A WOUNDED NAME
CAPTAIN CHARLES KING U.S.A.
"Warrior Gap," "An Army Wife," "Fort Frayne," "A Garrison Tangle," "Noble Blood and a West Point Parallel," "Trumpeter Fred," etc.
"Poor wounded name! My bosom as a bed Shall lodge thee, till thy wound be throughly healed."
—Two Gentlemen of Verona
F. TENNYSON NEELY, PUBLISHER, LONDON. NEW YORK.
F. TENNYSON NEELY
In the United States and Great Britain
(All rights reserved)
* * * * *
A WOUNDED NAME.
The stage coach was invisible in a cloud of its own dust as it lurched and rolled along the alkali flats down the valley, and Sancho, the ranch-keeper, could not make out whether any passengers were on top or not. He had brought a fine binocular to bear just as soon as the shrill voice of Pedro, a swarthy little scamp of a half-breed, announced the dust-cloud sailing over the clump of willows below the bend. Pedro was not the youngster's original name, and so far as could be determined by ecclesiastical records, owing to the omission of the customary church ceremonies, he bore none that the chaplain at old Camp Cooke would admit to be Christian. Itinerant prospectors and occasional soldiers, however, had suggested a change from the original, or aboriginal, title which was heathenish in the last degree, to the much briefer one of Pedro, as fitting accompaniment to that of the illustrious head of the establishment, and Lieutenant Blake, an infantry sub with cavalry aspirations which had led him to seek arduous duties in this arid land, had comprehensively damned the pretensions of the place to being a "dinner ranch," by declaring that a shop that held Sancho and Pedro and didn't have game was unworthy of patronage. Sancho had additional reasons for disapproving of Blake. That fine binocular, to begin with, bore the brand of Uncle Sam, for which reason it was never in evidence when an officer or soldier happened along. It had been abstracted from Blake's signal kit, when he was scouting the Dragoon Mountains, and swapped for the vilest liquor under the sun, at Sancho's, of course, and the value of the glass, not of the whisky, was stopped against the long lieutenant's pay, leaving him, as he ruefully put it, "short enough at the end of the month." Somebody told Blake he would find his binocular at Sancho's, and Blake instituted inquiries after his own peculiar fashion the very next time he happened along that way.
"Here, you Castilian castaway," said he, as he alighted at Sancho's door, "I am told you have stolen property in the shape of my signal glass. Hand it over instanter!"
And Sancho, bowing with the grace of a grandee of Spain, had assured the Senor Teniente that everything within his gates was at his service, without money and without price, had promptly fetched from an adjoining room a battered old double-barreled lorgnette, that looked as though it might have been dropped in the desert by Kearny or Fauntleroy, or some of the dragoons who made the burning march before the Gadsden purchase of 1853 made us possessors of more desert sand and desolate range than we have ever known what to do with.
"This thing came out of the ark," said Blake, rightfully wrathful. "What I want is the signal glass that deserter sold you for whisky last Christmas."
Whereat Sancho called on all the saints in the Spanish calendar to bear witness to his innocence, and bade the teniente search the premises.
"He's got it in that bedroom yonder," whispered old Sergeant Feeney, "and I know it, sir."
And Blake, striding to the door in response to the half-challenge, half-invitation of the gravely courteous cutthroat owner, stopped short at the threshold, stared, whipped off his scouting hat, and, bowing low, said: "I beg your pardon, senora, senorita; I did not know—" and retired in much disorder.
"Why didn't you tell me your family had come, you disreputable old rip?" demanded he, two minutes later, "or is that too—stolen property?"
"It is the wife of my brother and his daughter," responded the ranchman with unruffled suavity.
Nothing could equal Sancho's equanimity in the presence of those he desired to placate; nothing exceed the frenzy of his wrath when angered by those whom he could harm without fear of reprisals. Blake was backed by a troop of horse and the conviction that Sancho was an unmitigated rascal; therefore were his palpable allusions to be accepted as mere pleasantries or deprecated as unmerited injustice. Blake had blackened the character of the ranch cuisine, even if he had been unequal to the task of blackening that of the owner. Blake had declared Sancho's homestead to be a den of thieves, and the repast tendered the stage passengers a Barmecide feast—the purport of which was duly reported to Sancho, who declared he would ultimately carve his opinion of Blake on that officer's elongated carcass, and until he could find opportunity so to do it behooved him to lull the suspicions of the prospective victim by elaborate courtesy of manner, and of this is the Spaniard or his Mexican half-brother consummate master. Blake left without a glimpse of his glass, but not without another of "the daughter of my brother" but recently arrived, and that peep made him desirous of a third. Riding away, he waved his hand.
"Adios, Sancho; hasta otra vista!" he had hailed, but his gaze sought the little window in the adobe wall where a pair of dark, languorous eyes peered out from between the parted curtains and a dusky face dodged out of view the instant it saw it was seen. What Sancho said in answer is not recorded, but now he was watching the coming of the stage from Yuma. Some one had warned him Lieutenant Blake would return that way, ordered back to the old post to the north as witness before an important court-martial.
Those were later termed "the days of the Empire" in Arizona. Perhaps five thousand souls were counted within its borders at the time our story opens, not counting the soulless Apaches. Arizona had the customary territorial equipment of a governor, certain other officials constituting the cabinet, and a secretary. Nine men out of the dozen Americans in the only approach to a town it then possessed—Tucson—would have said "Damfino" if asked who was the secretary, but all men knew the sheriff. The grave, cigarro-smoking, serape-shrouded caballeros who rode at will through the plaza and ogled dark-eyed maidens peeping from their barred windows, could harbor no interest in the question of who was president of the United States, but the name of the post commander at Grant, Lowell or Crittenden was a household word, and in the eyes of the populace the second lieutenant commanding the paymaster's escort was illimitably "a bigger man" than the thrice distinguished soldier and citizen whose sole monument, up to that time, was the flagstaff at the adobe corral and barracks sacred to his name. Mr. Blake had never been in such a God-forsaken country or community before, but there was something in the utter isolation, the far-stretching waste of shimmering sand, the desolate mountain ranges sharply outlined, hostile and forbidding, the springless, streamless, verdureless plains of this stricken land, that harmonized with the somewhat savage and cynical humor in which he had sought service in the most intolerable clime then open to the troops of Uncle Sam. Blake had been jilted and took it bitterly to heart. Wearing the willow himself, he cherished it as the only green and growing thing in the Gila valley; whereas, had he sought sympathy he would have found other young gentlemen similarly decorated, and therefore as content as he to spend the months or possibly years of their embittered life just as far from the madding crowd and, as Blake cynically put it, "as near hell." Blake was a man of distinction, as relatives went, and those were days when friends at court had more to do with a fellow's sphere of duty—very much more—than had the regimental commander or even the adjutant-general. Blake took Arizona in preference to a tour in the signal office at Washington. He wanted to get as far away from the national capital and the favorite haunt of "the Army and Navy forever" as he possibly could. It was the most natural thing in the world to him that he should ask for duty in the land of deserts, centipedes, rattlesnakes, and Apaches. He put it on the ground of serious bronchial trouble which could be cured only in a dry climate, but the war office knew as well as the navy department that it was an affair of the heart and not of the throat. He wasn't the first man, by any manner of means, to fall in love with Madeleine Torrance, the prettiest girl and most unprincipled flirt that ever wore the navy button or tormented a sailor father. Blake sought the roughest duty—that of escorting inspectors, staff officers or paymasters on their wearisome trips through the wilderness—and no one denied him. The cavalry was short of officers and he got assigned to Sanford's troop, and the biggest surprise that had come since his commission met him one day at Gila Bend, when that same old red stage, a relic of California days, emerged from the dust-cloud of its own manufacture, and a quiet youth in pepper-and-salt and sand-colored costume, looked up from behind a pair of green goggles saying:
It was the voice, not the face, that the tall trooper recognized.
"Well—of—all—the—Why, what in the name of Pegasus brings you here, Loring? I thought you had graduated into the engineers."
"Fact," said the newcomer sententiously.
"Well, what's an engineer doing in Arizona? I'd as soon look to see an archbishop."
"Scouting," said the dust-colored man. "Where's dinner?"
"In the shack yonder, if your stomach's copper-lined. Better come over to my camp and take pot-luck there."
Which Loring gladly did, and then went on his dusty way, leaving Blake with something to think of beside his own woes. Within half a year of his graduation from West Point the young engineer, one of the stars of his class, had been ordered to report to the general commanding the Division of the Pacific and was set to work on a military map in that general's office. Loring found all maps of Arizona to be vague and incomplete, and was ordered forthwith to go to the territory and gather in the needed data. That he, too, should be lass-lorn never for a moment occurred to his comrade of the line. Had such facts been confessed among the exiles of those days many a comradeship of the far frontier would have been strengthened. That the girl who duped Gerald Blake should have been known to her who had captivated Mr. Loring was suspected by neither officer at the time, and that, despite the efforts and the resolution of both men, both women were destined to reappear upon the stage, and temporarily, at least, reassume their sway, was something neither soldier would have admitted possible. Yet stranger things had happened, and stranger still were destined to happen, and the first step in the drama was taken within the fortnight of this chance meeting at Gila Bend.
Sancho, studying the coming stage with Blake's binocular until it dove into the arroyo five hundred yards to the west, handed that costly instrument to the silent, dumpy, dark-skinned woman who stood patiently at his side, and said briefly, "Dos" at which she vanished, and after restoring the glass to its hiding-place in her bedroom, was heard uplifting a shrill, raucous voice at the back of the house, ordering dinner to be ready for two. When the vehicle came rattling up to the door Sancho stood at his threshold, the old lorgnette in hand, bowing profoundly as two travelers, officers of the army apparently, emerged in their dusters and stiffly alighted.
"Have any letters or dispatches been left here for me?" asked in quiet tone the elder of the two, limping slightly as he advanced, leaving to his comrade the responsibility of seeing that none of their luggage had been jolted out of the rickety vehicle. One or two hangers-on came languidly, yet inquisitively, within earshot.
For answer the ranch-keeper, with another elaborate bow, produced a bulky official envelope. The officer hastily glanced at the superscription, said "This is for me," strode within the adobe-walled corral, halted under a screen of brown canvas, and there tore open the packet. Several personal letters fell to the ground, but he at first paid little heed to them. Rapidly his eyes ran over a sheet of closely-written matter, then he turned to the silent and ceremonious ranchman.
"When did this come?" he asked.
"At sunset yesterday, Senor Comandante."
"Where's the courier?"
"He returned before dawn to-day."
The loungers drew still nearer as the senior calmly turned to his companion, who, having assured himself that their impedimenta were all safe, came with quick, springy step to join him.
"Where do you suppose Blake and his detachment to be at this moment, Loring?"
"Perhaps thirty miles ahead, sir; over toward Maricopa. Do you need him, colonel?"
"Yes, and at once. Our bird has flown. In other words, Nevins has skipped."
Just what an officer's actual rank might be in the days that followed close on the heels of the war was a matter no man could tell from either his dress or address. Few indeed were they who escaped the deluge of brevets that poured over the army and soaked some men six deep. There were well-authenticated cases of well-preserved persons who had never so much as seen a battle, and were yet, on one pretext or another, brevetted away up among the stars for "faithful and meritorious services" recruiting, mustering or disbursing. We had colonels by title whose functions were purely those of the file-closer. We had generals by brevet who had never set squadron in the field and didn't know the difference between a pole yoke and a pedometer. Every captain, except one or two who had laughingly declined, wore the straps of field officers, some few even of generals, and so when one heard a military-looking man addressed as colonel the chances were ten to one that he was drawing only the stipend of a company officer, and in matters of actual rank in the army it was money that talked.
But there could be no questioning the right of the senior of the two officers who had alighted at Sancho's to the title of colonel. Soldier stood out all over him, even though his garb was concealed by a nondescript duster. His face, lined, thin-lipped and resolute, was tanned by desert suns and winds. His hair, once brown, was almost white. His beard, once flowing and silky, was cropped to a gray stubble. His steely blue eyes snapped under their heavy thatch, his head was carried high and well back, and his soft felt hat, wide-brimmed, was pulled down over the brows. His deep chest, square shoulders, erect carriage and straight muscular legs all told of days and years in the field, and every word he uttered had about it the crisp, clear-cut ring of command. It was safe to bet that no mere company was the extent of this soldiers authority, and Sancho, keen observer, had put him down for a lieutenant-colonel at least. Full colonels were mostly older men, and Arizona had but one in "the days of the Empire."
The ranchman had eagerly whispered questions to the loungers as to the identity of the two arrivals, but without success. Both were strangers, although the junior had been seen at the ranch once before, the day Blake's troop was camped there on the way back from the Dragoons. There was the packet left by the orderly to be called for by officers arriving on the Yuma stage, addressed in clerkly hand, but Sancho, alas! could not read. Hovering as near as the gravity and dignity of his station would permit, he had heard the colonel's query about Blake. He pricked up his ears at once. Teniente Blake! Thirty miles east on the Maricopa road! Why, how was this? Some one had told him Blake had been to the Colorado and was coming back by this very stage. How did Blake get to the east of Sancho's ranch, after having once gone west, without Sancho's knowing it? Suspiciously he watched the two soldiers, the grizzled colonel, the slim lieutenant. They were talking together in low tones, at least the colonel was talking, eagerly, energetically, and with much gesticulation. The junior listened wordless to every word. What had he meant by "the bird had flown?" Why should Nevins "skip?" An unpleasant fear seized upon Sancho. He knew Nevins, at least a Nevins, a captain whom everybody knew, in fact, and few men trusted. What had Nevins been doing? or rather, what that he had been doing was he to be held to account for? Why should the colonel so eagerly ask where they could reach Blake? Time was when Sancho flattered himself that there was no deviltry going on in Arizona, except such as originated with the Indians, in which he had not at least the participation of full knowledge, yet here came two officials, hastening by stage instead of marching with military deliberation and escort, and they were in quest of the Senor Capitan Nevins of whom all men had heard and at whose hands many had suffered, for was not he a player whom the very cards seemed to obey? Was it not he who broke the bank at Bustamente's during the fiesta at Tucson but five months agone? Was it not Nevins who won all the money those two young tenientes possessed—two boys from the far East just joining their regiment and haplessly falling into the hands of this dashing, dapper, wholesouled, hospitable comrade who made his temporary quarters their home until they could find opportunity to go forward to the distant posts where their respective companies were stationed? Was it not Nevins who, right there at Sancho's ranch, finding a party of prospectors, several ex-Confederate soldiers among them, languidly staking silver at the monte table presided over by Sancho's own brother, had calmly opened a faro "layout" and enticed every man from the legitimate game and every peso from their pockets before the two-day's session was finished? Well did Sancho recall his own wrath and that of his brother at this unlicensed interference with their special business, and the surprising liberality, too, with which the Senor Capitan had silenced their remonstrance. Rascal though he was, Sancho had sense enough to know that such proceedings were not seemly in a man bearing the commission of an officer. But Sancho little knew how many a congressman along at the close of the war, finding himself compelled to provide some kind of living for political "heelers," or some impersonal reward for services rendered, had foisted his henchmen into the army, then being enlarged and reorganized, and Nevins was one of the results of the iniquitous system.
Commissioned a first lieutenant of a regiment that had had a proud record in the regular division of the Army of the Potomac, and had been hurried at the close of the war to the Pacific coast, Nevins had joined at Fort Yuma and served a few weeks' apprenticeship as a file-closer, just long enough to demonstrate that he knew nothing whatever about soldiering and too much about poker. All his seniors in grade, except the West Pointers graduated in '65, had brevets for war service, and Nevins' sponsor was appealed to to rectify the omission in the lieutenant's case. Nevins had held a commission in a volunteer regiment in the defenses of Washington the last few months of the war, and that was found amply sufficient, when a prominent member of the committee on military affairs demanded it, to warrant the bestowal of a brevet for "gallant and meritorious services." Hence came the title of captain. Then, as company duty proved irksome, and Nevins' company and post commander both began to stir him up for his manifold negligences and ignorances, the aid of his patron in congress was again invoked. A crippled veteran who could do no field service was in charge of a supply camp for scouting parties, escorts, detachments, etc., and, to the wrath of the regimental officers, this veteran was relieved and Lieutenant and Brevet-Captain Nevins by department orders was detailed in his place. This made him independent of almost everybody, beside placing in his hands large quantities of commissary and quartermaster stores which were worth far more to the miner, prospector and teamster than their invoice price. The stories that began to come into Yuma and Drum Barracks, and other old-time stations, of the "high jinks" going on day and night at Nevins' camp, the orders for liquors, cigars and supplies received at San Francisco and filled by every stage or steamer, the lavish entertainment accorded to officers of any grade and to wayfarers with any sign of money, the complaints of victims who had been fleeced, the gloomy silence of certain fledgling subalterns after brief visits at "Camp Ochre," as Blake had dubbed it, all pointed significantly to but one conclusion, that, so far from living on his pay, Nevins was gormandizing on that of everybody else, and doubtless "raising the wind" in other ways at the expense of Uncle Sam. Even in Arizona in the days of the Empire it could not last forever. Easy come, easy go. Nevins had lavishly spent what was so lightly won. Tucson and Yuma City were within easy stage ride, even San Francisco had twice been found accessible. Dashing associates of both sexes were ever at hand. The sudden turn of the tide came with the order that broke up the supply camp, required him to turn over his funds and stores to the quartermaster at Camp Cooke, and report for duty in person at that post. Then came the expected discovery of grievous shortages in both funds and property, the order for the arrest of the delinquent officer and his trial by court-martial. Colonel Turnbull, inspector-general of the department, was hurried out from the shores of the Pacific to sit as one of the senior members of the court. Lieutenant Loring, vainly striving along the Gila to find some resemblance between its tracing on a government map and its meanderings through the desert, was selected to perform the duties of judge advocate. The court was authorized to sit without regard to hours, and to sift the official career of the protege of the house committee of military affairs without regard to consequence, when that volatile and accused person took matters into his own hands, and between the setting and rising of the sun, disappeared from the brush, canvas and adobe shelters of old Camp Cooke and left for parts unknown, taking with him the best horse in the commanding officer's stable, and, as genius has ever its followers, the admiration if not the regard of much of the garrison.
But other followers were needed at once. "That man must be caught at any cost, Loring," said the colonel. "No one begins to know the extent of his rascalities, and you and Blake must catch him."
For answer the engineer took out his watch—it was just a quarter to one—stepped out into the glare of the sunshine and gazed to the far horizon. The plain to the east was flat as a board for many a mile and well nigh as barren. Then he turned sharply on Sancho. "Dinner ready?" he asked.
"In one—two minutes, Senor Capitan," responded the ranchman gravely, conferring on the officer the brevet of courtesy.
Out in front of the ranch the old red stage, long since faded to a dun color, stood baking in the burning rays. The mules had been taken into the corral for water, fodder and shade. The driver was regaling himself within the bar. The few loungers, smoking, but silent, seemed dozing the noontide away. Loring stepped to the side of the vehicle and drew forth a leather valise, swung it to his shoulder and strode back to where the colonel stood pondering under the canvas screen.
"Good hefting power in that right arm of his," muttered one of the loungers to a mate sprawled full length on the sand beneath the shelter of the tent fly, and watching the officer from under his half-closed lids. A grunt of assent was the only reply.
"Know what regiment he belongs to?" queried number one.
"No, but it's cavalry," was the murmured answer. "Saw him straddling a broncho at Maricopa Wells last week. He knows how."
Somewhere within the ranch a triangle began to jangle. "Quim-a-do!" shrilled little Pete, and three or four lazy, drowsing forms began slowly to get to their feet and to shuffle away toward the doorless aperture in the adobe wall, the entrance to the dining-room of the stage and ranch people. Two men lingered, the two who were speculating as to the military connections of the young officer. One of them, after a quiet glance about the neighborhood, strolled out toward the stage, hands deep in the pockets of his wide trousers. There he seemed casually to repeat his leisurely survey of the surroundings, then he lounged back.
"No go," said he, in low tones, "both of 'em there yet. Young feller changing his dress. Their dinner's ready though. The colonel's writing."
Presently Sancho, grave and deliberate as became his race, emerged from the shadows of the bar and came close before he spoke.
"He goes to ride—that youth. Know you whither? And he has no horse."
And, as though to confirm this statement, with his quick, elastic step, Loring came forth to the side gate, dumped his valise into the stage, turned and looked keenly over the group, then as quickly approached them. He had discarded his linen coat and trousers in favor of a pair of brown cord breeches with Hualpai leggings and light spurs. A broad belt with knife and revolver was buckled to his waist. A silk handkerchief was loosely knotted at his throat. A light-colored felt hat was pulled down to his eyebrows, and dust-colored gantlets were drawn upon his hands. "Sancho," said he, "have that roan of yours saddled in ten minutes. How much if I keep him a week?"
"Everything in my house is at the service of the Senor Capitan," began Sancho grandiloquently, "but as to that horse——"
"No other will do. How much a week? though I may keep him only a day."
"Senor, he is the horse of my brother, and my brother is not here. If harm should come——"
"Full value will be paid. Here!" and a glittering gold piece, a double eagle, flashed in the sun. "Waste no talk now. Take this and saddle him."
Slowly, gingerly, with thumb and finger tips the ranchman plucked the coin from the open and extended palm, then bowed with the same native grace and gravity.
"Come, Loring," growled the colonel impatiently, "dinner," and Sancho caught the name.
"The Senor Loreeng—will not ride him hard—or far? It is to the camp of the major he goes?"
But, turning on his heel, not another word would Loring say. Ten minutes later, his hunger appeased with bacon, frijoles and chocolate, he mounted and rode quietly away eastward until Sancho's ranch was two miles behind, then gave the roan both rein and spur and sped like the wind up the Gila, two of Sancho's oldest customers vainly lashing on his trail.
Three days later, just at sundown, the loungers at Sancho's were treated to a sensation. Up from the south—the old Tucson trail—came, dusty, travel-stained and weary, half a troop of cavalry, escorting, apparently, some personage of distinction, for he was an object of the utmost care and attention on part of the lieutenant commanding and every man in the detachment. As the cavalcade approached the dun-colored walls of the corral and, without a word or sign to the knot of curious spectators gathered at the bar-room door, filed away to the spot where wandering commands of horse were accustomed to bivouac for the night (tents would have been superfluous in that dry, dewless atmosphere), the women whispering together behind their screened window place, stared the harder at sight of the leaders. One was Lieutenant Blake—no mistaking him, the longest legged man in Arizona. Another was big Sergeant Feeney, a veteran who bad seen better days and duties, but served his flag in the deserts of the Gila as sturdily as ever he fought along the Shenandoah three years before. Between these two, dapper, slender, natty, with his hat set jauntily on one side and his mustache and imperial twirled to the proportions of toothpicks, rode a third cavalier whom every one recognized instantly as the fugitive of Camp Cooke, the urgently-sought Captain Nevins. And, though Nevins' arms and legs were untrammeled by shackles of any kind, it was plain to see that he was a helpless prisoner. He had parted with his belt and revolver. His spurs were ravished from his heels, and his bridle-rein, cut in two, was shared between Blake and his faithful sergeant. Behind these three rode another set. Sandwiched between two troopers was a man whom Sancho's people well remembered as Nevins' clerk and assistant, despite the fact that a bushy beard now covered the face that was smooth-shaven in the halcyon days of the supply camp. Then came some thirty horsemen in long, straggling column of twos, while, straight from the flank to the gate of the corral, silent and even somber, rode the engineer, Lieutenant Loring. To him Sancho whipped off his silver-laced sombrero and bowed, while two jaded-looking vaqueros, after one long yet furtive stare, glanced quickly at each other and sidled away to the nearest aperture in the wall of the ranch, which happened to be the dining-room door. Loring mechanically touched his hat-brim in recognition of the ranch-keeper's obeisance, but there was no liking in his eye. At the gate he slowly, somewhat stiffly, dismounted, for it was evident he had ridden long and far. The roan with hanging head tripped eagerly, yet wearily, to his accustomed stall, and a swarthy Mexican unloosed at once the cincha and removed the horsehair bridle. Thus Sancho and the engineer were left by themselves, though inquisitive ranch folk sauntered to the gateway and peered after them into the corral. Over at the little clump of willows Blake's men were throwing their carbines across their shoulders and dismounting as they reached the old familiar spot, and Loring cast one look thither before he spoke.
"Who were the two men who followed me?" he calmly asked, and his eyes, though red-rimmed and inflamed by the dust of the desert, looked straight into the dark face of the aggrieved Sancho.
"Surely I know not, Senor Teniente"—he had dropped the "capitan" as too transparent flattery.
"Don't lie, Sancho. There's ten more dollars," and Loring tossed an eagle into the ready palm. "That's thirty, and I shall want that horse again in the morning."
"To-morrow, senor! Why, he will not be fit to go."
But to this observation Mr. Loring made no reply. Straight from Sancho's side he walked down the corral, halted behind two rangy, hard-looking steeds that showed still the effects of recent severe usage, and these he studied coolly and thoroughly a few minutes, while peering from two narrow slits in the ranch wall between the windows two sun-tanned frontiersmen as closely studied him. With these latter, peeping from the shaded window, was "the wife of my brother," exchanging with them comments in low, guarded tones. In the adjoining room, a bedroom, a girl of perhaps sixteen, slender, graceful and dark-eyed, peeped in the opposite direction, over toward the willows where Blake's men were now unsaddling—whence presently, with giant strides came Blake himself, stalking over the sand. Sancho, despite his anxious scrutiny of Loring's silent movements, saw the coming officer and prepared his countenance for smiles. But with a face set and forbidding Blake went sternly by, taking no notice of the proprietor, and made directly for the little group now muttering at the dining-room door. The loungers, some of whom had deserted the supper-table for a sight of the captives and the cavalcade, sidled right and left as though to avoid his eye, for into each face, most of them hang-dog visages, he gazed sharply as though in search of some one, yet never faltered in his stride. Back from her barred window shrank the young girl as the tall soldier came within a dozen paces. To one side or another, smoke inhaling, and striving to look unconcerned, edged the swarthy constituents of the group, and with never a word to one of them, straight through their midst and the doorway beyond went Blake, catching the three peepers, "the wife of my brother" and the brace of palpable cutthroats at their loopholes. So unexpected was the move that it had not even occurred to one of the creatures at the door to mutter a word of warning. So engrossed were the three in their scrutiny that Blake's entrance was unheard. True, he had discarded boots and spurs, and his feet were encased in soft Apache moccasins. The floor, too, was earthen, but he had made no effort at stealth, and in the gloom and shadow of the low-roofed room it was for a moment difficult to distinguish the human figures against the opposite wall. It was his ear that first gave warning, for low, yet distinct, he heard the words:
"If he'd taken any horse but that roan—or knew less about riding—we'd 'a caught him twenty miles out, and they'd never 'a caught Nevins. Dash, dash the whole dashed blue-bellied outfit, and be dash, dash, dashed to their quadruple dashed souls!" and the concentrated spite and hatred of the speaker hissed in every syllable.
"'Taint a question of what we couldn't do. What can we do? He's got money and plenty of it cached somewhere about the old camp, and five hundred dollars of it's mine. That's what I want. I don't care a damn what they do with him so long as they don't send him to prison where we can't nail him. That's what that bloody court will do though, an' I know it."
"How d'ye know?" fiercely demanded the other; "'nless you've been in the army—which you swear you haven't. Where'd you desert from? Come, own up now," and, turning for an instant from his peephole, the speaker became suddenly aware of the silent form of Lieutenant Blake.
"None of your dashed business," began the other, when a harsh "Shut up!" brought him around in amaze and he, too, confronted the dark figure standing like a sign post between them and the violet light beyond the open doorway. Instinctively the hands of both men sought their pistol-butts, but Blake made never a move. The woman, looking around for the cause of the sudden silence, caught sight of the statuesque intruder and, with a low cry, threw her shawl over her head and, bending almost double, with outstretched, groping hands, scurried to where the mission-made blanket hung at the doorway of the bedroom and darted through the aperture like a rabbit to its form, the folds of the heavy wool falling behind her.
And still the tall lieutenant neither spoke nor moved. His revolver hung at his right hip, his hunting-knife slept in its sheath, but his hands sat jauntily on his thighs. The stern, set look of his clear-cut face had given place to something like a grin of amusement. First at one, then at the other, of the two bewildered worthies he gazed, looking each deliberately from head to foot as they hovered there, both irresolute and disconcerted, one of them visibly trembling. There was a doorway leading into the room in which was set the table for stage passengers of the better class, officers and the few ladies who had ventured to follow their lords into far-away Arizona, or the gente fine, which included Amazons whose money could pay their way pretty much anywhere and was made pretty much anyhow. But that room was empty and the one beyond it, the bar, had only one or two occupants, too far away to see what was going on. There was a doorway and a swinging screen of dirty canvas just beyond the loophole lately occupied by "the wife of my brother," a doorway that gave on the corral, and to each of these each silent "tough" had given a quick, furtive glance, but not a step was taken. How long the strain of the situation might have lasted there is no saying. It was broken by the sudden lifting of that dirty canvas screen, as sudden and perceptible a start on part of each of the confronted men and the quick entrance of the engineer. For another second or two no word was spoken. Loring's eyes were evidently unable at the instant to penetrate the gloom. Then he recognized Blake, then gradually the two men at the wall, and then at last Blake spoke.
"There are your followers, Loring."
A moment's careful scrutiny, then a nod of assent was Loring's answer.
"Now, then, you two," said Blake. "I've suspected you before. Now I more than suspect you. You—the long villain—I warn never to come nosing about our camp again, and you, the shorter, I'll trouble to come into camp forthwith. No, don't draw that pistol unless you want a dozen bullets through you. Half a troop is right here at my back. Your soldier name was Higgins and you're a deserter from Cram's battery, New Orleans."
For a moment there was a silence, broken only by the hard breathing of the two cornered men, then came a flash, a sharp report, a piercing scream as the lithe Mexican girl sprang forth from behind the blanket and hurled herself on Blake, a panther-like leap of the accused man under cover of the flash and smoke, a thwack like the sound of the bat when it meets a new baseball full in the middle, and Loring's fist had landed full on Higgins' jowl and sent him like a log to the floor.
The court-martial that met at Camp Cooke in compliance with orders from division headquarters at 'Frisco had, three weeks later, practically finished the case of Brevet-Captain Nevins, and that debonair person, who had appeared before it on the first day, suave, laughing, and almost insolently defiant, had wilted visibly as, day after day, the judge advocate unfolded the mass of evidence against him. All that Nevins thought to be tried for was a charge of misappropriation of public funds and property, and it was his purpose to plead in bar of trial that he had offered to make complete restitution, to replace every missing item, and doubly replace, if need be, every dollar. This, indeed, he had lost no time in doing the moment he was handed over to the post commander, two days after the exciting episode at Sancho's, but he coupled with the offer a condition that all proceedings against him should be dropped, and the veteran major commanding, while expressing entire willingness to receipt for any funds the accused might offer, would promise nothing whatever in return. That Nevins should be charged with desertion and breach of arrest the accused officer regarded as of small importance. He was merely going to Tucson fast as he could to get from business associates, as he termed them, the money deposited with them, and owed to him, and this must also excuse his having borrowed the major's best horse. His friends in congress would square all that for him, even if the court should prove obdurate. That grave charges should have followed him from a former sphere of operations, that his record, while retained in the volunteer service until the spring of '66 and assigned to some mysterious bureau functions in the South, should all have been ventilated and made part and parcel of the charges, that it should be shown that he, as a newly commissioned officer of the army, had made the journey from New Orleans to the Isthmus and thence to San Francisco with men whom he knew to be deserters from commands stationed in the Crescent City, that he should have gambled with them and associated with them and brought one of them all the way with him to Yuma and concealed from the military authorities his knowledge of their crime, that it should be proved he was a professional "card sharp," expert manipulator and blackleg he never had contemplated as even possible, and yet, with calm and relentless deliberation "that cold-blooded, merciless martinet of a West Pointer," as he referred to the judge advocate at an early stage in the proceedings, had laid proof after proof before the court, and left the case of the defense at the last without a leg to stand on. And then Nevins dropped the debonair and donned the abject, for the one friend or adviser left to him in the crowded camp, an officer who said he always took the side of the under dog in a fight, had told him that in its present temper that court, with old Turnbull as one of its leaders, would surely sentence him to a term of years at Alcatraz as well as to dismissal from the military service of the United States. Dismissal he expected, but cared little for that. He had money and valuables more than enough to begin life on anywhere, and the pickings of his accustomed trade were all too scant in Arizona. He needed a broader field, and a crowding population for the proper exercise of his talents; and the uniform of the officer, after all, had not proved to be so potent in lulling the suspicions of prospective victims as he had expected it might be. But Alcatraz! a rock-bound prison! a convict's garb! hard labor on soft diet! that was indeed appalling.
"That man Loring has made you out an innate blackguard, Nevins. You've got to plead for mercy," said his shrewd adviser, and Nevins saw the point and plead. He laid before the court letters from officers of rank speaking gratefully of his aid during the prevalence of yellow fever in the Gulf States. He begged the court to wait until he could show them the affidavits of many statesmen and soldiers, whom it would take months to hear from by mail, and there was then no telegraph in Arizona. He begged for time, for pity, and the court was moved and wrote to Drum Barracks for instructions, and adjourned until the answer came, which it did by swift stage and special courier within a week. "Advices from Washington say that the congressional backers of the accused have declared themselves well rid of him and suggest the extreme penalty of the law," and this being the advice of Washington it was simply human nature that the court should experience a revulsion of feeling and consider itself bound to see that the poor fellow was not made to suffer martyrdom. Most of the members were men from the volunteers or from the ranks. West Pointers were the exception, not the rule, in the line of the army for years after the war. Most of the court had been the recipients of Nevins' exuberant hospitality at one time or other. He had objected to the few who had lost heavily to him at cards, and the objection had been sustained, and when the last day for the long session arrived and a sad-eyed, pale-faced, scrupulously groomed and dressed accused arose before the dignified array and the little line of curious spectators, to make his last plea, a silence not unmixed with a certain sympathy, fell upon all hearers, as in low voice and faltering accents the friendless fellow began his story. Partly from manuscript, which he seemed to find hard reading, but mainly as an extemporaneous effort, his remarks were substantially as follows:
"I've come to make a clean breast of it, gentlemen. I'm not fit to wear your uniform. I never was. I never wanted to. It was practically forced upon me by men who ought to have known better, who did know better, but who didn't care so long as they got me out of the way. My father as much as owned more than one congressman in York State. The Honorable Mr. Cadger, of the Military Committee, couldn't 'a been renominated if it hadn't been for him, and he didn't want me round home any more. He got me kept on bureau work long after all but a few volunteers were mustered out and shoved me down to New Orleans, where I'd often been steamboating before the war. I had the fever there when I was only twenty. Perhaps he thought I could get it again, and that would be the end of me. If there's a worse place for a young officer to start in than that infernal town was just after the war it ain't on the map o' these United States. I had the luck and the opportunities of the devil for nigh onto a year. I got more money and learned more ways of getting it than I knew how to use, and then I got married. A homeless woman, a woman with brains and good looks and education, married me for the position I could give her, I suppose. They told me afterward she did it out of spite or desperation; that she was a Northern girl who had been employed as governess in an old Southern family that was ruined by the war; that she had a younger sister in New York whom she was educating, a girl who had a magnificent voice and wanted to go on the stage, and all the money she could save went to her. She got employment when Ben Butler took command, for she knew all the Southern families, and who had money and plate and jewels, and who had nothing but niggers. She fell in love, they told me afterward, with a swell colonel who came there on staff duty, for he cut a dash and made desperate love to her until his wife got wind of it and came down there all of a sudden just after the smash-up of the Confederacy, and put a stop to his fun. That was in May, and I got there in July. We were married that winter, and I loaded her with the best I could buy and gave her all she could spend on her sister until she found out how my money was made there—in cotton and cards. She thought, and I'd let her think so, that I had big property in the North. It was another woman gave her the tip, and then the trouble began. She swore we must give up the house we lived in, the horses and carriage, and go to a cheap boarding-house. She got the jewelers to take back the watch and every trinket I'd given her—at their own valuation, about a quarter of what they cost me. She argued and pleaded and prayed, and swore she'd confess the whole thing to General Sheridan, who came there right after the riots of '66 and took command, and that would have sent me to the penitentiary. There were regular officers in the deals beside me, and they got wind of it and tried to bribe her; and she'd cry all night and mope all day, and swore she'd leave me unless I cut loose from the whole business and restored what I'd made. By God, I couldn't! I'd spent it! I was no worse than three or four others who had eyes open to their opportunities—two of 'em in the regular army now—bang-up swells, and at last I couldn't stand it and got to drinking, and then I lost my card nerve and the money went with it, and it made me desperate, crazy, I reckon; for one night when I came home drunk and she made a scene I suppose I must have struck her, and then she took sick and got delirious, and I was horribly afraid, and so were my partners, that she'd give up the whole business; so they got me leave of absence. They saw me aboard the steamer for New York. My money was running short, and they gave me enough to place her in a sanitarium on the Hudson and get her sister with her, and then I came back, and bad luck followed. I was strapped when the old man told me I'd have to go out and join my regiment, for he'd got me appointed in the regulars. Why, some of Sheridan's officers when they saw my name in the papers, wrote to stop it, but it was no use. The military committee in congress couldn't go back on Mr. Cadger, and he daren't go back on my father. But they got me sent out here to be as far away as possible; and yes, there were three deserters from Cram's battery aboard the steamer, so I learned, and one of them, the man you call Higgins, who was betrayed to Lieutenant Blake by another deserter just as bad as him, was staking the other two, for he had money in plenty until after I had done with him. What my life's been out here you know well enough; same as it was in New Orleans—all luck and plenty at first, then all a collapse. I'm ruined now. When I had hundreds and thousands I helped everybody who wanted it. There are men in Yuma and Tucson now whom I set on their pins, and they give me the cold shoulder. All that offer to the major was a bluff. They've got all my money. I haven't a cent anywhere, and so far as I'm personally concerned I don't care. If there was no one on earth dependent on me I'd as lief you'd shoot me to-morrow.
"But, gentlemen, there's the rub. I own it now. There's my poor wife and her sister. I've lied to them both. She got well at the sanitarium. She's believed my promises and she's come all the way to San Francisco, and was expecting me there when—when the bottom fell out of the whole business. She's there now, she and her sister. They've got enough to pay their expenses perhaps a month or so, and that's all. I can make a living, I can get along and provide for her if you'll only give me a chance. I know I deserve dismissal. That's all right; but for God's sake, gentlemen, don't send me to Alcatraz—don't put me in jail, leave me free to work. There's men in this territory that owe me nearly a thousand dollars to-day. Let me gather that up and go to my wife—I—I—She's a good woman, gentlemen—" and here the tears came starting from the pleading culprit's eyes, and one or two sympathetic souls about the rude tables sniffed suspiciously. "It ain't for me to talk of such things. Perhaps you won't believe me, but—" and he fingered the leaves of the blue-bound copy of the regulations that lay to the left of the judge advocate's elbow, "I—I love that woman and I want to care for her, and take good care of her. Look here," he continued, as with sudden, impulsive movement he unbuttoned his trim-fitting, single-breasted frock coat and displayed a snowy shirt bosom on which sparkled and glistened a great diamond set in the style much affected by the "sporting gent" of the day. "See this diamond. It cost eleven hundred dollars in San Francisco six months ago; and here, this solitaire," and he produced from an inner pocket an unquestionably valuable ring and, with trembling hands, laid them upon the table in front of the judge advocate; "and here," and he whipped from the waistband of his trousers a massive and beautiful watch. "There are all the valuables I have in the world. These I place in the hands of the worthy officer and gentleman who has only done his duty in representing the government through this long and painful trial. These I publicly turn over to him with the request that he personally hand them to my poor wife as soon as he reaches San Francisco as earnest of my intention to lead an honest life and to care for her in the future. And now, gentlemen, I've nothing to ask for myself—nothing but liberty to go and work for her. I'm not fit to sit with such as you."
He finished and, quivering as with suppressed emotion, turned his back upon the court, pressed his handkerchief to his streaming eyes and groped his way to the little table set apart for him a few yards to the left of the judge advocate. The silence among the members and along the benches whereon were seated the dozen spectators was for a moment unbroken by a sound except a little shuffling of feet. Then one veteran member cleared his throat with a "hem" of preparation to speak, yet hesitated. The junior officer of the court, a lieutenant of cavalry, slowly stretched forth his hand, picked up the solitaire and eyed it with an assumption of critical yet respectful interest. The president, a grizzled, red-faced veteran, presently stole a glance at Turnbull, who sat with stolid features immediately on his right. One by one the nine members (two of the original eleven having been challenged and excused) began to look cautiously about them. A captain of infantry was observed to be very red about the eyelids, but—that might have been, and possibly was, the result of cocktails. Loring alone remained in the same position. He had half turned his back to Nevins when the latter began to speak, rested his left elbow on the table, and his head on his hand, his eyes shaded under the curving palm against the glare of light that came from without. There was no room or building big enough for the purpose at the post, and the court had held its session under a brace of hospital tent flies stretched on a framework adjoining the office of the major commanding, and Camp Cooke, as a rule, looked on from afar. The spectators who ventured beneath the shade were officers of the little garrison, the sutler and half a dozen "casuals" of the civilian persuasion, among whom, if not among the members of the court, Nevins' harangue had created undoubted sensation, for glances indicative of surprise if not of incredulity passed among them.
At last as though he felt that something must be said rather than that he knew what was appropriate to say, the presiding officer addressed the member who had cleared his throat.
"You were about to say something, major?"
"I—er—should like to ask the accused whether—his wife is informed of his—er—predicament?"
And Nevins, slowly turning, answered, "I wrote last week confessing everything. It will be a relief to her that I am no longer in the army. She said she could never look an officer in the face." There was another pause, then Nevins spoke again. "I hope I have not imposed too much on the judge advocate. I have asked because he is the only gentleman here who is not entirely a stranger to my wife."
Then all eyes were on Loring as he slowly dropped his hand and looked with undisguised astonishment at the accused. Blake, a spectator, suddenly drew his long legs under him and straightened up in his seat. It was needless for Loring to speak. His eyes questioned.
"I do not mean that Mr. Loring knows my wife, but—she has heard of him from her sister. They hoped to find him in Frisco."
Loring had picked up a pencil as he turned. Its point was resting on the pine-topped table. He never spoke. His eyes, still steadily fixed upon the twitching face of Nevins, questioned further, and every man present strained his ears for the next word.
"I should explain—her sister is Miss Geraldine Allyn."
And with a snap that was heard all over the assemblage the lead of Loring's pencil broke short off. He sat staring at Nevins, white and stunned.
The sutler's "shack" at Camp Cooke was crowded with officers that evening and the episode of Nevins' address was the talk of all tongues. Certain civilians were there, too, frequenters of Sancho's place, but they were silent, observant and unusually abstemious. To say that Nevins had astonished everybody by an exhibition of feeling and an access of conscience would be putting it mildly. But the fact was indisputable. He himself, after adjournment, exhibited to the interrogative major two long letters, recently received from San Francisco, in graceful feminine hand, and signed "Your sad but devoted wife, Naomi." One of these referred to Lieutenant Loring, "whom Geraldine met at West Point and saw frequently the summer and fall that followed his graduation."
There were members of the court who sought to hear what Loring had to say on the subject, but he proved unapproachable. All men noted the amaze—indeed, the shock—that resulted from Nevins' public and somewhat abrupt mention of the sister's name. The judge advocate sat for a moment as though stricken dumb, his eyes fixed and staring, his face pallid, the muscles of his compressed lips twitching perceptibly, his hand clinched and bearing hard upon the table. There were few army women at Camp Cooke in those days, only two or three veteran campaigners and one misguided bride, but had the post been full of them there could hardly have been curiosity more lively than was exhibited by most of the court all that long afternoon and evening. Conjecture, comment, suggestion passed from, lip to lip. One or two men even went so far as to drop in at the tent assigned to the lonely accused and after expressing interest and sympathy and a desire to see that he got "fair play and a fresh start," they ventured to inquire if Nevins knew why Mr. Loring had been so much astonished, if not overcome, by the mention of the name of Nevins' sister-in-law. Nevins didn't know, but at that moment he would have given his hopes of mercy to find out. He was writing to his wife when his visitors came, and demanding explanation. He could think of several possibilities, any one of which in his unenlightened mind might give him a claim, even a hold on the hitherto intractable West Pointer. Why, why had he not heard or dreamed before this long trial came to its dramatic close that there was some strong and mysterious connection between him and Loring, between prosecutor and accused? The one plausible theory was that Loring and Geraldine were or had been affianced. From all his wife had told him in their few days of moderate content and apparent bliss, he knew Geraldine to be beautiful, gifted and attractive to any man, despite her poverty. That she had been petted and spoiled, that she was selfish to the core, grasping and ambitious, he had never heard, yet might have inferred from Naomi's faltering pleas on her sister's behalf early in the days of their wedded life. In his eagerness to learn something of the truth he sent a messenger during the afternoon, after the final adjournment, and begged that Mr. Loring should come to see him. The reply was that Mr. Loring would do so later. Only two men succeeded in seeing Loring that afternoon and evening, the post commander, Major Stark, at whose quarters he was housed, and the veteran president of the court. On the plea of being very busy writing the record of the week's session, he had excused himself to everybody else. There had been something of a scene before the adjournment that morning. The court was ordered to try "such other prisoners as might properly be brought before it," and it was understood that two deserters, captured at Tucson, had announced their intention of pleading guilty and throwing themselves on the mercy of the court. Higgins had been sent to Fort Yuma. It would take long weeks to get the evidence in his case from New Orleans, but the two victims at Cooke knew well that their case was clear. There was no use in fighting. The sooner they were tried the shorter term would they serve as prisoners. Nevins finished at ten o'clock. Loring's brief stupefaction was conquered not without evident effort. Vouchsafing no response to the plea of the accused for mercy, he announced that he submitted the case without remark, and the president nodded to Nevins the intimation that he might retire. Nevins slowly gained his feet, took a long look about the silent array, hesitated, and then with his eyes on Loring said:
"I should like to be assured that the judge advocate accepts the trust. It will be two or three months before the orders in my case can get back from Washington, meantime my pay is stopped and has been for three months back. My wife must have means to live on, and that's all I have to offer. There is no other way of getting it to her that I consider safe."
Loring's white hand was trembling visibly, but his head was bowed as though in painful thought. The president had to speak. "I presume you will not refuse, Mr. Loring?"
For another moment there was silence. At last, slowly, the judge advocate looked up, turned to the accused and said, "Write Mrs. Nevins' address on that," holding forth as he did so a heavy official envelope. Wrapping the pin and ring together in note paper he stowed them in a smaller envelope, moistened the gummed flap, closed it and slid it within the heavier one which Nevins, after addressing, laid before him. Then turning to the president, Loring calmly bowed and said, "I will accept, sir."
Five minutes later, cleared of all persons except the members and the judge advocate, who in those days did not withdraw during the deliberations of the court, this open-air temple of military justice was given over to the discussion on the findings and the determination of the sentence. In low, grave tones those members who had opinions to express gave utterance to their views. The votes on each specification and to the various charges were recorded, and finally the sentence was arrived at. By 11:30 the case of Brevet-Captain Nevins was practically concluded and the president, eager as were his associates to finish their work after their long detention at this hot, barren, yet not inhospitable post, looked briskly up at the silent, somber young officer at the opposite end of the long table.
"Shall we take ten minutes' recess and have a stretch before you go on with the next case, Mr. Judge Advocate? I understand both victims plead guilty and we can do 'em up in thirty minutes."
Nevins' watch was going the rounds of the court at the moment, its beautiful and costly case and workmanship exciting general admiration. Again the judge advocate was slow and hesitant in his reply, utterly unlike the prompt, alert official whose conduct of the trial had won golden opinions from every man, old or young, in the service. It was nearly half a minute before he spoke, and then only after the president reminded him that several officers wished to start that afternoon for the Gila so as to meet the eastward stage at Sancho's two days later.
"Give me an hour, sir. I cannot go on sooner."
Out under the canvas shelter at the adjutant's office stood the two prisoners with their guards. For an hour or more they had been waiting their turn. A shade of disappointment stole over one or two faces, but the president's answer was prompt.
"Certainly, Mr. Loring. The court owes it to you," and the recess was declared accordingly. The post quartermaster was one of the junior members and Loring detained him. Bidding the orderly remain in charge of the premises he turned to this official.
"You have a safe at your office. Will you permit me to place these in it?—and come with me until I do so?"
"Certainly. Come right along. It's but a step."
Wrapped in a silken handkerchief Nevin's watch, with the envelope containing the diamonds, was stored in a little drawer within the safe and securely locked. "You need a drink," said the quartermaster to the engineer, noting again his pallid face.
"None, I thank you," said Loring briefly, and without another word he took himself straightway to Major Starke's. At 12:30 when court reconvened the judge advocate went swiftly and methodically through his work, read the orders, propounded the usual questions, swore the court, took his own oath, read the charges and recorded the pleas without loss of a second of time or use of a superfluous word. At 1:15 the court stood adjourned sine die, leaving the president and judge advocate to finish and sign the record. By 3 P. M. five of its members, in the one "four-mule" road wagon belonging at Cooke, were speeding southward, hoping to catch the stage to take them to their posts lying far to the east. By midnight the record was well-nigh complete, and Loring, locking up the papers, stepped softly out into the starlight.
Over across the contracted parade a lamp was burning dimly at the guard tents and several others flared at the brush and canvas shack of the sutler. Everywhere else about Camp Cooke there was silence and slumber. The muttered word of command as the half-past-twelve relief formed at the guard tent, the clink of glasses and murmur of voices, sometimes accentuated by laughter, came drifting on the night from the open clubroom. Beyond the guard tents the dim walls of the corral loomed darkly against the dry, cloudless, star-dotted sky that bordered the eastern horizon. The sentry, slowly pacing his beaten path along the acequia that conducted the cool waters of the Yavapai, from the northward hills to the troughs in the corral, moved noiseless, dim and ghostly, and Loring, listening for a moment to the faint sounds of revelry at the shack, turned away to the north, passed the rude shelters which had been built by the labor of troops for the accommodation of the officers and the few families there abiding, and found himself presently on the open plain full a hundred yards out from the buildings and beyond the post of the sentry on that flank, who, far over at the west end of his long beat at the moment, was dreaming of the revels he'd have when his discharge came, and neither heard nor saw the solitary officer whose one desire was to get away by himself to some point where he could calmly think. He needed to be alone. Even Blake, whom he had grown to like and whom he believed to be still at the camp, would have been in the way.
A strange fellow was Loring, a man grown, so far as judgment and experience were concerned, when at the age of twenty he entered West Point, and from the very start became one of the leaders of his class in scholarship, and later one of the prominent officers of the battalion of cadets. In scientific and mathematical studies, indeed, he had no superior among his comrades, but languages and drawing, as taught in those days at the academy, threw him out of the head of the class, but could not prevent his landing a close second to the leader in general standing. Never a popular man in the corps, he commanded, nevertheless, the respect and esteem of the entire battalion, and little by little won a deeper regard from his immediate associates. He was a man of marked gravity of demeanor. He rarely laughed. His smile was only a trifle more frequent. He was taciturnity personified and for two years at least was held to be morose. Of his antecedents little was known, for he never spoke of them and seldom of himself. He was methodical in the last degree, exercising just so long in the gymnasium every morning during the barrack days and putting on the gloves for fifteen minutes every evening with the best middleweight in the corps. There were times in his early cadet days when he was suspected of having an ugly temper, and perhaps with reason. Exasperated at some prank played at his expense by a little "yearling" toward the close of his first—the "plebe"—encampment, Loring actually kicked the offender out of his tent. The boy was no match for the older, heavier man, but flew at him like a wildcat then and there, and Loring suddenly found himself in a fierce and spirited battle. The little fellow had pluck, science and training, and Loring's eyes and nose were objects to behold in less than a minute. For that moment, shame-stricken, he fought on the defensive, then, stung by the taunts of the swift-gathering third classmen, he rushed like a bull, and two heavy blows sent the yearling to grass and that fight was ended. But challenges rained on him from "men of his size and weight," and the very next evening he went out to Fort Clinton with one of the champions of the upper class and in fifteen minutes was carried away to a hospital a total wreck. It was ten days before he was reported fit for duty. Then camp was over and barrack life begun. Not a word would he or did he say about his severe defeat, but systematically he went to work to master "the noble art of self-defense," and two years from that time the corps was treated to a sensation. Loring, back from cadet furlough, had been made first sergeant of Company "D," in which as a private and first classman was the very cadet who had so soundly thrashed him. Loring proved strict. Certain "first-class privates" undertook to rebel against his authority, his former antagonist being the ringleader. Matters came to a crisis when Loring entered the names of three of the seniors on the delinquency book for "slow taking place in ranks at formation for dinner." It was declared an affront. His old antagonist demanded satisfaction in the name of the aggrieved ones, and that fight was the talk of the corps for six months. Loring named the old battle-ground at Fort Clinton as the place, and in ten minutes utterly reversed the issue of his plebe effort, and the first classman was the worst whipped victim seen in years, for he fought until fairly knocked senseless. That was Loring's last affair of the kind. He went about his duties next day as seriously and methodically as ever, without the faintest show of triumph, and when the vanquished cadet finally returned from hospital, treated him with scrupulous courtesy that, before the winter wore away, warmed even to kindliness, and when the springtime came the two were cordial friends. The summer of his graduation Loring was ordered on temporary duty as an instructor during the encampment of cadets. He did not dance. He cared little for society, but one evening at Cozzens' he was thrilled by the sweetness of a woman's song, and gazing in at her as she sang to an applauding audience in the great parlor, Loring saw a face as sweet as the voice. Several evenings he spent on the broad veranda, for every night she sang and ere long noticed him; so did prominent society women and read his unspoken admiration. "Let me present you to her, Mr. Loring," said one of the latter. "She is a lovely girl, and so lonely, you know. She is engaged as companion, it seems, to Miss Haight—a dragon of an old maid who is a good deal of an invalid and seldom out of her room. That is why you never see the girl at the 'hops' at the Point, yet I know she'd love to go."
Loring felt that he blushed with eagerness and pleasure, though he merely said "please," and so Miss Geraldine Allyn met Lieutenant Loring of the engineers, and within the fortnight he knew, though he strove to hide it, that he was madly in love with her. Such beauty, such a voice, such appealing loneliness were too much for him. Six long weeks, though he became her shadow, Loring struggled against his passion. He had planned that for years he should remain single until he had saved a modest nestegg; then, when he had rank and experience, had moved in the world and had ample opportunity to study women, he would select for himself and deliberately lay siege to the girl he thought to make his wife.
But when his duties were completed with the twenty-eighth of August and he should have gone to his home, Loring remained at the Point fascinated, for Miss Haight and her musical companion stayed at Cozzens through September. In October they were to go to Lenox, and before the parting Loring's ring was on that little finger. She had promised to be his wife. Home then he hurried in response to the pleading of his sister, but the moment the Lenox visit was over and Miss Haight returned to New York thither went Loring to find his fiancee at the piano, with a middle-aged, somewhat portly civilian bending eagerly over her and so engrossed that he never saw or heard the intruder. This was November fourth. The engagement was barely six weeks old, but Loring's ring was not on her finger as she rose in confusion to greet him. More than that, she wrote a piteous letter to him, begging for her release. She "really had not known her own mind." Loring gave it without a word to or without other sight of her, packed his trunk, and left New York on the morning train. There was a sensation at the Point when it was announced that Miss Allyn was to marry Mr. Forbes Crosby, a wealthy "board-of-trade man" of forty. Loring reappeared no more. He got his orders for San Francisco and sailed late in the fall, and barely had he gone than the story spread from lip to lip that Mr. Crosby had broken the engagement, that Miss Haight had decided to go abroad and would not require a companion what was more, that Forbes Crosby had been making very judicious investments for Miss Haight herself, and people really wouldn't be surprised if—and then Geraldine Allyn, too, disappeared from New York and was next heard of living very quietly with a married sister, herself an invalid, a Mrs. Nevins, whose husband was said to be somewhere in the army.
And so that girl whom Loring had so deeply loved was sister to the wife of this military castaway, this unprincipled gambler, swindler and thief, and he, Loring, had charged himself with a commission that might bring him once more face to face with her who had duped him.
Circling the camp at wide distance, he had crossed the acequia and reached the Gila road. To the north now lay the camp, and the twinkling lights of the sutler's bar, and between him and these twinkling lights two dark objects bobbed into view some thirty yards distant, and, as plain as he could hear his own heart beat, Loring heard a voice say: "Then I'll count on you not to let him out of your sight," and the voice was that of Nevins—Nevins who was supposed to confine himself, day and night in arrest, to the limits of the garrison.
The members of the court had scattered to their posts, all save the veteran president and Colonel Turnbull, the department inspector. Lieutenant Blake, to his disgust, had been sent scouting up the Hassayampa where the Apaches had been seen some days before, but couldn't be found now—it being the practice of those nimble warriors to get far from the scene of their deviltries without needless delay, and the rule of the powers that were, until General Crook taught them wiser methods, to promptly order cavalry to the spot where the Indians had been, instead of where they had presumably gone. A buckboard en route to Date Creek, with two of the array that had sat in judgment on Nevins, had been "held up" at night by a gang of half a dozen desperadoes and the three passengers relieved of their valuables, consisting of one gold watch and two of silver, one seal ring, three revolvers, three extra-sized canteens, a two-gallon demijohn, and in the aggregate three gallons of whisky. The victims had submitted to the inevitable so far as their gold and silver were concerned, but pathetically pointed out to the robber chief the hardship of being bereft at one fell swoop of the expensive and only consolation the country afforded, and despite his wrath and disappointment at finding that the gentlemen had already been robbed, two of them having spent four nights hand-running at the post poker-room—the leader was not so destitute of fellow-feeling as to condemn the hapless trio to the loss of even the necessaries of life, and mercifully handed back half a gallon.
"We hope to catch some of you gentlemen when you haven't been playing poker," said he, striving to stifle his chagrin. "Who got it all, anyhow?" he asked, with an eye to future business. "Ah, yes—might have known it," he continued in response to the rueful admission of one of the party. "Wonderfully smart outfit that at Cooke, wonderfully—most as smart as some of our people at Sancho's. Well, so long, gentlemen. 'F any of your friends are coming this way recommend our place, won't you? We've treated you as well as we knew how. Drive on, Johnny. Nobody else will stop you this side of Date. They know we got here first."
Arizona was an interesting region in those days of development that followed close on the heels of the war. Hundreds of experienced hands had been thrown out of employment by the return of peace, and the territories overflowed with outlaws, red and white, male and female. It was taking one's life in one's hands to venture pistol shot beyond the confines of a military post. It was impossible for paymasters to carry funds without a strong escort of cavalry. The only currency in the territory was that put in circulation by the troops or paid to contractors through the quartermaster's department. Even Wells-Fargo, pioneer expressmen of the Pacific slope, sent their messengers and agents no further then than the Colorado River, and Uncle Sam's mail stage was robbed so often that a registered package had grown to be considered only an advertisement to the covetous of the fact that its contents might be of value.
And so when the record of the court was duly signed and sealed in huge official envelope, and Lieutenant Loring, even more grave and taciturn than usual, went the rounds of the rude quarters to leave his card or pay his ceremonious parting call on the officers who knew enough to call on him—which in those crude days of the army many did not—he was asked by more than one experienced soldier whether he had requested an escort in view of the fact that he was burdened with valuables that, though small in bulk, were convertible into cash that was anything but small in amount. To such queries Mr. Loring, who had an odd aversion to answering questions as to what he was going to do, merely bowed assent and changed the subject. Lieutenant Gleason, an officer who had recently joined the infantry and was one of Nevins' victims, a man of unusual assurance despite his few months of service, had persisted in his queries to the extent of demanding from what quarter Loring expected to get an escort, Blake being away at the Hassayampa, and no other cavalry being within sixty miles; and Gleason felt resentful, though he deftly hid the fact, because the engineer ignored the question until it had been thrice repeated, and then he said, somewhat tartly: "That is my affair, Mr. Gleason." Everybody thought that Loring was decidedly unsociable, and some went so far as to call him supercilious and haughty.
"Too damned big to mingle with men who fought all through the war while he was a schoolboy at the Point," said Gleason, who had never seen a skirmish.
This latter gentleman took it much amiss that Loring had won the shoulder-straps of a first lieutenant the day he first donned his uniform (many vacancies then existing in the Corps of Engineers), while Gleason and others, with what he called war records, were still second lieutenants. Officers of the caliber of Turnbull and Starke saw much to respect in the grave, silent, thoughtful young officer, but the juniors—the captains and lieutenants—though they had marked the ease and ability with which Loring handled what was probably his first case as judge advocate, nevertheless agreed that he was "offish" toward the general run of "the line," held himself aloof as though he considered himself of superior clay, didn't drink, smoke, swear, or play cards, and was therefore destitute of most elements of soldier companionship as then and there defined. It was resented, too, by almost everybody that Loring would not say when and how he expected to leave Camp Cooke. He had come on Sancho's famous roan, but had returned that animal by special courier without delay. Starke and Turnbull were informed, but at Loring's request saw fit to hold their tongues. No one should know, he had said to them, if he was to be responsible for those valuables. It might leak out, and the veteran officers saw the point. The juniors could not well ask them, the veterans, but they could and did ask Loring, and held it up against him in days to come that he declined to be confidential.
There was a man at Cooke who could have told them Loring showed wisdom in his observance of caution, and that man was Nevins, who had been sent for by the commanding officer the morning after the adjournment of the court, and subjected to a questioning and a lecture that nobody else heard, but that everybody speedily knew must have been severe, because Nevins, lately so meek and lachrymose, was seen to go to his tent flushed with rage, and then from within those canvas walls his voice was heard uplifted in blasphemy and execration. Nor did he take advantage of garrison limits the rest of that day, nor once again that day appear outside. At so great a distance from civilization trifles prove of absorbing interest, and callers came to see what they "could do for him," and learn for themselves, and Nevins' face was black as a storm and his language punctuated with profanity. He raved about tyranny and oppression, but vouchsafed no intelligible explanation of what he confessed to be the commanding officer's latest order—that he was remanded to close arrest.
Let it be here explained for the benefit of the lay reader that when an officer is accused of a crime, or even of a misdemeanor, he is placed in arrest, which means that he is suspended for the time being from the exercise of command, must not wear a sword, and must confine himself to certain limits—to his tent or quarters if in close arrest, as for one week the officer generally is, and to the limits of the parade or garrison if allowed out for exercise. No sentry is posted, for an officer is supposed to be on honor to observe the prescribed restrictions, and only when he breaks his arrest, by visiting the quarters of some brother officer or by going outside of camp, is he in danger of other humiliation. To none of his few visitors did Nevins reveal the fact that on the previous night, if not before, he had broken his arrest and gone far out on the mesa back of the post, that he had been detected, by whom he knew not, reported to the commanding officer, and by him severely reprimanded and threatened with close confinement under guard, as when first brought back to the post, if he again ventured beyond the restricted limits now assigned him.
"I have twice sent to ask that Mr. Loring should come to see me," railed Nevins. "I have important matters—papers and messages from my wife, and he holds aloof. By God, Gleason! you tell him for me that if he can't treat me decently, and come to see me before tattoo this night, I demand that he hand back those diamonds and things! Do you understand?"
And that message Mr. Gleason, who of all things loved a sensation, faithfully promised to deliver and fully meant to, but the game at the sutler's developed into a big one that eventful night. Jackpots were the rule before the drums of the infantry hammered out first call for tattoo, and in the absorbing nature of his occupation he never thought of Nevins' charge except as something to be attended to later, and not until guard-mount of another day, when his head was muddled with the potations of an all-night session and the befogging cocktails of the morning, did Mr. Gleason approach the engineer upon the subject, and then there was a scene.
Loring was standing at the moment in front of the rude brush and adobe quarters of Major Starke conversing with two or three officers, or rather listening in silence to their observations. Turnbull was seated under the shelter of a sort of arbor made of framework and canvas signing some papers. The president of the court had disappeared and a rumor was flitting about the post that early in the morning, before the dawn, in fact, that hardy veteran had pushed ahead in saddle, escorted by most of Blake's troop, which had unexpectedly returned during the previous night, but merely unsaddled and, after a "rub-down, feed and water," had gone on again. If that were true, they had left as silently and mysteriously as they came, and only a corporal's guard remained. Had Gleason been intent on anything but the manner in which he could make his communication most public and significant, if not offensive, he would have noticed that both Turnbull and Loring were in riding dress. But while it could not be said of him that in his condition he was capable of seeing only one thing at a time, those things which he did see were duplicate images of the same object, and he lurched up to the dual Loring and the hazy figures that seemed floating about him, and, with an attempt at majestic impressiveness, thickly said: "Mr. Loring, I'm bearer of a message from my fren' Mr.—Captain Nevins, d'manding the me'dy't r'turn of the diamon's an' valu'bles he placed in your p'ssession."