing and cooing there was at Laramie all that late
summer and autumn! How Jeannie Bruce blushed and bloomed when the
ambulance finally landed Mr. Hatton at her side, and he took his
limping but blissful daily walk in her society! How Nellie Bayard's
soft cheeks grew rounder and rosier as the autumn wore away, and how
her sweet eyes softened and glowed as they gazed up into the manly face
of the young soldier whom she was just beginning to learn (very shyly
and hesitatingly yet, and only when none but he could hear) to call
"Randall." Rapturous confidences were those in which she and Jeannie
Bruce daily engaged. Blissful were the glances with which they rewarded
Miss Forrest for her warm and cordial congratulations. Delightful were
the hours they presently began to spend with her; and dismal, dismal
was the old frontier post when October came and those three young women
with appropriate escort were spirited away together: Elinor to spend
the winter with her grandparents and make who knows what elaborate
preparations for the military wedding which was to come off in the
following May; Jeannie Bruce to pay her a long visit and indulge in
similar, though far less lavish, shopping on her own account; and Miss
Forrest to return to the roof of old Mr. Courtlandt, who begged it as a
solace to his declining years and fast-failing health. The doctor,
McLean, and Hatton went with the party as far as Cheyenne and saw them,
with their friends Major and Mrs. Stannard, of the cavalry, safely
aboard the train for Omaha, and then with solemn visages returned to
the desolation of their post to worry through the winter as best they
could. Telegrams from Omaha and Chicago told of the safe and happy
flight of the eastward travellers, and soon the letters began to come.
"What do you think?" wrote both the younger girls, "who do you suppose
was at Chicago to meet us but Mr. Holmes?"

"All's well that ends well!" quoth Mr. Hatton, one evening soon after,
as he blew a cloud of "Lynchburg sun-cured" tobacco-smoke across the
top of the old Argand and tossed McLean a Cheyenne paper. "Celestine
has gone to the penitentiary, and here's the sentence of the court in
the case of Marsland and Parsons,--five years apiece." "All's well that
ends well!" for those were glad and hopeful and happy hearts, as the
long, long winter wore away and another May-day came around; and the
sunshine danced on the snow crests of the grand old peak; and the
foaming Laramie again tossed high its brawling surges; and the south
wind swept away the few remaining drifts, searching them out in the
depths of the bare ravines and bringing to light tender little tufts of
green--the baby buffalo-grass: and one day there came a wild surprise,
and the ladies swarmed to Mrs. Miller's for confirmation of the news
that went from lip to lip,--the news that "her Majesty" had indeed at
last surrendered, and that Roswell Holmes had wooed and won "The Queen
of Bedlam."


THE END.





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