A DAUGHTER OF THE SIOUX
A Tale of the Indian Frontier
BY GENERAL CHARLES KING
AUTHOR OF "THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER," "FORT FRAYNE," "AN ARMY WIFE," ETC., ETC.
"He is bred out of that bloody strain That haunted us in our familiar paths." King Henry V.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY FREDERIC REMINGTON and EDWIN WILLARD DEMING
NEW YORK THE HOBART COMPANY 1903
COPYRIGHT, 1902, BY THE HOBART COMPANY.
A Daughter of the Sioux Published March 15, 1903
* * * * *
ABSENT FROM DUTY,
A NIGHT ENCOUNTER,
THE SIGN OF THE BAR SHOE,
A GRAVE DISCOVERY,
FIRST SIGHT OF THE FOE,
BLOOD WILL TELL,
MORE STRANGE DISCOVERIES,
BAD NEWS FROM THE FRONT,
"I'LL NEVER GO BACK,"
A FIGHT WITH A FURY,
THE ORDEAL BY FIRE,
WOUNDED—BODY AND SOUL,
A VANISHED HEROINE,
A WOMAN'S PLOT,
NIGHT PROWLING AT FRAYNE,
A RIFLED DESK,
BURGLARY AT BLAKE'S,
A SLAP FOR THE MAJOR,
THE SIOUX SURROUNDED,
THANKSGIVING AT FRAYNE,
BEHIND THE BARS,
A SOLDIER ENTANGLED,
THE DEATH SONG OF THE SIOUX,
* * * * *
"THE MAJOR SOUGHT TO BLOCK THAT MORNING'S RIDE IN VAIN"
"THE SOLDIER LEAPED FROM HIS SADDLE"
"WITH ONE MAGNIFICENT RED ARM UPLIFTED"
"SOME FEW OF THEIR NUMBER BORNE AWAY BY THEIR COMRADES"
"CHARGE WITH ME THE MOMENT THE LEADERS YELL"
"HUSH! SHE'S COMING"—SHE WAS THERE
* * * * *
A DAUGHTER OF THE SIOUX
The major commanding looked up from the morning report and surveyed the post adjutant with something of perturbation, if not annoyance, in his grim, gray eyes. For the fourth time that week had Lieutenant Field requested permission to be absent for several hours. The major knew just why the junior wished to go and where. The major knew just why he wished him not to go, but saw fit to name almost any other than the real reason when, with a certain awkward hesitancy he began:
"W—ell, is the post return ready?"
"It will be, sir, in abundant time," was the prompt reply.
"You know they sent it back for correction last month," hazarded the commander.
"And you know, sir, the error was not mine," was the instant rejoinder, so quick, sharp and positive as to carry it at a bound to the verge of disrespect, and the keen, blue eyes of the young soldier gazed, frank and fearless, into the heavily ambushed grays of the veteran in the chair. It made the latter wince and stir uneasily.
"If there's one thing I hate, Field, it is to have my papers sent back by some whipsnapper of a clerk, inviting attention to this or that error, and I expect my adjutant to see to it that they don't."
"Your adjutant does see to it, sir. I'm willing to bet a month's pay fewer errors have been found in the papers of Fort Frayne than any post in the Department of the Platte. General Williams told you as much when you were in Omaha."
The major fairly wriggled in his cane-bottomed whirligig. What young Field said was true, and the major knew it. He knew, moreover, there wasn't a more painstaking post adjutant from the Missouri to the mountains. He knew their monthly reports—"returns" as the regulations call them—were referred to by a model adjutant general as model papers. He knew it was due to young Field's care and attention, and he knew he thought all the world of that young gentleman. It was just because he thought so much of him he was beginning to feel that it was high time to put a stop to something that was going on. But, it was a delicate matter; a woman was the matter; and he hadn't the moral courage to go at it the straightforward way. He "whip sawed" again. Thrumming on the desk with his lean, bony fingers he began:—
"If I let my adjutant out so much, what's to prevent other youngsters asking similar indulgence?"
The answer came like the crack of a whip:—
"Nothing, sir; and far better would it be for everybody concerned if they spent more hours in the saddle and fewer at the store."
This was too much for the one listener in the room. With something like the sound of a suppressed sneeze, a tall, long-legged captain of cavalry started up from his chair, an outspread newspaper still full-stretched between him and the desk of the commander, and, thus hidden as to his face, sidled sniggering off to the nearest window. Young Field had fearlessly, if not almost impudently, hit the nail on the head, and metaphorically rapped the thrumming fingers of his superior officer. Some commanders would have raged and sent the daring youngster right about in arrest. Major Webb knew just what Field referred to,—knew that the fascinations of pool, "pitch" and poker held just about half his commissioned force at all "off duty" hours of the day or night hanging about the officers' club room at the post trader's; knew, moreover, that while the adjutant never wasted a moment over cards or billiards, he, the post commander, had many a time taken a hand or a cue and wagered his dollars against those of his devoted associates. They all loved him. There wasn't "a mean streak in his whole system," said every soldier at Fort Frayne. He had a capital record as a volunteer—a colonel and, later, brigade commander in the great war. He had the brevet of brigadier general of volunteers, but repudiated any title beyond that of his actual rank in the regulars. He was that rara avis—a bachelor field officer, and a bird to be brought down if feminine witchery could do it. He was truthful, generous, high-minded, brave—a man who preferred to be of and with his subordinates rather than above them—to rule through affection and regard rather than the stern standard of command. He was gentle and courteous alike to officers and the rank and file, though he feared no man on the face of the globe. He was awkward, bungling and overwhelmingly, lavishly, kind and thoughtful in his dealings with the womenfolk of the garrison, for he stood in awe of the entire sisterhood. He could ride like a centaur; he couldn't dance worth a cent. He could snuff a candle with his Colt at twenty paces and couldn't hit a croquet ball to save his soul. His deep-set gray eyes, under their tangled thatch of brown, gazed straight into the face of every man on the Platte, soldier, cowboy, Indian or halfbreed, but fell abashed if a laundress looked at him. Billy Ray, captain of the sorrel troop and the best light rider in Wyoming, was the only man he ever allowed to straddle a beautiful thoroughbred mare he had bought in Kentucky, but, bad hands or good, there wasn't a riding woman at Frayne who hadn't backed Lorna time and again, because to a woman the major simply couldn't say no.
And though his favorite comrades at the post were captains like Blake and Billy Ray, married men both whose wives he worshipped, the major's rugged heart went out especially to Beverly Field, his boy adjutant, a lad who came to them from West Point only three years before the autumn this story opens, a young fellow full of high health, pluck and principle—a tip top soldier, said everybody from the start, until, as Gregg and other growlers began to declaim, the major completely spoiled him. Here, three years only out of military leadingstrings, he was a young cock of the walk, "too dam' independent for a second lieutenant," said the officers' club element of the command, men like Gregg, Wilkins, Crane and a few of their following. "The keenest young trooper in the regiment," said Blake and Ray, who were among its keenest captains, and never a cloud had sailed across the serene sky of their friendship and esteem until this glorious September of 188-, when Nanette Flower, a brilliant, beautiful brunette came a visitor to old Fort Frayne.
And it was on her account the major would, could he have seen the way, said no to the adjutant's request to be absent again. On her account and that of one other, for that request meant another long morning in saddle with Miss Flower, another long morning in which "the sweetest girl in the garrison," so said they all, would go about her daily duties with an aching heart. There was no woman at Fort Frayne who did not know that Esther Dade thought all the world of Beverly Field. There was only one man who apparently had no inkling of it—Beverly Field himself.
She was the only daughter of a veteran officer, a captain of infantry, who at the age of fifty, after having held a high command in the volunteers during the civil war, was still meekly doing duty as a company officer of regulars nearly two decades after. She had been carefully reared by a most loving and thoughtful mother, even in the crude old days of the army, when its fighting force was scattered in small detachments all over the wide frontier, and men, and women, too, lived on soldier rations, eked out with game, and dwelt in tents or ramshackle, one-storied huts, "built by the labor of troops." At twelve she had been placed at school in the far East, while her father enjoyed a two years' tour on recruiting service, and there, under the care of a noble woman who taught her girls to be women indeed—not vapid votaries of pleasure and fashion, Esther spent five useful years, coming back to her fond father's soldier roof a winsome picture of girlish health and grace and comeliness—a girl who could ride, walk and run if need be, who could bake and cook, mend and sew, cut, fashion and make her own simple wardrobe; who knew algebra, geometry and "trig" quite as well as, and history, geography and grammar far better than, most of the young West Pointers; a girl who spoke her own tongue with accuracy and was not badly versed in French; a girl who performed fairly well on the piano and guitar, but who sang full-throated, rejoiceful, exulting like the lark—the soulful music that brought delight to her ageing father, half crippled by the wounds of the war days, and to the mother who so devotedly loved and carefully planned for her. Within a month from her graduation at Madame Piatt's she had become the darling of Fort Frayne, the pet of many a household, the treasure of her own. With other young gallants of the garrison, Beverly Field had been prompt to call, prompt to be her escort when dance or drive, ride or picnic was planned in her honor, especially the ride, for Mr. Adjutant Field loved the saddle, the open prairie or the bold, undulating bluffs. But Field was the busiest man at the post. Other youngsters, troop or company subalterns, had far more time at their disposal, and begged for rides and dances, strolls and sports which the post adjutant was generally far too busy to claim. It was Esther who brought lawn tennis to Frayne and found eager pupils of both sexes, but Field had been the first to meet and welcome her; had been for a brief time at the start her most constant cavalier. Then, as others began to feel the charm of her frank, cordial, joyous manner, and learned to read the beauty that beamed in her clear, truthful eyes and winsome, yet not beautiful face, they became assiduous in turn,—two of them almost distressingly so,—and she could not wound them by refusals. Then came a fortnight in which her father sat as a member of a court-martial down at old Fort Laramie, where were the band, headquarters and four troops of the ——th, and Captain and Mrs. Freeman, who were there stationed, begged that Mrs. Dade and Esther should come and visit them during the session of the court. There would be all manner of army gaieties and a crowd of outside officers, and, as luck would have it, Mr. Field was ordered thither as a witness in two important cases. The captain and his good wife went by stage; Esther and Beverly rode every inch of the way in saddle, camping over night with their joyous little party at La Bonte. Then came a lovely week at Laramie, during which Mr. Field had little to do but devote himself to, and dance with, Esther, and when his final testimony was given and he returned to his station, and not until then, Esther Dade discovered that life had little interest or joy without him; but Field rode back unknowing, and met at Frayne, before Esther Dade's return, a girl who had come almost unheralded, making the journey over the Medicine Bow from Rock Springs on the Union Pacific in the comfortable carriage of old Bill Hay, the post trader, escorted by that redoubtable woman, Mrs. Bill Hay, and within the week of her arrival Nanette Flower was the toast of the bachelors' mess, the talk of every household at Fort Frayne.
And well she might be. Dark and lustrous were her eyes; black, luxuriant and lustrous was her hair; dark, rich and lustrous her radiant beauty. In contour her face was well nigh faultless. It might have been called beautiful indeed but for the lips, or something about the mouth, that in repose had not a soft or winsome line, but then it was never apparently in repose. Smiles, sunshine, animation, rippling laughter, flashing, even, white teeth—these were what one noted when in talk with Miss Flower. There was something actually radiant, almost dazzling, about her face. Her figure, though petite, was exquisite, and women marked with keen appreciation, if not envy, the style and finish of her varied and various gowns. Six trunks, said Bill Hay's boss teamster, had been trundled over the range from Rawlins, not to mention a box containing her little ladyship's beautiful English side-saddle, Melton bridle and other equine impedimenta. Did Miss Flower like to ride? She adored it, and Bill Hay had a bay half thoroughbred that could discount the major's mare 'cross country. All Frayne was out to see her start for her first ride with Beverly Field, and all Frayne reluctantly agreed that sweet Essie Dade could never sit a horse over ditch or hurdle with the superb grace and unconcern displayed by the daring, dashing girl who had so suddenly become the centre of garrison interest. For the first time in her life Mrs. Bill Hay knew what it was to hold the undivided attention of army society, for every woman at Fort Frayne was wild to know all about the beautiful newcomer, and only one could tell.
Hay, the trader, had prospered in his long years on the frontier, first as trader among the Sioux, later as sutler, and finally, when Congress abolished that title, substituting therefore the euphemism, without material clog upon the perquisites, as post trader at Fort Frayne. No one knew how much he was worth, for while apparently a most open-hearted, whole-souled fellow, Hay was reticence itself when his fortunes or his family were matters of question or comment. He had long been married, and Mrs. Hay, when at the post, was a social sphinx,—kind-hearted, charitable, lavish to the soldiers' wives and children, and devotion itself to the families of the officers when sickness and trouble came, as come in the old days they too often did. It was she who took poor Ned Robinson's young widow and infant all the way to Cheyenne when the Sioux butchered the luckless little hunting party down by Laramie Peak. It was she who nursed Captain Forrest's wife and daughter through ten weeks of typhoid, and, with her own means, sent them to the seashore, while the husband and father was far up on the Yellowstone, cut off from all communication in the big campaign of '76. It was she who built the little chapel and decked and dressed it for Easter and Christmas, despite the fact that she herself had been baptized in the Roman Catholic faith. It was she who went at once to every woman in the garrison whose husband was ordered out on scout or campaign, proffering aid and comfort, despite the fact long whispered in the garrisons of the Platte country, that in the old, old days she had far more friends among the red men than the white. That could well be, because in those days white men were few and far between. Every one had heard the story that it was through her the news of the massacre at Fort Phil Kearny was made known to the post commander, for she could speak the dialects of both the Arapahoe and the Sioux, and had the sign language of the Plains veritably at her fingers' ends. There were not lacking those who declared that Indian blood ran in her veins—that her mother was an Ogalalla squaw and her father a French Canadian fur trapper, a story to which her raven black hair and brows, her deep, dark eyes and somewhat swarthy complexion gave no little color. But, long years before, Bill Hay had taken her East, where he had relatives, and where she studied under excellent masters, returning to him summer after summer with more and more of refinement in manner, and so much of style and fashion in dress that her annual advent had come to be looked upon as quite the event of the season, even by women of the social position of Mrs. Ray and Mrs. Blake, the recognized leaders among the young matrons of the ——th Cavalry, and by gentle Mrs. Dade, to whom every one looked up in respect,—almost in reverence. Despite the mystery about her antecedents there was every reason why Mrs. Hay should be held in esteem and affection. Bill Hay himself was a diamond in the rough,—square, sturdy, uncompromising, generous and hospitable; his great pride and glory was his wife; his one great sorrow that their only child had died almost in infancy. His solecisms in syntax and society were many. He was given at times to profanity, and at others, when madame was away, to draw poker; but officers and men alike proclaimed him a man of mettle and never hesitated to go to him when in financial straits, sure of unusurious aid. But, even had this not been the case, the popularity of his betterhalf would have carried him through, for there was hardly a woman at Frayne to speak of her except in terms of genuine respect. Mrs. Hay was truth telling, sympathetic, a peacemaker, a resolute opponent of gossip and scandal of every kind, a woman who minded her own business and was only mildly insistent that others should do likewise. She declined all overtures leading to confidences as to her past, and demanded recognition only upon the standard of the present, which was unimpeachable.
All the same it came something like a shock to society at Frayne that, when she appeared at the post this beautiful autumn of 188-, nearly three months later than the usual time, she should be accompanied by this brilliant and beautiful girl of whom no one of their number had previously heard, and whom she smilingly, confidently presented as, "My niece, Miss Flower."
There was a dance the night the Dades got home from Laramie. Nearly all day long had they driven in the open buckboard over the rough, winding road along the Platte, and Mrs. Dade was far too tired to think of going, but Esther was so eager that her father put aside his precious paper, tucked her under his arm and trudged cheerily away across the parade toward the bright lights of the hop room. They had a fairly good string orchestra at Frayne that year, and one of Strauss's most witching waltzes—"Sounds from the Vienna Woods"—had just been begun as father and daughter entered. A dozen people, men and women both, saw them and noted what followed. With bright, almost dilated, eyes, and a sweet, warm color mantling her smiling face, Esther stood gazing about the room, nodding blithely as she caught the glance of many a friend, yet obviously searching for still another. Then of a sudden they saw the bonny face light up with joy uncontrollable, for Mr. Field came bounding in at the side door, opening from the veranda of the adjutant's office. He saw her; smiled joyous greeting as he came swiftly toward her; then stopped short as a girl in black grenadine dropped the arm of her cavalier, the officer with whom she was promenading, and without a moment's hesitation, placed her left hand, fan-bearing, close to the shoulder knot on his stalwart right arm, her black-gloved right in his white-kidded left, and instantly they went gliding away together, he nodding half in whimsical apology, half in merriment, over the black spangled shoulder, and the roseate light died slowly from the sweet, smiling face—the smile itself seemed slowly freezing—as the still dilated eyes followed the graceful movements of the couple, slowly, harmoniously winding and reversing about the waxen floor. Even at the Point she had never seen more beautiful dancing. Even when her stanchest friend, Mrs. Blake, pounced upon her with fond, anxious, welcoming words, and Mrs. Ray, seeing it all, broke from her partner's encircling arm, and sped to add her greeting, the child could hardly regain self-control, and one loving-hearted woman cried herself to sleep that night for the woe that had come into the soft and tender eyes which had first beamed with joy at sight of Beverly Field, then filled with sudden dread immeasurable.
But the major sought to block that morning ride in vain. The impetuous will of the younger soldier prevailed, as he might have known it would, and from the rear gallery of his quarters, with his strong fieldglass, Major Webb watched the pair fording the Platte far up beyond Pyramid Butte. "Going over to that damned Sioux village again," he swore between his set teeth. "That makes the third time she's headed him there this week," and with strange annoyance at heart he turned away to seek comfort in council with his stanch henchman, Captain Ray, when the orderly came bounding up the steps with a telegraphic despatch which the major opened, read, turned a shade grayer and whistled low.
"My compliments to Captains Blake and Ray," said he, to the silent young soldier, standing attention at the doorstep, "and say I should be glad to see them here at once."
That night the sentries had just called off half past one when there was some commotion at the guard-house. A courier had ridden in post haste from the outlying station of Fort Beecher, far up under the lee of the Big Horn range. The corporal of the guard took charge of his reeking horse, while the sergeant led the messenger to the commander's quarters. The major was already awake and half dressed. "Call the adjutant," was all he said, on reading the despatch, and the sergeant sped away. In less than five minutes he was back.
"I could get no answer to my knock or ring, sir, so I searched the house. The adjutant isn't there!"
ABSENT FROM DUTY
For a moment the major stood in silence; then, briefly saying, "Call Captain Ray," turned again to the dimly lighted hallway of his commodious quarters, (the women thought it such a shame there should be no "lady of the house" for the largest and finest of the long line known as "Officers' Row") while the sergeant of the guard scurried away to the soldier home of the senior cavalry captain on duty at the post. When the major again came forth his field glasses were in his hand and he had hurried down the steps and out into the broad sheen of the moonlight when he caught sight of the courier seated on the horseblock at the gate, wearily leaning his head upon his gauntleted hand. Webb stopped short:
"Come right in here, my lad," he cried, "I want to speak with you," and, followed slowly by the soldier, he entered his parlor, and whirled an easy chair in front of the open fireplace. "Sit right down there now, and I'll be with you in a minute," he added; bustled into the rear room and presently reappeared with a decanter and glass; poured out a stiff tot of Monongahela; "A little water?" he asked, as the trooper's eye brightened gratefully. A little water was added and off came the right hand gauntlet. "I drink the major's health and long life to him," said the soldier, gulping down the fluid without so much as a wink. Then, true to his training, set down the glass and stood strictly at attention.
"You've had nothing to eat since yesterday morning, I'll be bound," said Webb. "Now, I've got to see some of my officers at once. You make yourself at home here. You'll find cold beef, bread, cheese, pickles, milk, if you care for it, and pie right there in the pantry. Take the lamp in with you and help yourself. If you want another nip, there's the decanter. You've made splendid time. Did you meet no Indians?"
"Not one, sir, but I saw smokes at sunset out toward Eagle Butte."
"Your name—I see you belong to Captain Truscott's troop."
"Kennedy, sir; and I thank the major."
"Then I'll leave you in charge until you've had your fill," said the commander. "Then go over to 'F' Troop's quarters and get a bed. Tell anybody who comes I've gone to the flagstaff." With that the major stalked from the room, followed by the Irishman's adoring eyes. A moment later he stood by the tall white staff at the edge of the northward bluff, at whose feet the river swept by in musical murmurings. There he quickly focussed his glass, and gazed away westward up the Platte to where but the evening before a score of Indian lodges dotted the other bank, perhaps two miles away. The September moon was at its full and, in that rare, cloudless atmosphere, flooding the valley with its soft, silvery light so that close at hand, within the limits of the garrison, every object could be almost as distinctly seen as in broad day-light, but, farther away, over the lowlands and the river bottom and the rolling prairie stretching to the northern horizon, the cottonwoods along the stream or in the distant swales made only black blotches against the vague, colorless surface, and the bold bluffs beyond the reservation limits south of the flashing waters, the sharp, sawlike edge of the distant mountain range that barred the way to the west, even the cleancut outlines of Eagle Butte, the landmark of the northward prairie, visible for fifty miles by day, were now all veiled in some intangible filament that screened them from the soldier's searching gaze. Later in the season, on such a night, their crests would gleam with radiance almost intolerable, the glistening sheen of their spotless crown of snow. All over this broad expanse of upland prairie and wooded river bed and boldly undulating bluff line not so much as a spark of fire peeped through the wing of night to tell the presence of human wayfarer, white, halfbreed or Indian, even where the Sioux had swarmed, perhaps two hundred strong, at sunset of the day gone by.
Close at hand, northernmost of the brown line, was the double set of quarters occupied by Captains Blake and Ray, the latter, as senior, having chosen the half nearest the bluff because of the encircling veranda and the fine, far-extending view. A bright light gleamed now behind the blinds of the corner room of the second floor, telling that the captain was up and dressing in answer to the commander's summons, but all the rest of the dozen houses were black, save where at the middle of the row a faint glow came from the open doorway at the commanding officer's. Across the broad level of the parade were the long, low barracks of the troops, six in number, gable-ending east and west. Closing the quadrangle on the south were the headquarters buildings and the assembly room, the offices of the adjutant and quartermaster, the commissary and quartermaster's storehouses, etc. At the southwest angle stood the guard-house, where oil lamps, backed by their reflectors of polished tin, sent brilliant beams of light athwart the roadway. Beyond these low buildings the black bulk of the Medicine Bow Mountains, only a dozen miles away, tumbled confusedly against the sparkling sky. All spoke of peace, security, repose, for even in the flats under the westward bluff, where lay the wide extended corrals, hay and wood yards and the stables, not one of the myriad dogs that hung about the post was lifting up his voice to bay the autumn moon. Even those easily-started night trumpeters, the big Missouri mules, sprawled about their roomy, sand-floored stables and drowsed in placid comfort, wearied with their musical efforts of the earlier hours of the night and gathering impetus for the sonorous braying with which they should presently salute the dawn.
Beyond the guard-house, at the edge of the plateau overlooking the westward flats, but invisible from the flagstaff bluff, stood the big wooden edifice known as the store, with its card and billiard room for the officers on the southern side, another for the enlisted men upon the northern, the bar and general merchandise establishment compressed between them. Southward, farther still, surrounded by crude greenhouses abounding in potted plants and beds of vine and vegetables, was the big and somewhat pretentious house of the post trader himself, his own stables and corral being half way down the slope and well away from those of the garrison. "Out of sight," muttered Webb, "but by no means out of mind," for it was safe to say the thoughts of more than half the men and women making up the social element of Fort Frayne had been centering within the last few days beneath the roof that gave shelter to that brilliant, fascinating beauty Nanette Flower.
Ten days a denizen of the fort, it seemed as though she had been there as many weeks, so completely had she accepted the situation and possessed herself of the ins and outs of garrison life. The women had called, of course, and gone away filled with unwilling admiration, for the girl's gowns and graces were undeniable. The married men, as was the army way, had called with their wives on the occasion of the first visit. The bachelors, from Webb down to the junior subaltern, had called in little squads at first; afterwards, except the major, they sought to see Miss Flower when other fellows were not present. Even Hartley and Donovan, the two whose devotions to Esther Dade had been carried to the verge of oppression, and who were on terms of distant civility only when compelled to appear together in the presence of women or their other superiors, had been moved to more than one visit at the Hays', but Hartley speedily returned to his undesired siege at the quarters of Captain Dade, while Donovan joined forces with two other youngsters, Bruce and Putney, because it gave them comfort to bother Field; who, being the adjutant, and a very busy man, could visit only at certain hours of the day or evening. Now, it had become apparent to the boys that despite her general attitude of cordiality their attentions were not what Mrs. Hay so much desired as those of the major commanding. Twice had he been invited to dine within the week of Nanette's coming. Once he accepted. The second time he begged off on plea of a previous engagement, subsequently made, to go shooting with Blake. It was the bachelor heart and home of Major Webb to which Mrs. Hay would have laid vicarious siege, small blame to her, for that indomitable cross-examiner, Mrs. Wilkins, wife and manager of the veteran ranker now serving as post quartermaster, had wormed out of Mrs. Hay the admission that Nanette had no fortune. She was the only daughter of a half brother, very dear to Mrs. Hay, whom she had lost, she said, long years before. To do her justice, it was quite apparent that Miss Flower was no party to the plan, for, though she beamed on Webb as she did on all, she frankly showed her preference for the younger officers who could dance as well as ride, and either dancing or riding was her glory. She danced like a sylph; she seemed to float about the room as though on air; she rode superbly, and shirked no leap that even Ray and Field took with lowered hands and close gripping knees. She was joyous, laughing, radiant with all the officers, and fairly glowed with cordiality for all the women. But it speedily developed that she would rather dance with Field than any of the others, probably because he was by far the best waltzer, and to ride with him, because, Ray excepted, there was none to excel him in the saddle. Ten days had she been at Frayne and within that time had become as thoroughly at ease and home as though it had been her abiding place since babyhood. It was plain to see that big Bill Hay almost worshipped this lovely protegee of the wife he more than worshipped. It was plain to see that Webb uneasily held aloof, as though fearful of singeing his shrivelling wings. It was plain to see that the hitherto indomitable Mrs. Wilkins was puzzled. It was not so plain to see that there were two women at the post on whom Miss Flower's charms made slight impression—Mesdames Blake and Ray—two wise young matrons who were known to have few secrets from each other and no intimacies—or rather no confidences—with any other woman at Fort Frayne—Mrs. Dade possibly excepted.
But what they thought, their liege lords stood ready to swear to; and it was to them Webb turned in his perplexity when it became apparent that his young adjutant was ensnared. It was to Ray he promptly opened his heart, as that veteran of a dozen Indian campaigns, then drawing his fourth "fogy," came hastening out to join the commander.
"Here's confirmation of the telegram. Read that, Ray," said Webb, handing him the despatch from Fort Beecher. "Then come with me to Field's. He's missing."
"Missing!" cried Ray, in consternation, as he hurriedly opened the page. "In God's name what do you mean?"
"I mean he isn't in quarters and hasn't been in bed to-night. Now I need him—and it's two o'clock."
Even as he spoke the voice of the sentry at the guard-house rang out the watch call through the still and sparkling night. It was taken up by Number Two back of the storehouses, and his "All's well" was still echoing among the foothills, prolonged and powerful, when Number Three, down at the quartermaster's corral, began his soldier song; and so, alert, cheery, reassuring, the sentries sent their deep-voiced assurance on its unbroken round to the waking guardian at the southwest angle, and as his final "A-a-a-ll's W-e-ell" went rolling away over bluff and stream and prairie, Ray lifted a grave and anxious face from the fateful paper.
"Lame Wolf out? That's bad in itself! He's old Red Cloud's nephew and a brute at best. Stabber's people there yet?" he suddenly asked, whirling on his heel and gazing westward.
"Can't make out even with my glasses. All dark as pitch among the cottonwoods, but Kennedy, who made the ride, says he saw smokes back of Eagle Butte just before sunset."
"Then you can bet they won't be there at dawn—the warriors at least. Of course the women, the kids and old men will stay if only for a blind. He had forty fighting men, and Wolf's got at least two hundred. What started the row?"
"The arrest of those two young bucks on charge of killing Finn, the sheep herder, on the Piney last week. I don't believe the Sioux began it. There's a bad lot among those damned rustlers," said Webb, snapping the glass into its well-worn case. "But no matter who starts, we have to finish it. Old Plodder is worried and wants help. Reckon I'll have to send you, Ray."
"Ready whenever you say, sir," was the prompt and soldierly reply. Even marriage had not taken the edge from Ray's keen zest for campaigning. "Shall I have out my sergeant and cooks at once? We'll need to take rations."
"Yes, but wait with me till I wire the chief at Laramie. Come to the office." So saying the post commander turned and strode away. The captain glanced at the upper window where the light now dimly burned, but blind and window were open, and a woman's form appeared.
"It's all right, Maidie," called the captain, softly. "May have to start out on scout at daybreak. That's all. Home soon," and with a reassuring wave of the hand, turned again to his stanch friend and commander.
"I hate to send you—again," said Webb. "You were out in June, and the others have had only short scouts since—"
"Don't bother. What's a cavalryman for? Shall we?—I—can't believe it—some how," and Ray stopped, glanced inquiringly at the major, and then nodded toward the doorway of the third house on the row. The ground floor was occupied by Field as his quarters, the up-stair rooms by Putney and Ross.
"Come in," said the major, briefly, and, pushing through the gate they softly entered the dark hallway and struck a light in the front room. A wood fire was smouldering on the andirons in the wide brick chimney place. An open book, face downward, was on the centre table. Two embroidered slippers lay as though hurriedly kicked off, one under the sofa beyond the mantelpiece, the other half way across the worn carpet. Striking another match at the doorway, Ray passed on to the little inner room,—the bed chamber. On the bed, carelessly thrown, were the young officer's best and newest forage cap, undress uniform coat and trousers. He had used them during the evening when calling at the Hays'. On the floor were the enamelled leather buttoned boots he wore on such occasions. The bed was otherwise untouched. Other boots and shoes in orderly row stood against the wall beside the plain, unpainted wardrobe. The spurred riding boots and the knee-tight breeches were gone. Turning back to the front room, Ray found the major, his face gray and disturbed, holding forth to him an open envelope. Ray took it and glanced at the superscription. "Lieutenant Beverly Field, Fort Frayne," and returned it without a word. Both knew the strange, angular, slashing hand-writing at a glance, for both had seen and remarked it before. It was Nanette Flower's.
Dropping the envelope on the table—he had found it on the floor—Webb led the way to the open air. There was then no time to compare views. There stood the sergeant.
"Sir," said he, with a snap of the gloved left hand at the brown tube nestling in the hollow of the shoulder, "Number Five reports that he has heard galloping hoofbeats up the bench twice in the last half hour, and thought he saw distant horsemen,—three;—couldn't say whether they were Indians or cowboys."
"Very good, sergeant," was the major's brief answer. "Send for the telegraph operator and my orderly."
The sergeant turned.
"One moment," called Ray,—"your pardon, Major—My first sergeant, too, and—sergeant, have any sentries reported horses taken out from the stables to-night?"
"Not one, sir," and, stanch and sturdy, the commander of the guard stood ready to vouch for his men.
A quick salute, a face to the right about and the sergeant was gone. Webb turned and looked inquiringly at Ray.
"I asked, sir," was that officer's brief explanation, "because wherever Field has gone he wore riding dress."
A NIGHT ENCOUNTER
Comforted by abundant food, refreshed and stimulated by more than two or three enthusiastic toasts to the health of the major the men so loved, Trooper Kennedy, like a born dragoon and son of the ould sod, bethought him of the gallant bay that had borne him bravely and with hardly a halt all the long way from Beecher to Frayne. The field telegraph had indeed been stretched, but it afforded more fun for the Sioux than aid to the outlying posts on the Powder and Little Horn, for it was down ten days out of twelve. Plodder, lieutenant colonel of infantry commanding at Beecher, had been badly worried by the ugly demonstrations of the Indians for ten days past. He was forever seeing in mind's eye the hideous details of the massacre at Fort Phil Kearny, a few miles further on around the shoulder of the mountains, planned and carried out by Red Cloud with such dreadful success in '67. Plodder had strong men at his back, whom even hordes of painted Sioux could never stampede, but they were few in number, and there were those ever present helpless, dependent women and children. His call for aid was natural enough, and his choice of Kennedy, daring, dashing lad who had learned to ride in Galway, was the best that could be made. No peril could daunt the light-hearted fellow, already proud wearer of the medal of honor; but, duty done, it was Kennedy's creed that the soldier merited reward and relaxation. If he went to bed at "F" Troop's barracks there would be no more cakes and ale, no more of the major's good grub and rye. If he went down to look after the gallant steed he loved—saw to it that Kilmaine was rubbed down, bedded, given abundant hay and later water—sure then, with clear conscience, he could accept the major's "bid," and call again on his bedward way and toast the major to his Irish heart's and stomach's content. Full of pluck and fight and enthusiasm, and only quarter full, he would insist, of rye, was Kennedy as he strode whistling down the well-remembered road to the flats, for he, with Captain Truscott's famous troop, had served some months at Frayne before launching forth to Indian story land in the shadows of the Big Horn range. Kennedy, in fact, essayed to sing when once out of earshot of the guard-house, and singing, he strolled on past the fork of the winding road where he should have turned to his right, and in the fulness of his heart went striding southward down the slope, past the once familiar haunt the store, now dark and deserted, past the big house of the post trader, past the trader's roomy stables and corral, and so wended his moonlit way along the Rawlins trail, never noting until he had chanted over half a mile and most of the songs he knew, that Frayne was well behind him and the rise to the Medicine Bow in front. Then Kennedy began to laugh and call himself names, and then, as he turned about to retrace his steps by a short cut over the bottom, he was presently surprised, but in no wise disconcerted, to find himself face to face with a painted Sioux. There by the path side, cropping the dewy grass, was the trained pony. Here, lounging by the trail, the thick black braids of his hair interlaced with beads, the quill gorget heaving at his massive throat; the heavy blanket slung negligently, gracefully about his stalwart form; his nether limbs and feet in embroidered buckskin, his long-lashed quirt in hand; here stood, almost confronting him, as fine a specimen of the warrior of the Plains as it had ever been Trooper Kennedy's lot to see, and see them he had—many a time and oft.
In that incomparable tale, "My Lord the Elephant," the great Mulvaney comes opportunely upon a bottle of whiskey and a goblet of water. "The first and second dhrink I didn't taste," said he, "bein' dhry, but the fourth and fifth took hould, an' I began to think scornful of elephants." At no time stood Kennedy in awe of a Sioux. At this time he held him only in contempt.
"How, John," said he, with an Irishman's easy insolence, "Lookin' for a chance to steal somethin'—is it?" And then Kennedy was both amazed and enraptured at the prompt reply in the fervent English of the far frontier.
"Go to hell, you pock-marked son-of-a-scut! Where'd you steal your whiskey?"
For five seconds Kennedy thought he was dreaming. Then, convinced that he was awake, an Irishman scorned and insulted, he dashed in to the attack. Both fists shot out from the brawny shoulders; both missed the agile dodger; then off went the blanket, and with two lean, red, sinewy arms the Sioux had "locked his foeman round," and the two were straining and swaying in a magnificent grapple. At arms' length Pat could easily have had the best of it, for the Indian never boxes; but, in a bear hug and a wrestle, all chances favored the Sioux. Cursing and straining, honors even on both for a while, Connaught and wild Wyoming strove for the mastery. Whiskey is a wonderful starter but a mighty poor stayer of a fight. Kennedy loosed his grip from time to time to batter wildly with his clinched fists at such sections of Sioux anatomy as he could reach; but, at range so close, his blows lacked both swing and steam, and fell harmless on sinewy back and lean, muscular flanks. Then he tried a Galway hitch and trip, but his lithe antagonist knew a trick worth ten of that. Kennedy tried many a time next day to satisfactorily account for it, but never with success. He found himself speedily on the broad of his back, gasping for breath with which to keep up his vocal defiance, staring up into the glaring, vengeful black eyes of his furious and triumphant foeman. And then in one sudden, awful moment he realized that the Indian was reaching for his knife. Another instant it gleamed aloft in the moonlight, and the poor lad shut his eyes against the swift and deadly blow. Curses changed to one wordless prayer to heaven for pity and help. He never saw the glittering blade go spinning through the air. Vaguely, faintly he heard a stern young voice ordering "Hold there!" then another, a silvery voice, crying something in a strange tongue, and was conscious that an unseen power had loosed the fearful grip on his throat; next, that, obedient to that same power,—one he dare not question,—the Indian was struggling slowly to his feet, and then for a few seconds Kennedy soared away into cloudland, knowing naught of what was going on about him. When he came to again, he heard a confused murmur of talk about him, and grew dimly aware that his late antagonist was standing over him, panting still and slightly swaying, and that an officer, a young athlete, was saying rebukeful words. Well he knew him, as what trooper of the ——th did not?—Lieutenant Beverly Field; but, seeing the reopened eyes it was the Indian again who sought to speak. With uplifted hand he turned from the rescuer to the rescued.
"You're saved this time, you cur of a Mick," were, expurgated of unprintable blasphemy, the exact words of the semi-savage lord of the frontier, "but by the God that made us both I'll get you before another moon, dash dash you, and when I do I'll cut out your blackguard heart and eat it." Then bounding on his pony, away he sped at mad gallop, westward.
For a moment no further word was spoken. The officer presently helped the soldier to his feet and stayed him, for the latter's legs seemed wobbly. Field let his salvage get its breath before asking questions. Yet he was puzzled, for the man's face was strange to him. "Who are you?" he asked, at length, "and what on earth are you doing out here this time of night?"
"Kennedy, sir. Captain Truscott's troop, at Fort Beecher. I got in with despatches an hour ago—"
"What!" cried Field. "Despatches! What did you do—"
"Gave 'em to the major, sir. Beg pardon; they was lookin' for the adjutant, sir, an' Sergeant Hogan said he wasn't home."
Even in the moonlight the Irishman saw the color fade from the young officer's face. The hand that stayed him dropped nerveless. With utter consternation in his big blue eyes, Field stood for a moment, stunned and silent. Then the need of instant action spurred him. "I must go—at once," he said. "You are all right now—You can get back? You've been drinking, haven't you?"
"The major's health, sir—just a sup or two."
"I've no time now to listen to how you came to be out here. I'll see you by and by." But still the young officer hesitated. One hand grasped the rein of his horse. He half turned to mount, then turned again. "Kennedy," he faltered, "you'd have been a dead man if we—if I—hadn't reached you at that moment."
"I know it, sir," burst in Pat, impetuously. "I'll never forget it—"
"Hush, Kennedy, you must forget—forget that you saw—spoke with me—forget that you saw or heard—any other soul on earth out here to-night. Can you promise?"
"I'll cut my tongue out before I ever spake the word that'll harm the lieutenant, or the—the—or any one he says, sir. But never will I forget! It ain't in me, sir."
"Let it go at that then. Here, shake hands, Kennedy. Now, good-night!" Another instant and Field was in saddle and speeding away toward the post where lights were now dancing about the quartermaster's corral, and firefly lamps were flitting down the slope toward the stables on the flats. Ray's men were already up and doing. Slowly, stiffly following, Pat Kennedy rubbed his aching head, with a hand that shook as never did his resolution. His bewildered brain was puzzling over a weighty problem. "The lieutenant's safe all right," he muttered, "but what's gone wid the squaw that was shoutin' Sioux at that murdherin' buck?"
Meantime all Fort Frayne had seemed to wake to life. No call had sounded on the trumpet. No voice had been raised, save the invariable call of the sentries, passing from post to post the half hours of the night; but the stir at the guard-house, the bustle over at the barracks, the swift footsteps of sergeants or orderlies on the plank walk or resounding wooden galleries, speedily roused first one sleeper, then another, and blinds began to fly open along the second floor fronts, and white-robed forms to appear at the windows, and inquiring voices, male and female, hailed the passerby with "What's the matter, sergeant?" and the answer was all sufficient to rouse the entire garrison.
"Captain Ray's troop ordered out, sir," or "ma'am," as the case might be. No need to add the well-worn cause of such night excursions—"Indians."
The office was brightly lighted, and there, sleepy-eyed and silent, were gathered many of the officers about their alert commander. Ray was down at his stables, passing judgment on the mounts. Only fifty were to go, the best half hundred in the sorrel troop, for it was to be a forced march. Neither horse nor man could be taken unless in prime condition, for a break down on part of either on the way meant delay to the entire command, or death by torture to the hapless trooper left behind. Small hope was there of a march made unobserved, for Stabber's band of Ogalallas had been for weeks encamped within plain view. Less hope was there of Stabber's holding aloof now that his brethren at the Big Horn had declared for war. He was a recalcitrant of the first magnitude, a sub-chief who had never missed the warpath when the Sioux were afield, or the consolation trip to Washington between times. Where Stabber went his young men followed unquestioning. It was a marvel that Kennedy had succeeded in getting through. It meant that the Indian runners, or the Indian smokes and signals, had not at once so covered the country with scouts that couriers could by no possibility slip between them. But now the signal fire was gleaming at Eagle Butte, and an answering blaze had flared from Stabber's camp. Invisible from Fort Frayne, they had both been seen by shrewd non-commissioned officers, sent scouting up the Platte by Major Webb within half an hour of the coming of the alarm.
"Ray will push ahead at once," said Webb, to his silent subordinates. "You see Colonel Plodder has only two troops up there, and he will need all his infantry to defend the post. I've wired to Laramie and to Department Headquarters, and further orders will come before noon. Let all the cavalry be ready. Then if we push out, Dade, we leave Fort Frayne to you. They'll hardly venture south of the Platte this time."
"Is—Mr. Field going with Captain Ray?" presently ventured young Ross, who knew Ray had but one subaltern for duty at the moment, and whose soul was burning with eagerness to accompany the first troop to take the field.
"No," said the major, shortly. "Captain Ray needs no more."
"I only asked because Field isn't here, and I thought—maybe—" stumbled Ross, ingloriously, but the mischief was done.
"Mr. Field is—busy," answered the major, still more shortly, then reddened to his bushy brows, for at the doorway, in riding dress, and with a face the color of parchment, stood the officer in question. It was a moment that threatened panic, but Webb met the crisis with marked aplomb.
"Oh, Field," he cried, "there's another matter. I want two good men to slip out at once and see how many of Stabber's people start or have started. It may be daybreak before they can tell. Sergeant Schreiber would be a tiptop man for one—and little Duffy. You 'tend to it."
And so, mercifully, he sent the lad away until the crowd should have dispersed. Only Blake and Ray were with him when, after awhile, Mr. Field returned and stood silently before them. Well he knew that the post commander could hardly overlook the absence of his adjutant at such a time.
"Have you anything to tell me, Field?" was the major's only query, his tone full of gentle yet grave reproach.
"I was restless. I could not sleep, sir. I went out—purposely."
"You know no horse can be taken from the stables at night except in presence of the sergeant or corporal of the guard."
"I took none, sir," was the answer, and now both faces were white. "I rode one of—Mr. Hay's."
For one moment there was no sound but the loud ticking of the big office clock. Then came the question.
"Who rode the others, Field? The sentries say they heard three."
There was another moment of silence. Ray stepped on tiptoe to the door as though he wanted not to hear. Blake looked blankly out of the window. Then the young soldier spoke.
"I—cannot tell you, sir."
For full ten seconds the post commander sat with grave, pallid face, looking straight into the eyes of his young staff officer. White as his senior, but with eyes as unflinching, Field returned the gaze. At last the major's voice was heard again, sad and constrained.
"Field, Captain Ray starts on a forced march at once for Fort Beecher. I—wish you to go with him."
THE SIGN OF THE BAR SHOE
Many a time has it happened in the old days of the old army that the post adjutant has begged to be allowed to go with some detachment sent after Indians. Rarely has it happened, however, that, without any request from the detachment commander or of his own, has the post adjutant been ordered to go. No one could say of Beverly Field that he had not abundantly availed himself of every opportunity for active service in the past. During his first two years with the regiment he had spent more than half the time in saddle and afield, scouting the trails of war parties or marauding bands, or watching over a peaceable tribe when on the annual hunt. Twice he had been out with Ray, which meant a liberal education in plainscraft and frontier duty. Twice twenty times, probably, had he said he would welcome a chance to go again with Captain Ray, and now the chance had come, so had the spoken order, and, so far from receiving it with rejoicing, it was more than apparent that he heard it with something like dismay.
But Webb was not the man to either explain or defend an order, even to a junior for whom he cherished such regard. Field felt instinctively that it was not because of a wish expressed in the past he was so suddenly bidden to take the field. Ray's senior subaltern, as has been said, was absent, being on duty at West Point, but his junior was on hand, and Ray really did not need, and probably had not applied for, the services of Mr. Field. It was all the major's doing, and all, reasoned he, because the major deemed it best that for the time being his young adjutant should be sent away from the post. Impulse prompted Field to ask wherein he had offended or failed. Reflection taught him, however, that he would be wise to ask no questions. It might well be that Webb knew more of what had happened during the night than he, Beverly Field, would care to have mentioned.
"You can be ready, can you not?" asked the major.
"I am ready now, sir," was the brief, firm reply, but the tone told unerringly that the lad resented and in heart rebelled at the detail. "To whom shall I turn over the post fund, sir?"
"I do not care to have you transfer funds or—anything, Field. This is but a temporary affair, one that will take you away perhaps a fortnight."
"I prefer that it should be permanent, sir," was the young officer's sudden interruption, and, though his eyes were blazing, he spoke with effort, his face still white with mingled sense of indignity and indignation.
"Gently, Mr. Field," said Webb, with unruffled calm, even while uplifting a hand in quiet warning. "We will consider that, if need be, on your return. Meantime, if you desire, I will receipt to you for the post fund or any other public money."
"That is the trouble, sir. The best I can do is give you an order for it. Post treasurers, as a rule, have not had to turn over their funds at four o'clock in the morning," which statement was true enough, however injudicious it might be to bruit it. Mild-mannered commanding officers sometimes amaze their subordinates by most unlooked for and unwelcome eruptiveness of speech when they feel that an unwarrantable liberty has been taken. Webb did not take fire. He turned icy.
"The quartermaster's safe can be opened at any moment, Mr. Field," said he, the blue gray eyes glittering, dangerously. "I presume your funds are there."
"It was because the quartermaster would not open it at any moment that I took them out and placed them elsewhere," hotly answered Field, and not until then did Webb remember that there had been quite a fiery talk, followed by hyperborean estrangement, between his two staff officers, and now, as the only government safe at the post was in the office of the quartermaster, and the only other one was Bill Hay's big "Phoenix" at the store, it dawned upon the major that it was there Mr. Field had stowed his packages of currency—a violation of orders pure and simple—and that was why he could not produce the money on the spot. Webb reflected. If he let Ray start at dawn and held Field back until the trader was astir, it might be eight o'clock before the youngster could set forth. By that time Ray would be perhaps a dozen miles to the northward, and with keen-eyed Indian scouts noting the march of the troop and keeping vigilant watch for possible stragglers, it might be sending the lad to certain death, for Plodder had said in so many words the Sioux about him had declared for war, had butchered three ranchmen on the Dry Fork, had fired on and driven in his herd guards and wood choppers, and, what started with Lane Wolf's big band, would spread to Stabber's little one in less than no time, and what spread to Stabber's would soon reach a host of the Sioux. Moreover, there was another reason. It would give Field opportunity for further conference with—inmates of the trader's household, and the major had his own grave reasons for seeking to prevent that.
"Your written order will be sufficient, Mr. Field," said he. "Send me memorandum of the amounts and I will receipt at once, so that you can go without further thought of them. And now," with a glance at the clock, "you have hardly half an hour in which to get ready."
Raising his hand in mechanical salute, Field faced about; cast one look at Blake, standing uncomfortably at the window, and then strode angering away to his quarters, smarting under a sense of unmerited rebuke yet realizing that, as matters looked, no one was more to blame than himself.
Just as the first faint flush of coming day was mantling the pallid eastern sky, and while the stars still sparkled aloft and the big, bright moon was sinking to the snow-tipped peaks far away to the occident, in shadowy column a troop of fifty horse filed slowly from The Sorrels' big corral and headed straight for the Platte. Swift and unfordable in front of Frayne in the earlier summer, the river now went murmuring sleepily over its stony bed, and Ray led boldly down the bank and plunged girth deep into the foaming waters. Five minutes more and every man had lined up safely on the northward bank. In low tone the order was given, starting as Ray ever did, in solid column of fours. In dead silence the little command moved slowly away, followed by the eyes of half the garrison on the bluff. Many of these were women and children, who gazed through a mist of tears. Ray turned in saddle as the last of his men went by; looked long at the dim light in the upper window of his home, where, clasping her children to her heart, his devoted wife knelt watching them, her fond lips moving in ceaseless prayer. Dimly she could see the tried leader, her soldier husband, sitting in saddle at the bank. Bravely she answered the flutter of his handkerchief in farewell. Then all was swallowed up in the shadows of the distant prairie, and from the nursery adjoining her room there rose a querulous wail that told that her baby daughter was waking, indifferent to the need that sent the soldier father to the aid of distant comrades, threatened by a merciless foe, and conscious only of her infantile demands and expectations. Not yet ten years wed, that brave, devoted wife and mother had known but two summers that had not torn her husband from her side on just such quest and duty, for these were the days of the building up of the West, resisted to the bitter end by the red wards of the nation.
The sun was just peering over the rough, jagged outline of the eastward buttes, when a quick yet muffled step was heard on the major's veranda and a picturesque figure stood waiting at the door. Scout, of course, a stranger would have said at a glance, for from head to foot the man was clad in beaded buckskin, without sign of soldier garb of any kind. Soldier, too, would have been the expert testimony the instant the door opened and the commanding officer appeared. Erect as a Norway pine the strange figure stood to attention, heels and knees together, shoulders squared, head and eyes straight to the front, the left hand, fingers extended, after the precise teachings of the ante-bellum days, the right hand raised and held at the salute. Strange figure indeed, yet soldierly to the last degree, despite the oddity of the entire make-up. The fur-trimmed cap of embroidered buckskin sat jauntily on black and glossy curls that hung about the brawny neck and shoulders. The buckskin coat, heavily fringed as to the short cape and the shorter skirt, was thickly covered with Indian embroidery of bead and porcupine quill; so, too, were the fringed trousers and leggings; so, too, the moccasins, soled with thick, yet pliant hide. Keen black eyes shone from beneath heavy black brows, just sprinkled, as were the thick moustache and imperial, with gray. The lean jowls were closely shaved. The nose was straight and fine, the chin square and resolute. The face and hands were tanned by sun and wind well nigh as dark as many a Sioux, but in that strange garb there stood revealed one of the famous sergeants of a famous regiment, the veteran of a quarter century of service with the standard, wounded time and again, bearing the scars of Stuart's sabre and of Southern lead, of Indian arrow and bullet both; proud possessor of the medal of honor that many a senior sought in vain; proud as the Lucifer from whom he took his Christian name, brave, cool, resolute and ever reliable—Schreiber, First Sergeant of old "K" Troop for many a year, faced his post commander with brief and characteristic report:—
"Sir, Chief Stabber, with over thirty warriors, left camp about three o'clock, heading for Eagle Butte."
"Well done, sergeant! I knew I could count on you," answered Webb, in hearty commendation. "Now, one thing more. Go to 'F' Troop's quarters and see how Kennedy is faring. He came in with despatches from Fort Beecher, and later drank more, I fancy, than was good for him, for which I assume all responsibility. Keep him out of mischief this morning."
"I will, sir," said the sergeant, and saluting turned away while Webb went back to set a dismantled pantry in partial order, against the appearance of his long-suffering house-keeper, whose comments he dreaded as he did those of no inspector general in the army. For fifteen years, and whithersoever Webb was ordered, his bachelor menage had been presided over by Mistress Margaret McGann, wife of a former trooper, who had served as Webb's "striker" for so many a year in the earlier days that, when discharged for disability, due to wounds, rheumatism and advancing years, and pensioned, as only Uncle Sam rewards his veterans, McGann had begged the major to retain him and his buxom better half at their respective duties, and Webb had meekly, weakly yielded, to the end that in the fulness of time Dame Margaret had achieved an ascendancy over the distinguished cavalry officer little short of that she had exercised over honest Michael since the very day she consented to become Mistress McGann. A sound sleeper was she, however, and not until morning police call was she wont to leave her bed. Then, her brief toilet completed, she would descend to the kitchen and set the major's coffee on the fire, started by her dutiful spouse an hour earlier. Then she proceeded to lay the table, and put the rooms in order against the major's coming, and woe betide him if cigar stubs littered the bachelor sittingroom or unrinsed glasses and half empty decanters told of even moderate symposium over night. Returning that eventful morning from his office at first call for reveille, after seeing the last of Ray's gallant troop as it moved away across the dim vista of the northward prairie, Webb had been concerned to find his decanter of Monongahela half empty on the pantry table and the debris of a hurried feast on every side. Kennedy, who had begun in moderation, must have felt the need of further creature comfort after his bout with the stalwart Sioux, and had availed himself to the limit of his capacity of the major's invitation. Webb's first thought was to partially remove the traces of that single-handed spree; then, refilling the decanter from the big five-gallon demijohn, kept under lock and key in the cupboard—for Michael, too, had at long intervals weaknesses of his own—he was thinking how best to protect Kennedy from the consequences of his, Webb's, rash invitation when Schreiber's knock was heard.
Ten minutes more and the sergeant was back again.
"Sir, I have to report that Trooper Kennedy has not been seen about the quarters," said he.
"Then try the stables, sergeant," answered the veteran campaigner, and thither would Schreiber next have gone, even had he not been sent. And, sure enough, there was Kennedy, with rueful face and a maudlin romaunt about a moonlit meeting with a swarm of painted Sioux, over which the stable guard were making merry and stirring the trooper's soul to wrath ungovernable.
"I can prove ut," he howled, to the accompaniment of clinching fists and bellicose lunges at the laughing tormentors nearest him. "I can whip the hide off'n the scut that says I didn't. Ask Lootn't Field, bejabers! He saw it. Ask—Oh, Mother of God! what's this I'm sayin'?"—And there, with stern, rebuking gaze, stood the man they knew and feared, every soul of them, as they did no commissioned soldier in the ——th, Sergeant Schreiber, the redoubtable, and Schreiber had heard the insane and damaging boast.
"Come with me, Kennedy," was all he said, and Kennedy snatched his battered felt headgear down over his eyes and tacked woefully after his swift-striding master, without ever another word.
But it was to his own room Schreiber took the unhappy Irishman, not to the quarters of Company "F." He had heard words that, coupled with others that fell through the darkness on his keenly listening ears some two hours earlier, had given him cause for painful thought. "Lie down here, Kennedy. Pull off your boots," said he, "and if you open your fool head to any living soul until I give you leave, py Gott—I'll gill you!" It was Schreiber's way, like Marryatt's famous Boatswain, to begin his admonitions in exact English, and then, as wrath overcame him, to lapse into dialect.
It was but a few minutes after seven when Major Webb, having previously despatched a messenger to the post trader's to say he had need to see Mr. Hay as soon as possible, mounted his horse and, followed by Sergeant Schreiber and an orderly, rode quietly past the guard-house, touching his hat to the shouted "Turn out the guard—commanding officer" of the sentry on Number One. Mr. Hay was dressing hurriedly, said the servant, so Webb bade Schreiber and the orderly ride slowly down to the flats and await him at the forks of the road. It was but five minutes before Hay appeared, pulling on his coat as he shot from the door, but even before he came the major had been carefully, cautiously scanning the blinds of the second story, even while feigning deep interest in the doings of a little squad of garrison prisoners—the inevitable inmates of the guard-house in the days before we had our safeguard in shape of the soldier's club—the post exchange—and now again in the days that follow its ill-judged extinction. The paymaster had been at Frayne but five days earlier. The prison room was full of aching heads, and Hay's coffers' of hard-earned, ill-spent dollars. Webb sighed at sight of the crowded ranks of this whimsically named "Company Q," but in no wise relaxed his vigilance, for the slats of the blind of the corner window had partially opened. He had had a glimpse of feminine fingers, and purposely he called Hay well out into the road, then bent down over him:
"All your horses in and all right, this morning, Hay?"
"None have been out," said Hay, stoutly, "unless they've gone within the hour. I never let them have the keys, you know, over night. Pete brought them to me at eight last evening and got 'em at six this morning, the usual time."
"Where does he get them—without waking you?" asked Webb.
"They hang behind the door in my sleeping room. Pete gets them when he takes my boots to black at six o'clock."
"Come over to the stables," said the commanding officer, and, wondering, Hay followed.
They found the two hostlers busily at work grooming. In his box stall, bright as a button, was "Harney," Hay's famous runner, his coat smooth as satin. Hay went rapidly from stall to stall. Of the six saddlers owned by him not one gave the faintest sign of having been used over night, but Webb, riding through the gangway, noted that "Crapaud," the French halfbreed grooming in the third stall, never lifted his head. Whatever evidence of night riding that might earlier have existed had been deftly groomed away. The trader had seen suspicion in the soldier's eye, and so stood forth, triumphant:—
"No, Major Webb," said he, in loud, confident, oracular tone, "no horse of mine ever gets out without my knowing it, and never at night unless you or I so order it."
"No?" queried the major, placidly. "Then how do you account for—this?"
Among the fresh hoof prints in the yielding sand, with which the police party had been filling the ruts of the outer roadway, was one never made by government horse or mule. In half a dozen places within a dozen rods, plain as a pikestaff, was the print of a bar shoe, worn on the off fore foot of just one quadruped at the post—Hay's swift running "General Harney."
A GRAVE DISCOVERY
Only an hour was the major away from his post. He came back in time for guard mounting and the reports of the officers-of-the-day. He had reason to be on the parade at the "assembly of the details," not so much to watch the work of the post adjutant pro tempore, as the effect of the sudden and unlooked for change on certain of the customary spectators. He had swiftly ridden to the camp of the recreant Stabber and purposely demanded speech with that influential chieftain. There had been the usual attempt on part of the old men left in charge to hoodwink and to temporize, but when sharply told that Stabber, with his warriors, had been seen riding away toward Eagle Butte at three in the morning, the sages calmly confessed judgment, but declared they had no other purpose than a hunt for a drove of elk reported seen about the famous Indian race course in the lower hills of the Big Horn. Circling the camp, however, Webb had quickly counted the pony tracks across the still dewy bunchgrass of the bench, and found Schreiber's estimate substantially correct. Then, stopping at the lodge of Stabbers's uncle, old "Spotted Horse," where that superannuated but still sagacious chief was squatted on his blanket and ostentatiously puffing a long Indian pipe, Webb demanded to know what young men remained in the village. Over a hundred strong, old men, squaws and children, they thronged about him, silent, big-eyed and attentive, Schreiber interpreting as best he could, resorting to the well-known sign language when the crafty Sioux professed ignorance of the meaning of his words:—
"No young men. All gone," was the positive declaration of the venerable head of the bailiwick, when compelled at last to answer. But Schreiber had studied the pony herd and knew better. Moreover, not more than six of their ponies had been led along with the war party that set forth in the early hours of the moonlit morning. Others, both men and mounts, unavoidably left behind, would surely be sent forward at the first possible opportunity, and, much as Webb might wish to turn back to capture the party, well as he might know that other bands were in revolt and Stabber gone to help them, he was powerless under his orders to interfere until by some openly hostile act these laggards of the little band invited his reprisal. The rule of the road, as prescribed by the civil authorities, to which the soldier had sworn obedience, being practically, "Don't defend until you are hit. Don't shoot until you are shot."
Webb came cantering back assured that these frowsy, malodorous lodges concealed, perhaps, half a score of fighting men who were a menace to the neighborhood and who could be counted on to make it more than interesting for any couriers that might have to be sent between the fort and the forces at the front. Calling Schreiber to his side, as, with long easy stride their trained mounts went loping swiftly homeward, he gave instructions the veteran heard with kindling eyes. Then, parting from him at the corrals, the commander rode on and dismounted at his quarters just as the trumpeters were forming on the broad, grassy level of the parade.
Even without a band young Field had managed to make his guard mount a pretty and attractive ceremony. Frayne was a big post and needed a daily guard of twenty-four men, with the usual quota of non-commissioned officers. Cowboys, herders, miners, prospectors, rustlers (those pirates of the plains) and occasional bands of Indians, Sioux or Arapahoe, were forever hovering about its borders in search of supplies, solid or fluid, and rarely averse to the conversion of public property to personal use. Like many a good citizen of well-ordered municipalities within the confines of civilization, they held that what belonged to the government belonged to them, and the fact that some officer would have to pay for whatsoever they stole, from a horse to a hammer, cut no figure in their deliberations. Frayne had long been a favorite place for fitting out depleted stock, animal, vegetable or mineral, and there had been times when Webb found as many as forty men almost too small a guard, and so gave it to be understood that sentries whose carbines were unlawfully discharged at night, without the formality of preliminary challenge or other intimation of business intentions, would be held blameless, provided they had something to show for their shot. A remarkable feature of the winter's depredation had been that Hay's corral was never molested, although unguarded by the garrison and quite as much exposed as the most remote of the government shops, shanties or stables.
Field mounted his guard, except in cold or stormy weather, in full uniform, and the daily "march past" in review brought many of the garrison ladies, most of the children and all of the dogs to the scene. Some of the households breakfasted just before,—some just after—guard mounting, but, as a rule, no one sat at table when almost everybody else was gathered along the westward edge of the broad parade. It was there the plans for the social day were discussed and determined. Rides, drives, hunts or picnics away from the post; dances, dinners, croquet or tennis within the garrison limits. It was the hour when all the girls were out, looking fair and fresh as daisies, and while the mothers sedately gossiped along the row of broad verandas, their daughters blithely chatted in little groups, or, as might often be, paced slowly with downcast eyes and mantling cheeks at the side of some young gallant who had no thought for other duty than that of the thrilling moment. And here they were, well nigh a dozen of them, of all ages from twelve to twenty, as the major sent his mount to the stables and made quick survey of the scene, and a moment's glance was sufficient to show that among them all there was stir and excitement beyond that which would be caused by so common an incident as the sending forth of a troop on scout.
It was the fact that Field had gone and that young Ross was acting in his place that set them all to speculating on the cause. One of their number, promenading with Lieutenant Hartley, glanced up at Major Webb as they passed him by, with such a world of mingled question and reproach in her soft blue eyes that his heart for the moment smote him. He had never seen Esther Dade looking so languid or so wan, yet more of her and for her had he been thinking during the week gone by than of any other girl in or out of the army. To-day, however, there was another he eagerly sought to see, and, with something akin to keen disappointment, noted that she was not among the strollers along the board walk or the chatting groups about the steps and gateways. Not once during her brief visit had she as yet missed guard mounting. Now her absence was significant. In the very eyes of the little party hastening toward him—three young girls and a brace of subalterns—he read question and cross-question, and was thankful to see Hay, the trader, trudging up the walk to join him. So seldom did the old frontiersman enter the quadrangle that people remarked upon his coming;—remarked still more when Webb hurried down to meet him.
"You're right about the horses, major," said Hay, mopping a moist and troubled face with a big bandana. "My racer and my best single footer, Dan, were out last night. Dan's saddle cloth was wet and so was Harney's. Some one outside has got false keys,—I'll put new padlocks on at once,—but for the life of me I can't think who would play me such a trick. To steal the horses,—run 'em off to Rawlins or up the Sweetwater or off to the Hills—I could understand that! but to borrow them for an hour or two,—why, it beats me hollow!" And Hay in deep perplexity leaned against the low fence and almost imploringly gazed into the major's face. They all leaned on Webb.
"Any idea who they were?" asked the commander.
"Not the skin of a shadow, 'cept that one man rode shorter stirrups'n I do. They forgot to set 'em back. They had my California saddle on Dan and that light Whitman of mine on Harney."
"Sure it was two men?" queried Webb, looking straight into the trader's eyes.
"What else could it be?" demanded Hay, in no little excitement.
"Well, I thought possibly Miss Flower might have been moved to take a moonlight ride. No reason why she shouldn't, you know, and not wishing to disturb you——"
"Then she would have used her own side-saddle. What's she doing with a man's? Besides, she'd have told me!"
"Oh! You've seen her then this morning? I thought perhaps she wasn't up," hazarded Webb.
"Up? Why, hang it, she was up at daybreak—up hours ago, my wife says. Haven't you seen her? She's over here somewhere?"
No, Webb had not seen her, and together the two started in search, first to the flagstaff, and there at the point of bluff beyond the Rays',—there she stood, gazing up the Platte toward the Indian village through a pair of signal glasses that weighed heavily in her daintily gloved hands. Captain Tracy, a bachelor assistant surgeon, stood faithfully by her side, listening to her lively chatter, with ears that absorbed and eyes that worshipped.
"Come away," said Webb. "I have an order on you for Field's currency in your safe. When are you going to try to get your cash to bank?" And Webb keenly eyed his man as he asked the question.
"To-morrow or next day sure,—even if I have to go part way with the stage myself. When do you want this money?" said Hay, tapping the envelope Webb had given him.
"Well, now, if agreeable to you. I prefer to keep such funds at the quartermaster's. Oh—Good morning, Mrs. Ray!" he cheerily called, lifting his cap, at sight of a young matron at an upper window. "Can you see them still?" he added, for the elder of the two boys was peering through a long telescope, perched on its brass tripod upon a little shelf projecting from the sill. Many a time had the "Rays' spyglass" been the last to discern some departing troop as it crossed the low divide ten miles away to the north. Many a time had the first announcement of "courier coming" reached headquarters through Master Sandy, the first born of their olive branches. There were unshed tears in the gentle voice that answered. There was wordless anxiety in the sweet, pallid face that smiled so bravely through its sorrow. "The troop passed out of sight quarter of an hour ago, major," said Mrs. Ray. "But Sandy could see the flankers on their left until within the last five minutes."
"Way out on their left, major!" interposed that young gentleman, big with importance. "If old Stabber tries any of his tricks with that troop he'll—he'll get his belly full!" and Master Sandy plainly intimated both in tone and manner, not to mention the vernacular of the soldier, that Stabber might take liberties with any other troop or company at the post, but would best beware of Daddy's. And yet, not three months agone he had stoutly taken up the cudgels for the Frayne garrison, as a whole, against the field, the wordy battle with the son and heir of the colonel commanding at Laramie culminating in a combat only terminated by the joint efforts of the stable sergeant and sentry, for both youngsters were game as their sires. What Sandy Ray was now praying to see was an attack by Stabber's band upon the isolated troop, but Stabber, it may be said, knew a trick worth ten of that. There was no sense in pitching into the sorrel troop on even terms when by waiting another day, perhaps, and the answer of Lame Wolf to the appeal of his speedy messenger, he might outnumber and overwhelm them with five to one.
"We should be hearing from Omaha and Laramie by ten o'clock, Mrs. Ray," said the major, reassuringly, "and I will send you word at once. And, of course, Corporal Ray," he continued, and now with martial formality addressing the lad at the telescope, "I can rely upon you to report at once in case you see anything suspicious toward the Big Horn."
"Yes, sir," answered the boy, straightening up to attention. Then, scrupulously exchanging salutes, the old soldier and the young parted company, and the major returned to receive the reports of the old and new officers of the day. These gentlemen were still with him, Captain Chew, of the Infantry, and the senior first lieutenant for duty with the ——th, when Hay came hurrying up the board walk from the direction of the store. For reasons of his own, Webb had sent his orderly to the guard-house to say to the officers in question that he would await them at his quarters instead of the little building known as the adjutant's office, in which were the offices of the commander, the record room in which were placed the desks of the sergeant-major and his three clerks, and the sleeping rooms of the special duty soldiers. It had happened more than once in the past that garrison stories of matters not supposed to be known outside the office had been traced back to that desk room, and now Webb's questions of his old officer of the day, and his instructions to the new were not things he cared to have bruited about the post. He was listening intently to the captain's report of the sentries' observations during the night gone by when Hay reached the gate and stopped, not wishing to intrude at such a moment.
"Come in, Mr. Hay," said the commander, cordially. "This all will interest you," and, thus bidden, the trader joined the soldiers three on the veranda, and some of the young people of the garrison, setting up their croquet arches on the parade, looked curiously toward the group, and wondered what should keep the old officer-of-the-day so long. Sauntering down the walk, smiling radiantly upon the occupants of the various verandas that she passed, then beaming between times into the face of her smitten escort, her black eyes and white teeth flashing in the rare sunshine, Nanette Flower was gradually nearing the major's quarters. She was barely twenty yards away when, in obedience to some word of the major, Mr. Hay held forth two white packages that, even at the distance, could be recognized, so far as the outer covering was concerned, as official envelopes. She was too far away, perhaps, to hear what was said.
"It seems," began Webb, to his officers, as he mechanically opened the first packet, "that Field took fire at Wilkins's growls about the bother of keeping his funds, so the youngster stowed his money with Hay. He insisted on turning over everything before he left, so I receipted to him. Let's see," he continued, glancing at the memorandum in his hand. "Three hundred and seventy-two dollars and eighty-five cents post fund, and four hundred belonging to various enlisted men. I may as well count it in your presence."
By this time the long, lean fingers had ripped open the package marked four hundred, and were extracting the contents,—a sheet of official paper with figures and memoranda, and then a flat package, apparently, of currency. Topmost was a five dollar treasury note; bottom-most another of the same denomination. Between them, deftly cut, trimmed and sized, were blank slips of paper to the number of perhaps thirty and the value of not one cent. With paling faces the officers watched the trembling fingers slash open the second, its flap, as was that of the first envelope, securely gummed,—not sealed. A nickel or two and a few dimes slid out before the packet came. It was of like consistency with the first—and of about the same value. Webb lifted up his eyes and looked straight into the amazed,—almost livid, face of the trader.
"My God! Major Webb," cried Hay, aghast and bewildered. "Don't look at me like that! No man on earth has ever accused me of a crime. This means that not only my stable but my safe has been robbed,—and there is a traitor within my gates."
Dr. Tracy, absorbed in contemplation of Miss Flower's radiant face, and in the effort to make his own words eloquent, had no ears for those of others. He never heeded the trader's excited outburst. He only saw her suddenly flinch, suddenly pale, then sway. His ready arm was round her in a twinkling. In a twinkling she twisted free from the undesired clasp.
"Just—my foot turned!—a pebble!" she gasped.
But when, all assiduity, Tracy would have seated her on the horseblock and examined the delicate ankle, she refused straightway, and with almost savage emphasis, and with rigid lips from which all loveliness had fled, bade him lead on home, where, despite protest and appeal, personal and professional, she dismissed him curtly.
FIRST SIGHT OF THE FOE
Ray's gallant half hundred, as has been said, took the route for the north at break of day. Before them spread the open prairie, apparently level and unbroken for full five miles to the front and either flank, the distant slopes and ridges bounding the level expanse growing more distinct with every moment, and presently lighting up in exulting radiance in response to the rosy blushes of the eastward sky. Scorning the dusty stage road, the troop commander pointed to a distant height just visible against the northward horizon, bade the leading guide march straight on that; then gave the order "Right by Twos," that he might the more readily note the gait and condition of every horse and the bearing and equipment of his rider. There was still time to weed out weaklings of either class should any such there be. Riding slowly along the left flank, one after another, he carefully scanned every man and mount in his little detachment, then, at quicker pace, passed around to the eastward side of the column, and as critically, carefully studied them from that point of view. A light of quiet satisfaction shone in his fine, dark eyes as he finished, for, next to his wife and children, that troop was Ray's supreme delight. The preliminary look-over by lantern light had been all sufficient. This later inspection on the move revealed not a steed amiss, not an item of equipment either misplaced or lacking. "Steady as planets," barring the irrepressible tendency of some young, high-spirited horse to dance a bit until quieted by the monotony of the succeeding miles, at quick, light-hoofed walk, the sorrels tripped easily along in precise, yet companionable couples. "One yard from head to croup," said the drill book of the day, and, but for that, the riders might have dropped their reins upon the pommel as practically unnecessary. But, for the first hour or so, at least, the tendency toward the rear of column was ever to crowd upon the file leaders, a proceeding resented, not infrequently, in less disciplined commands than Ray's, by well-delivered kicks, or at least such signs of equine disapprobation as switching tail or set-back ears. But Ray's troop horses moved like so many machines, so constant and systematic had been their drill; and Ray's men rode in the perfection of uniform, so far as armament and equipment were concerned. Each greatcoat, precisely rolled, was strapped with its encircling poncho at the pommel. Each blanket, as snugly packed, with the sidelines festooned upon the top, was strapped at the cantle. Lariat and picket pin, coiled and secured, hung from the near side of the pommel. The canteen, suspended from its snap hook, hung at the off side. Saddle-bags, with extra horse shoes, nails, socks, underwear, brushes and comb, extra packages of carbine and revolver cartridges and minor impedimenta, equally distributed as to weight, swung from the cantle and underneath the blanket roll. From the broad, black leather carbine sling, over each trooper's left shoulder, the hard-shooting brown barrelled little Springfield hung suspended, its muzzle thrust, as was the fashion of the day, into the crude socket imposed so long upon our frontier fighters by officials who had never seen the West, save, as did a certain writer of renown, from a car window, thereby limiting their horizon. Ray despised that socket as he did the Shoemaker bit, but believed, with President Grant, that the best means to end obnoxious laws was their rigorous enforcement. Each man's revolver, a trusty brown Colt, hung in its holster at the right hip. Each man was girt with ammunition belt of webbing, the device of an old-time Yankee cavalryman that has been copied round the world, the dull-hued copper cartridges bristling from every loop. Each man wore, as was prescribed, the heavy, cumbrous cavalry boot of the day and generation, but had stowed in his saddle-bags light moccasins and leggings with which to replace them when, farther afield, their clear-headed commander should give the word. Each man, too, wore the gauntlets of Indian-tanned buckskin, a special pattern that Ray had been permitted to use experimentally. Each man was clad in dark blue flannel shirt and blouse, the latter soon probably to be stored with the big, weighty boots in Truscott's saddle room at Beecher, with, probably too, many of the light blue riding breeches, saddle-pieced with canvas—the uniform at the start destined, in the case of veteran troopers, at least, to be shed in favor of brown duck hunting trousers, or even, among certain extremists, fringed, beaded and embroidered buckskin, than which the present chronicler knows no more uncomfortable garb when soaked by pelting rains or immersion in some icy mountain stream. Even the brown campaign hats, uniformly "creased," as the fifty left the ford, would soon be knocked out of all semblance to the prescribed shape, and made at once comfortable and serviceable. Add to these items the well-filled haversack and battered tin quart cup, (for on a forced march of two or three days Captain Ray would have no pack mules,) and the personal equipment of his men was complete. As for the mounts, each sorrel tripped easily along under the sextuple folds of the saddle blanket, and the black-skinned McClellan saddle tree, with its broad horsehair cincha and hooded wooden stirrups, minus the useless skirts and sweat leathers. Neither breast strap, crupper nor martingale hampered the free movements of the sturdy, stocky little weight carriers. The black, single-reined curb bridle, fastened as to the throat latch by a light buckle, was slipped on over the headstall of the so-called watering bridle, whose toggled and detachable snaffle bit was generally "toted" from start to finish of a field scout in the saddle bags,—a twist of the flexible lariat, Indian fashion, between the complaisant jaws of his pet, being the troop's ready substitute. Add to this that, full, free and unmutilated, in glossy waves the beautiful manes and tails tossed in the upland breeze (for the heresies of Anglomania never took root in the American cavalry) and you have Ray's famous troop as it looked, fresh started from old Fort Frayne this glorious autumn morning of 188-, and with a nod of approbation, and "It couldn't be better, sergeant," to his devoted right hand man, the veteran senior non-commissioned officer of the troop, Ray rang out the command "At ease," and placed himself beside the silent young lieutenant at the head of column.