FOUND IN THE PHILIPPINES
The Story of a Woman's Letters
BY CAPTAIN CHARLES KING
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS Eleven East Sixteenth Street New York
Copyrighted 1899, by F. Tennyson Neely.
Copyrighted 1901, by The Hobart Company.
FOUND IN THE PHILIPPINES.
Something unusual was going on at division headquarters. The men in the nearest regimental camps, regular and volunteer, were "lined up" along the sentry posts and silently, eagerly watching and waiting. For a week rumor had been rife that orders for a move were coming and the brigades hailed it with delight. For a month, shivering at night in the dripping, drenching fogs drifting in from the Pacific, or drilling for hours each day on the bleak slopes of the Presidio Heights, they had been praying for something to break the monotony of the routine. They were envious of the comrades who had been shipped to Manila, emulous of those who had stormed Santiago, and would have welcomed with unreasoning enthusiasm any mandate that bore promise of change of scene—or duty. The afternoon was raw and chilly; the wet wind blew salt and strong from the westward sea, and the mist rolled in, thick and fleecy, hiding from view the familiar landmarks of the neighborhood and forcing a display of lamplights in the row of gaudy saloons across the street that bounded the camp ground toward the setting sun, though that invisible luminary was still an hour high and afternoon drill only just over.
Company after company in their campaign hats and flannel shirts, in worn blue trousers and brown canvas leggings, the men had come swinging in from the broad driveways of the beautiful park to the south and, as they passed the tents of the commanding general, even though they kept their heads erect and noses to the front, their wary eyes glanced quickly at the unusual array of saddled horses, of carriages and Concord wagons halted along the curbstone, and noted the number of officers grouped about the gate. Ponchos and overcoat capes were much in evidence on every side as the men broke ranks, scattered to their tents to stow away their dripping arms and belts, and then came streaming out to stare, unrebuked, at headquarters. It was still early in the war days, and, among the volunteers and, indeed, among regiments of the regulars whose ranks were sprinkled with college men who had rubbed shoulders but a few months earlier with certain subalterns, the military line of demarcation was a dead letter when "the boys" were out of sight and hearing of their seniors, and so it happened that when a young officer came hurrying down the pathway that led from the tents of the general to those of the field officers of the Tenth California, he was hailed by more than one group of regulars along whose lines he passed, and, as a rule, the query took the terse, soldierly form of "What's up, Billy?"
The lieutenant nodded affably to several of his fellows of the football field, but his hand crept out from underneath the shrouding cape, palm down, signalling caution. "Orders—some kind," he answered in tones just loud enough to be heard by those nearest him. "Seen the old man anywhere? The general wants him," and, never halting for reply the youngster hurried on.
He was a bright, cheery, brave-eyed lad of twenty who six months earlier was stumbling through the sciences at the great university on the heights beyond the glorious bay, never dreaming of deadlier battle than that in which his pet eleven grappled with the striped team of a rival college. All on a sudden, to the amaze of the elders of the great republic, the tenets and traditions of the past were thrown to the winds and the "Hermit Nation" leaped the seas and flew at the strongholds of the Spanish colonies. Volunteers sprang up by the hundred thousand and a reluctant Congress accorded a meagre addition to the regular army. Many a college athlete joined the ranks, while a limited few, gifted with relatives who had both push and "pull," were permitted to pass a not very exacting examination and join the permanent establishment as second lieutenants forthwith. Counting those commissioned in the regular artillery and infantry, there must have been a dozen in the thronging camps back of the great city, and of these dozen, Billy Gray—"Belligerent Billy," as a tutor dubbed him when the war and Billy broke out together—the latter to the extent of a four-day's absence from all collegiate duty—was easily the gem of the lot. One of the "brightest minds" in his class, he was one of the laziest; one of the quickest and most agile when aroused, he was one of the torpids as a rule: One of the kind who should have "gone in for honors," as the faculty said, he came nearer going out for devilment. The only son of a retired colonel of the army who had made California his home, Billy had spent years in camp and field and saddle and knew the West as he could never hope to know Haswell. The only natural soldier of his class when, sorely against the will of most, they entered the student battalion, he promptly won the highest chevrons that could be given in the sophomore year, and, almost as promptly, lost them for "lates" and absences. When the 'Varsity was challenged by a neighboring institute to a competitive drill the "scouts" of the former reported that the crack company of the San Pedros had the snappiest captain they ever saw, and that, with far better material to choose from, and more of it, the 'Varsity wouldn't stand a ghost of a show in the eyes of the professional judges unless Billy would "brace up" and "take hold." Billy was willing as Barkis, but the faculty said it would put a premium on laxity to make Billy a 'Varsity captain even though the present incumbents were ready, any of them, to resign in his favor. "Prex" said No in no uncertain terms; the challenge was declined, whereat the institute crowed lustily and the thing got into the rival papers. As a result a select company of student volunteers was formed: its members agreed to drill an hour daily in addition to the prescribed work, provided Billy would "take hold" in earnest, and this was the company that, under his command, swept the boards six weeks later and left San Pedro's contingent an amazed and disgusted crowd. Then Billy went to metaphorical pieces again until the war clouds overspread the land; then like his father's son he girded up his loins, went in for a commission and won. And here he was a "sub" in Uncle Sam's stalwart infantry with three classmates serving under him in the ranks and half a dozen more, either as junior officers or enlisted men, in the camps of the volunteers. He was a handsome boy, a healthy, hearty boy, and, as boys go, rather a good boy—a boy in whom his mother would have found, had she not long since been lifted above the cares of this world, much of comfort and more to condone, but a boy, nevertheless, who had given his old dragoon of a dad many an anxious hour. Now, just as he neared the legal dividing line between youth and years of discretion, Billy Gray had joined the third battalion of his regiment, full of pluck, hope and health, full of ambition to make a name for himself in a profession he loved as, except his father, he certainly loved nothing else, and utterly scoffing the idea that there might come into his life a being for the sake of whose smile he could almost lay down his sword, for he had yet to meet Amy Lawrence.
"Who are the women folks up at headquarters, Billy?" asked a youth of his own years and rank, peering eagerly through the drifting mist at the dim, ghostly outlines of the general's camp.
"Didn't get to see 'em. Where's the old man—the colonel?" was the reply. "Chief wants him toot de sweet!"
"What's wanted?" called a voice from the biggest of the neighboring tents, and a close-cropped head was thrust out between the front tent flaps. "That you, Billy? Who wants the colonel? He and the 'brig' rode over to the Presidio an hour ago—ain't got back. Come in; I've started a fire in our oil stove." A puff of warm air blew from the interior and confirmed the statement. It was well along in summer and, not a dozen miles away to the east, men were strolling about with palm-leaf fans and wilted collars. Here, close to the gray shores of the mighty sea, blankets and overcoats were in demand. Hospitably the older officer tugged at the lacings of the military front door, swore between his set teeth when the knots, swollen by the wet, withstood his efforts and then shouted:
"Sergeant-major; send somebody here to open this."
A light footstep sounded on the springy board floor, nimble fingers worked a moment at the cords, then the flap was thrown open and the adjutant's office stood partially revealed. It was a big wall tent backed up against another of the same size and pattern. Half a dozen plain chairs, two rough board tables littered with books, papers and smoking tobacco, an oil stove and a cheap clothes rack on which were hanging raincoats, ponchos and a cape or two, comprised all the furniture. In a stout frame of unplaned wood, cased in their oilskins and tightly rolled, stood the colors of the famous regiment; and back of them, well within the second tent where one clerk was just lighting a camp lantern, were perched on rough tables a brace of field desks with the regimental books. The sergeant-major, a veteran of years of service in the regulars, sat at one of them. A young soldier, he who had unfastened the tent flap to admit Lieutenant Gray, was just returning to his seat at the other. Two orderlies lounged on a bench well beyond and back of the sergeant-major's seat, and a bugler, with his hands in his pockets, was smoking a short brier-root pipe at the opposite or back doorway. Woe to the enlisted men who sought the presence of the colonel or adjutant through any other channel. The sergeant-major would drop on him with the force of a baseball bat.
"Who all are over yahnduh at the chief's?" asked the adjutant, as soon as he had his visitor well inside, and the soft accent as well as the quaint phraseology told that in the colonel's confidential staff officer a Southerner spoke.
"All the brigade and most regimental commanders 'cept ours, I should say, and they seem to be waiting for them. Can't we send?" was the answer, as the junior whipped off his campaign hat and sprinkled the floor with the vigorous shakes he gave the battered felt.
"Have sent," said his entertainer briefly, as he filled a pipe from the open tobacco box and struck a safety match. "Orderly galloped after him ten minutes ago. Blow the brigade and battalion commanders! What I asked you was who are the women up there?"
"No, you didn't! You said, 'who all are up yonder?' I'm a sub, and s'posed you meant men—soldiers—officers. What have I to do with anybody in petticoats?"
"And I'm a grizzled vet of a dozen years' duty, crows' feet and gray hairs a-comin'," grinned the adjutant, pulling at a long curly mustache and drawing himself up to his full height of six feet, "and when you're as old as I am and half as wise, Billy, you'll know that a pretty girl is worth ten times the thought our old frumps of generals demand. My name ain't Gordon if I haven't a mind to waltz over there through the mist and the wind just to tell them I've sent for Squeers. Then I'll get a look at the girls."
"I've got to go back," said Billy, "and you've no business to—with Mrs. Gordon and an interesting family to consider. What tent'd the ladies go to? I didn't see 'em."
"Mrs. Gordon, suh," said the adjutant, with placid superiority, "considers it a reflection on her sex when I fail to pay it due homage. Of course you didn't see the ladies. The party was shown into the general's own domicile. Couldn't you see how many young fellows were posing in picturesque attitudes in front of it? Awe Hank!" he suddenly shouted to an officer striding past the tent in dripping mackintosh. "Goin' up to division headquarters? Just tell the staff or the chief I've sent an orderly galloping after Squeers. He's halfway to the Presidio now, but it'll be an hour before they can get back." The silent officer nodded and went on, whereat Gordon made a spring for the entrance and hailed again.
"Say, Hank! Who are the damsels?"
The answer came back through the fog:
"People from the East—looking for a runaway. Old gent, pretty daughter, and pretty daughter's prettier cousin. Heard the orders?"
"Damn the orders! They don't touch us. Where do they come from?"
"D'rect from Washington, they say. Three regiments to sail at once, and——"
"Oh, I know all that!" shouted Gordon impatiently. "It was all over camp an hour ago! Where do they—the girls—come from? What's their name?"
"Wasn't presented," was the sulky reply. "Let a lot of stuffy old women show up in search of long-lost sons and those fellows at headquarters unload them on us in less than no time, but a brace of pretty girls—! Why, they double the gate guards so that no outsider can so much as see them. Billy, here, knows 'em. Ask him."
By this time the youngster had ranged up alongside the adjutant and was laughingly enjoying the latest arrival's tirade at the expense of the headquarters' staff, but at his closing words Lieutenant Billy's grin of amusement suddenly left his face, giving way to a look of blank amaze.
"I know 'em! I haven't been east of the Big Muddy since I was a kid."
"They asked for you all the same, just after you started. 'Least one of 'em did—for What's-his-name?—the chief's military legal adviser, came out bareheaded and called after you, but you were out of hearing. He said the cousin, the prettiest one, recognized you as you skipped away from the general's tent and pointed you out to her friend. Somebody explained you were running an errand for one of those aides too lazy to go himself, and that you'd be back presently."
"Then go at once, young man," said the adjutant, laying a mighty hand on the junior's square shoulder. "Stand not upon the order of your going, but git! Never you mind about the colonel. He won't be here until after he's been there, and he's in for a rasping over this morning's inspection. Just look at the report. Sergeant-major, send me Colonel Colt's report!" he called aloud, tossing his head back as he spoke, "Come in, Parson; come out of the wet." And, eager enough to read a famous inspector's criticisms of the appearance of the regiment, the officer addressed as Parson shoved briskly into the tent.
The young soldier who had opened the tent flap a few minutes before came forward with a folded paper which, in silence, he handed the adjutant and turned back to his desk. Mr. Gordon took the paper, but his eyes followed the soldier. Then he called, somewhat sharply:
The young fellow stopped at the dividing crack between the two tent floors, and slowly faced the three officers. He was slender, well built, erect. His uniform fitted him trimly, and was worn with easy grace, his hands and feet were small and slender, his eyes and hair dark and fine, his features delicate and clear cut, his complexion a trifle blistered and beaten by the harsh winds that whistled in every day from the sea, and, as he turned, all three officers were struck by its extreme pallor.
"You're sick again, Morton," said the adjutant somewhat sternly. "I thought I told you to see Dr. Heffernan. Have you done so?"
"I—wasn't sick enough," faltered the young soldier. "I was all right a minute or two—or rather this morning, sir. It'll be over presently. Perhaps it was the smell of the oil that did it—the stove is close to my desk."
But Gordon continued to look at him doubtfully.
"Move your desk across the tent for the present, anyhow," said he, "and I'll speak to the doctor myself. With all this newspaper hullabaloo about our neglect of the sick," continued he, turning to his friends, "if a man changes color at sight of a smash-up he must be turned over to the Red Cross at once. What is it, orderly?" he finished suddenly, as the tent flaps parted and a soldier in complete uniform, girt with his belt of glistening cartridges, stood at salute, some visiting cards in his gloved hand.
"Lieutenant Gray here, sir?" was the comprehensive answer. Then, catching sight of the young officer who stepped quickly forward, he held forth the cards.
"The adjutant-general's compliments, sir, and he'd be glad if the lieutenant would come over at once."
Gray took the cards, curiously studied them and then read aloud, one after the other, and placing the topmost underneath the other two as soon as read.
"MR. LISPENARD PRIME." "MISS PRIME." "MISS AMY LAWRENCE."
It was the last name that lay uppermost at the end, receiving particular attention, and the Parson noted it.
"That's the pretty cousin, Billy," quoth he. "Case of the last shall be first, don't you see? Scoot now, you lucky boy, and tell us all about it later."
But Gray was still gazing dreamily at the cards.
"I'm sure I never met any of them before in my life," said he. "There must be some mistake. Yet—that name—sounds familiar—somehow," and "that" was the only name now in sight. "I'm off," he suddenly announced, and vanished.
There was a sound of light, quick footsteps on the flooring of the rearward tent at the same time. The sergeant-major glanced up from his writing; looked at a vacant desk, then at the clock, then, inquiringly, at his regimental deity—the adjutant. It was just the hour of the day at which all manner of papers were coming down from division and brigade headquarters to be duly stamped, noted and stacked up for the colonel's action. This was the young clerk Morton's especial function, but Morton had left the office and was gone.
The little party of visitors in the general's personal tent made a striking contrast to that assembled under the official canvas. In the latter, seated on camp stools and candle boxes or braced against the tent poles were nearly a dozen officers, all in the sombre dark blue regulation uniform, several in riding boots and spurs, some even wearing the heavy, frogged overcoat; all but two, juniors of the staff, men who stood on the shady side of forty, four of the number wearing on their shoulders the silver stars of generals of division or brigade, and among their thinning crops of hair the silver strands that told of years of service. One man alone, the commanding general, was speaking; all the others listened in respectful silence. In the gloom of that late, fog-shrouded afternoon a lantern or two would have been welcome, but the conference had begun while it was still light enough for the chief to read the memoranda on his desk, and now he was talking without notes. In the array of grave, thoughtful faces, some actually somber and severe in expression, a smile would have seemed out of place, yet, all of a sudden, grim features relaxed, deep-set eyes twinkled and glanced quickly about in search of kindred sympathetic spirits, and more than half the bearded faces broadened into a grin of merriment and as many heads were suddenly uplifted, for just as the gray-haired chief ended an impressive period with the words: "It will be no laughing matter if I can lay hold of them," there burst upon the surprised ears of the group a peal of the merriest laughter imaginable—the rippling, joyous, musical laughter of happy girlhood mingling with the hearty, wholesome, if somewhat boyish, outburst of jollity, of healthful youth.
"Merciful powers!" exclaimed the chief. "I had forgotten all about those people. They must have been here twenty minutes."
"Sixty-five, sir, by the watch," said a saturnine-looking soldier, tall and stalwart, and wearing the shield of the adjutant-general's department on the collar of his sack coat.
"They ought to go, then," was the placid suggestion of a third officer, a man with keen eyes, thin, almost ascetic, face, but there twitched a quaint humor about the lines of his lips. "That visit's past the retiring age."
And then another peal of merriment from the adjoining tent put stop to conversation.
"They don't lack for entertainers," hazarded a staff officer as soon as he could make himself heard. "The solemn-looking Gothamite who came with them must have slipped out."
"It seems he knows Colonel Armstrong," said the chief thoughtfully. "I sent for him an hour ago, and he may be piloting Mr. Prime around camp, looking up the runaway."
"Another case?" asked a brigade commander with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Another case," answered the general, with a sigh. "It isn't always home troubles that drive them to it. This boy had everything a doting father could give him. What on earth could make him bolt and enlist for the war?"
No one answered for a moment. Then the officer with the humorous twinkle about the eyes and the twitch at the lip corners, bent forward, placed his elbows on his knees, his fingers tip to tip, gazed dreamily at the floor, and sententiously said:
Whereupon his next neighbor, a stocky, thickset man in the uniform of a brigadier, never moving eye, head or hand, managed to bring a sizable foot in heavy riding boot almost savagely upon the slim gaiter of the humorist, who suddenly started and flushed to the temples, glanced quickly at the chief, and then as quickly back to the floor, his blue eyes clouded in genuine distress.
The general's gray face had seemed to grow grayer in the gloom. Again there came, like a rippling echo, the chorus of merry laughter from the adjoining tent, only it seemed a trifle subdued, possibly as though one or two of the merry-makers had joined less heartily. With sudden movement the general rose: "Well, I've kept you long enough," he said. "Let the three regiments be got in readiness at once, but relax no effort in—that other matter. Find the guilty parties if a possible thing."
And then the group dissolved. One or two of the number looked back, half-hesitating, at the entrance of the tent, but the chief had turned again to the littered table before him, and seating himself, rested his gray head in the hand nearest his visitors. It was as though he wished to conceal his face. One of the last to go—the thin-faced soldier with the twinkling blue eyes, hung irresolutely behind the chief a moment as though he had it in his mind to speak, then turned and fairly tiptoed out, leaving the camp commander to the society of a single staff officer, and to the gathering darkness.
"Kindly say to Mr. Prime, or his friends, that I will join them in a moment," said the former, presently, without so much as uplifting head or eye, and the aide-de-camp left as noiselessly as his predecessor, the humorist. But when he was gone and "The Chief" sat alone, the sound of merry chat and laughter still drifted in with the mist at the half-opened entrance. Shadowy forms flitted to and fro between the official tent and the lights beginning to twinkle at brigade headquarters across the wide roadway. An orderly scratched at the tent flap, but got no answer. The lone occupant sat well back in the gloomy interior and could barely be distinguished. The waiting soldier hesitated a moment, then entered and stamped once upon the wooden floor, then turned and noiselessly stepped out, for, anticipating his question, the general spoke:
"No light just yet, orderly. I'll call you—in a moment. Just close the tent."
At his hand, he needed no light to find it, lay a little packet that had been passed in to him with the mail while the council was still in session. It was stoutly wrapped, tightly corded, and profusely sealed, but with the sharp point of an eraser the general slit the fastenings, tore off the wrapper, and felt rather than saw, that a bundle of letters, rolled in tissue paper and tied with ribbon, ribbon long since faded and wrinkled, lay within. This he carefully placed in a large-sized military letter envelope, moistened and pressed tight the gummed flap, stowed it in the inner pocket of the overcoat that hung at the rear tent pole, reduced the wrapper and its superscription to minute fragments, and dropped them into the waste-basket, all as carefully and methodically as though life knew neither hurry nor worry; then bowed his lined face in both hands a moment in utter silence and in unmistakable sadness. Presently his lips moved: "Can you look down and see that I have kept my word, Agnes?" he murmured. "God help me to find him and save him—yet."
Once again the laughter, the gay young voices, rang from the other tent. All over camp, far and near, from the limits of the park to the very slope of the height at the north, the evening bugles were calling by thousands the thronging soldiery to mess or roll call. Slowly the General rose, drew on his overcoat, and in another moment, under the sloping visor of his forage-cap, with eyes that twinkled behind their glasses, with a genial smile softening every feature, his fine soldierly face peered in on the scene of light, of merriment and laughter under the canvas roof of the only home he knew in the world—the soldier home of one whose life had been spent following the flag through bivouac, camp or garrison, through many a march, battle and campaign all over the broad lands of the United States until now, at the hour when most men turned for the placid joys of the fireside, the love of devoted and faithful wife, the homage and affection of children, the prattle and playful sports of children's children—homeless, wifeless, childless he stood at the border of the boundless sea, soldier duty pointing the way to far distant, unknown and undesired regions, content to follow that flag to the end of the world, if need be, and owning no higher hope or ambition than to uphold it to the end of his life.
There was nothing in such a face as his to put a check to fun and merriment, yet, all on a sudden, the laughter died away. Three young gallants in soldier garb sprang to their feet and faced him with appeal and explanation in their speaking eyes, although only one of their number found his tongue in time to put the matter into words. There were only two girls when the general left that tent to meet his officers at four o'clock, and now there were four, and the four were having five-o'clock tea.
At least any one would have said they were four blithe girls, innocent of graver responsibilities than social calls and dinner or dance engagements, for never looked four young women so free from the cares of this world as did those who were picturesquely grouped about the General's camp table and under the brilliant reflector of the General's lamp, but the plain gold circlet on the slender finger of the merriest and noisiest and smallest of the four, and the fact that she had nothing to say to the elder of the three attendant officers except in the brief, indifferent tones of assured proprietorship, and very much to say to the others, told a different story. The General's manner lost none of its kindness, even though a close observer would have seen that his face lost a little of its light as he recognized in the evident leader of the revels and mistress of the situation the wife of his senior aide-de-camp. An hour before he thought her a thousand miles away—and so did her husband.
"Bless your dear old heart!" exclaimed the little lady, springing to her feet, facing him with indomitable smiles and thrusting forward two slender, white, bejeweled hands. "No—don't say you disapprove! Don't scold! Don't do anything but sit right down here and have a cup of your own delicious tea—(Frank, some boiling water)—that no one makes for you as I do—you've owned it many a time. And then we're all going in to the Palace for dinner and then to the theatre, and I'll tell you all about it between the courses or between the acts. Oh, you poor dear! I ought to have come before—you've been working yourself to death!"
And by this time, resolutely pulling, she had towed the General to a chair, and into this, his favorite leather-armed, canvas-backed, hickory-framed companion of many a year, she deftly dropped him and then, giving him no chance for a word, gayly pirouetting, she seized one after another upon each member of the party present—an accomplished little mistress of ceremonies encased in a tailor-made traveling suit that rendered her proof against a dozen minor ills, so beautifully was it cut and fitted to her pretty figure—and, with inexhaustible flow of merry words, presented her or him to the veteran in the chair:
"This, my honored General, first and foremost, is Miss Mildred Prime, daughter of a thousand earls is she, yet one vastly to be desired, though I say it who should not, for she hails from New York, which is enough to make me hate her, whereas we've just sworn an eternal friendship. You've only casually met her and her folks before, but I can tell you all about them. You should have put Frank at the head of your Intelligence Bureau, General. He'd never find out anything, but I would. We came on the same train together all the way from Ogden."
A tall, dark-eyed, dark-haired, oval-faced girl, coloring slightly in evident embarassment over these odd army ways, courtesied smilingly to the General and seemed to be pleading dumbly for clemency if there had been transgression.
"This," hurried on the voluble little woman, seizing another feminine wrist, "is Miss Cherry Langton—Cherry Ripe we call her at home this summer, the dearest girl that ever lived except myself, and one you'll simply delight in—as you do in me—when you get to know her. She is, as you have often been told and have probably forgotten, the only good-looking member of Frank's family—his first cousin. She was moping her heart out after all the nice young men in Denver went to the wars, and withering on the stem until I told her she should go too, when she blossomed and blushed with joy as you see her now, sir. Cherry, make your manners." Cherry, whose name well described her, was only waiting for a chance, laughing the while at the merry flow of her chaperon's words, and, at the first break, stepped quickly forward and placed her hand frankly in the outstretched palm of her host, then glanced eagerly over her shoulder as though she would say: "But you must see her," and her bright eyes sought and found the fourth feminine member of the group.
"And this," said Mrs. Frank Garrison, bravely, yet with a trifle less confidence of manner, with indeed a faint symptom of hesitancy, "is Miss Amy Lawrence," and in extending her little hand to take that of the most retiring of the three girls, only the finger tips and thumb seemed to touch. Miss Lawrence came quickly forward, and waiting for no description, bowed with quiet grace and dignity to the chief and, smiling a bit gravely, said:
"Uncle left word that he would soon return, General, but he has been gone with Colonel Armstrong nearly an hour. I hope we have not taken too great a liberty," and her glance turned to the substantial tea service on the rude camp table.
"Oh, I'm responsible for that—and for any and every iniquity here committed, solely because I know our General too well to believe he would allow famishing damsels to faint for lack of sustenance." It was Mrs. Garrison, of course, who spoke. "I simply set Frank and his fellows to work, with the result that tea and biscuit, light and warmth, mirth and merriment, faith, hope and charity sprang up like magic in this gloomy old tent, and here we are still. Now, say you're glad I came, General, for these stupid boys—Oh! I quite forgot! Let me present the slaves of the lamp—the spirit lamp, General. Frank you know—too well, I dare say. Stand forth, vassal Number Two. This, General, is Captain Schuyler, a mite of a man physically—a Gothamite, in fact—but a tower of wit and wisdom when permitted to speak." (A diminutive youngster, with a head twice too big for his body, and a world of fun in his sparkling eyes, bowed elaborately to his commanding general, but prudently held his peace.) "Captain Schuyler, my dear General, meekly bears the crescent of the subsistence department on his beautifully high and unquestionably New York-made collars. He hasn't an idea on the subject of supplies except that commissary cigars are bad, but his senator said he had to have something and that's what he got. He'd rather be second lieutenant of regular infantry any day, but that was too high for him. Here's a youth it fits to a 't'—Mr. William Gray of the —teenth Foot, whom I knew years ago when we were kids in the same camp, and whose best claim to your notice is that you knew his father. He says so, and hopes you'll forgive all his budding iniquities on the strength of it." The General nodded with a grin at the youngster who stood at Miss Lawrence's left, and then held up his hand for silence, shutting off further presentations.
"I'll forgive anything but more chatter," said he, with a placid smile, "provided you give me some tea at once. Then I should be glad to know how you all happened to meet here."
"My doing entirely, General. (Frank, another cup—quick!) Cherry came with me to surprise my husband—an easy thing to do—I'm always doing it. We found him here, by your orders, striving to entertain these two charming damsels—the last thing on earth he is capable of doing, however valuable he may be with orders and correspondence. I heard Mr. Prime's story and at once suggested Colonel Armstrong. I heard Miss Lawrence exclaim at sight of Billy here, and saw a case of old acquaintance and sent for him forthwith. So easy to say: 'The adjutant-general's compliments'—I found that, after all, they had never met, but Miss Lawrence had seen him at the head of some famous student company. I it was who presented him to her, and summoned Captain Schuyler to meet once more his fellow-citizens, the Primes. I it was who ordered lamps, fire and the tea things. I am the good fairy who wrought the transformation. Behold me with my wand!"
She seized Miss Langton's slender umbrella and, waving it over her curly little head, pirouetted again in triumphant gayety.
The General was thoughtfully sipping his tea and studying her as she chattered and danced. When she paused a moment for breath he again held up his hand.
"Colonel Armstrong went with Mr. Prime, did he?"
"With every assurance that the prodigal should be produced forthwith and restored to the paternal bosom," declaimed Mrs. Garrison melodramatically, and would have ranted on, never noting the flush of pain and embarrassment that almost instantly appeared in the faces of Miss Lawrence and her dark-eyed Eastern cousin, nor seeing the warning in her husband's eyes, but at the moment the tent flap was thrown back and held open to admit a tall, gray-haired civilian whose silk hat was uplifted as he entered, in courteous recognition of the group, despite the distress that was betrayed in the pallor of his face and the instant glance of his dark eyes toward the slender girl, who stepped eagerly forward. Mrs. Garrison, turning quickly, saw, and with swift, agile movement, sprang to one side. The General slowly struggled up from his easy-chair. Reaching her father's side, Miss Prime laid her hand upon his arm, looking fondly and anxiously into his face.
A soldierly, middle-aged officer, in dripping forage cap and rain coat, stepped quickly in and lowered the flap. "Did you find him, father?" was Miss Prime's low-toned, faltering question.
"We found—the soldier referred to; Colonel Armstrong has been most kind; but—it wasn't your brother at all, my child."
A day had dawned on the Presidio Heights as brilliant as its predecessor had been dismal. A soft south wind had swept the fogs of the Pacific far out to sea and cleared the summer sky of every wisp of vapor. The sun of early August shone hot and strong upon the sandy wastes between the westward limits of the division camps and the foamy strand beneath the low bluffs, and beat upon the canvas homes of the rejoicing soldiery, slacking cloth and cordage so that the trim tent lines had become broken and jagged, thereby setting the teeth of "Old Squeers" on edge, as he gazed grimly from under the brim of his unsightly felt hat and called for his one faithful henchman, the orderly. Even his adjutant could not condone the regimental commander's objectionable traits, for a crustier old villain of a veteran lived not in the line of the army. "Ould Canker" the troopers had dubbed him during the few years he had served in the cavalry, transplanted from a foot regiment at the time of the reorganization, so-called, of the army in '71; but a few years of mounted duty in Arizona and later in the Sioux country had sickened him of cavalry life and he gladly accepted a chance to transfer back to the infantry. Now, twenty years after, risen by degrees to the grade of lieutenant-colonel, he found himself in command of a famous old regiment of regulars, whose colonel had donned the stars of a general officer of volunteers, and the pet name—save the mark—of cavalry days had given place to the unflattering sobriquet derived from that horror of boyish readers—the ill-favored schoolmaster of Dotheboys Hall. He had come to the —teenth with a halo of condemnation from the regiment in which he had served as major and won his baleful name, and "the boys" of his new command soon learned to like him even less than those who had dubbed him "Squeers," because, as they explained, there wasn't any privilege or pleasure he would not "do the boys" out of if he possibly could. Gordon had promptly tendered his resignation as regimental adjutant when his beloved colonel left the post to report for duty in the army destined for Cuba, but Lieutenant-Colonel Canker declined to accept it, and fairly told Gordon that, as he hadn't a friend among the subalterns, there was no one else to take it. Then, too, the colonel himself wrote a word or two and settled the matter.
A big review had been ordered for the morning. An entire brigade of sturdy volunteers was already forming and marching out by battalions to their regimental parades, the men showing in their easy stride and elastic carriage the effects of two months' hard drill and gradually increasing discipline. The regulars were still out in the park, hidden by the dense foliage and busy with their company drills. The adjutant and clerk were at their papers in the big office tent, and only the sentries, the sick and the special duty men remained about the body of camp. There was no one, said Private Noonan to himself, as he paced the pathway in front of the colonel's tent, after having scrupulously saluted him on his appearance, "No wan fur the ould man to whack at, barrin' it's me," but even Canker could find nothing to "whack at" in this veteran soldier who had served in the ranks since the days of the great war and had borne the messages of such men as Sheridan, Thomas and McPherson when Canker himself was sweating under his knapsack and musket. Like most men, even most objectionable men, Canker had some redeeming features, and that was one of them—he had been a private soldier, and a brave one, too, and was proud of it.
But life had little sunshine in it for one of his warped, ill-conditioned nature. There was a profound conviction in the minds of the company officers that the mere sight of happiness or content in the face of a subordinate was more than enough to set Canker's wits to work to wipe it out. There was no doubt whatever in the minds of the subalterns that the main reason why Squeers was so manifestly "down on" Billy Gray was the almost indestructible expression of good nature, jollity and enthusiasm that had shown in the little fellow's face ever since he joined the regiment. "If we call the old man Squeers we should dub Billy Mark Tapley," said Gordon one day, when the lad had laughed off the effect of an unusually acrimonious rasping over a trivial error in the Guard Report book. "He's no end kind when a fellow's in a fix," said Gray, in explanation, "and all the time he was soaking me I was thinking how he stood by Jimmy Carson in his scrape"—a serious scrape it was, too, for young Carson, detailed to escort certain prisoners to Alcatraz and intrusted with certain funds to be turned over to the chief quartermaster of the department, had unaccountably fallen into a deep sleep aboard the train and awoke to find both funds and prisoners gone. Explanations were useless. The commanding general would listen to no excuse; a court-martial was ordered, and a very worthy young officer's military career seemed about to close under a cloud, when "Old Canker" threw himself into the breach. He had long suspected the sergeant who had accompanied the party in immediate command of the little guard. He hated the commanding general with all his soul, and, how it came about no one could thoroughly explain, but one day Canker turned up with indubitable proof that the sergeant was the thief—that he was bribed to bring about the escape of the prisoners, and that he had drugged the fresh spring water he brought in to the young officer after the burning heat of the desert was left behind in the dead of the summer night. Canker even recovered most of the stolen money, for there was a woman in the case, and she had safely stowed it away. Carson was cleared and Canker triumphant. "See what the man can do when his sense of justice is aroused," said the optimists of the army. "Justice be blowed," answered the cynics. "He never would have raised his finger to help Carson but for the joy of proving the General unjust, and a regimental pet—the sergeant—a thief."
Yet Gray reverted to this episode as explanation of his tolerance of Canker's harshness and thereby gave rise to a rejoinder from the lips of a veteran company commander that many a fellow was destined to recall before the regiment was two months older:
"In order to settle it, somebody's got to find his life or his commission in jeopardy. Maybe it'll be you, Billy, and I'm betting you won't find Squeers a guardian angel."
Yet on this sunshiny summer morning, with hope and sunshine and confidence in his handsome, boyish face, Lieutenant Gray came bounding up to the presence of the regimental commander as though that sour-visaged soldier were an indulgent uncle who could not say him nay. A stylish open carriage in which were seated two remarkably pretty girls and a gray-haired, slender gentleman, had reined up in the street opposite the entrance to the row of officers' tents and Canker had ripped out his watch, with an ugly frown on his forehead, for three of his companies had just marched in from drill, and three of their young lieutenants, on the instant of dismissal, had made straight for the vehicle and he half-hoped to find they had lopped off a minute or so of the allotted hour. The sound of merry laughter seemed to grate on his ears. The sight of Gray's beaming face seemed to deepen the gloom in his own. Instinctively he knew the youngster had come to ask a favor and he stood ready to refuse.
"Colonel, I'd like mightily to go over and see that review this morning, sir; and Mr. Prime is good enough to offer me a seat in his carriage. May I go, sir?"
"You can't go anywhere, sir, with the tents of your company in that disgraceful condition. Just look at them, sir,—as ragged as a wash line on a windy day!" And Canker scowled angrily at the young fellow standing squarely at attention before him.
"I know that, colonel, but the sun did that while we were out at drill, and the men will straighten everything in ten minutes. I'll give the order now, sir." And Billy looked as though refusal were out of the question.
"You'll stay and see it done, sir, and when it's done—to my satisfaction—will be time enough to ask for favors. Mr. Gordon, send word to the company commanders I wish to see them here at once," continued the senior officer, whirling on his heel and terminating the interview by so doing. It was in Gray's mind for a brief minute to follow and plead. He had made it tell many a time with an obstinate university Don, but he knew the carriage was waiting—the carriage load watching, and deep down in his heart there was keen disappointment. He would have given a big slice of his monthly pay to go with that particular party, occupy the seat opposite Amy Lawrence and gaze his fill at her fair face. He well-nigh hated Squeers as he hurried away to hail his first sergeant and give the necessary orders before daring to return to the carriage and report his failure. His bright blue eyes were clouded and his face flushed with vexation, for he saw that the rearmost regiment was even now filing into the Presidio Reservation afar off to the north, and that no time was to be lost if his friends were to see the review. The distant measured boom of guns told that the General in whose honor the ceremony was ordered was already approaching the appointed spot, and away over the rolling uplands toward the Golden Gate a cavalry escort rode into view. Billy ground his teeth. "Run and tell them I cannot get leave," he called to a fellow sub. "Squeers has set me to work straightening up camp. Turn out the company, sergeant! Brace the tent cords and align tents," and a mournful wave of his forage cap was the only greeting he dare trust himself to give, as after a few minutes of fruitless waiting the vacant seat was given to another officer and the carriage rolled rapidly away. A second or two it was hidden from his sight behind the large wall tents along the line of fence, then shot into full view again as he stood at the end of the company street looking eagerly for its reappearance. And then occurred a little thing that was destined to live in his memory for many a day, and that thrilled him with a new and strange delight. He had never been of the so-called "spooney" set at the 'Varsity. Pretty girls galore there were about that famous institute, and he had danced at many a student party and romped through many a reel, but the nearest he had ever come to something more than a mere jolly friendship for a girl was the regard in which he held his partner in the "Mixed Doubles," but that was all on account of her exuberant health, spirits, general comeliness of face and form, and exquisite skill in tennis. But this day a new and eager longing was eating at his heart; a strange, dull pang seemed to seize upon it as he noted in a flash that the seat that was to have been his was occupied by an officer many years his senior, a man he knew only by sight and an enviable reputation, a man whose soldierly, clear-cut face never turned an instant, for his eyes were fixed upon a lovely picture on the opposite seat—Amy Lawrence bending eagerly forward and gazing with her beautiful eyes alight with sympathy, interest and frank liking in search of the sorely disappointed young officer. "There he is!" she cried, though too far away for him to hear, and then, with no more thought of coquetry than a kitten, with no more motive in the world than that of conveying to him an idea of her sorrow, her sympathy, her perhaps pardonable and exaggerated indignation at what she deemed an act of tyranny on part of his commander, with only an instant in which to express it all—her sweet face flushed, her eyes flamed with the light of her girlish enthusiasm and in that instant she had kissed her hand to him. Colonel Armstrong, turning suddenly and sharply to see who could be the object of interest so absorbing, caught one flitting glimpse of Billy Gray lifting his cap in quick acknowledgment, and the words that were on the tip of Armstrong's tongue the moment before were withheld for a more auspicious occasion—and it did not come too soon.
It was only four days after that initial meeting in the General's tent the foggy evening of the girl's first visit to camp, but both in town and on the tented field there had been several young ladies. Junior officers had monopolized the time and attention of the latter, but Armstrong was a close observer and a man who loved all that was strong, high-minded and true in his own sex, and that was pure and sweet and winsome in woman. A keen soldier, he had spent many years in active service, most of them in the hardy, eventful and vigorous life of the Indian frontier. He had been conspicuous in more than one stirring campaign against the red warriors of the plains, had won his medal of honor before his first promotion, and his captaincy by brevet for daring conduct in action long antedated the right to wear the double bars of that grade. He had seen much of the world, at home and abroad; had traveled much, read much, thought much, but these were things of less concern to many a woman in our much married army than the question as to whether he had ever loved much. Certain it was he had never married, but that didn't settle it. Many a man loves, said they, without getting married, forgetful of the other side of the preposition advanced by horrid regimental cynics, that many men marry without getting loved. Armstrong would not have proved an easy man to question on that, or indeed on any other subject which he considered personal to himself. Even in his own regiment in the regular service he had long been looked upon as an exclusive sort of fellow—a man who had no intimates and not many companions, yet, officers and soldiers, he held the respect and esteem of the entire command, even of those whom he kept at a distance, and few are the regiments in which there are not one or two characters who are best seen and studied through a binocular. Without being sympathetic, said his critics, Armstrong was "square," but his critics had scant means of knowing whether he was sympathetic or not. He was a steadfast fellow, an unswerving, uncompromising sort of man, a man who would never have done for a diplomat, and could never have been elected to office. But he was truthful, just, and as the English officer reluctantly said of Lucan, whom he hated, "Yes—damn him—he's brave." The men whom he did not seem to like in the army and who disliked him accordingly, were compelled to admit, to themselves at least, that their reasons were comprised in the above-recorded, regretable, but unmistakable fact—he didn't like them. Another trait, unpopular, was that he knew when and how to say no. He smoked too much, perhaps, and talked too little for those who would use his words as witnesses against him. He never gambled, he rarely drank, he never lent nor borrowed. He was a bachelor, yet would never join a "mess" but kept house himself and usually had some favored comrade living with him. He was forty and did not look thirty-five. He was tall, erect, athletic, hardy and graceful in build, and his face was one of the best to be seen in many a line of officers at parade. His eyes were steel-gray and clear and penetrating, his features clear-cut, almost too delicately cut, thought some of the best friends he had among the men. His hair was brown, sprinkled liberally with silver; his mouth, an admirable mouth in every way, was shaded and half-hidden by a long, drooping mustache to which, some men thought and some women said, his tapering white fingers paid too much attention, but I doubt if a knowledge of this criticism would have led to the faintest alteration in the habit. Generally the expression of Armstrong's face was grave, and, on duty, a trifle stern; and not ten people in the world were aware what humor could twinkle in the clear, keen eyes, or twitch about the corners of that mobile mouth. There were not five who knew the tenderness that lay in hiding there, for Armstrong had few living kindred and they were men. There lived not, as he drove this glorious August morning to the breezy uplands beyond the camps, one woman who could say she had seen those eyes of Armstrong's melt and glow with love. As for Amy Lawrence, she was not dreaming of such a thing. She was not even looking at him. Her thoughts at the moment were drifting back to that usually light-hearted boy who stood gazing so disconsolately after them as they drove away, her eyes were intent upon an approaching group that presently reclaimed her wandering thoughts.
Coming up Point Lobos Avenue strode a party of four—all soldiers. One of these, wild-eyed, bareheaded, dishevelled, his clothing torn, his wrists lashed behind him, walked between two armed guards. The fourth, a sergeant, followed at their heels. Miss Lawrence had just time to note that the downcast face was dark and oval and refined, when it was suddenly uplifted at sound of the whirring carriage wheels. A light of recognition, almost of terror, flashed across it, and with one bound the prisoner sprang from between his guards, dove almost under the noses of the startled team, and darted through the wide-open doorway of a corner saloon. He was out of sight in a second.
The review that morning had drawn a crowd to the drill grounds that baffled the efforts of the guards. Carriages from camps and carriages from town, carts from the suburbs, equestrians from the parks and pedestrians from everywhere had gradually encroached within kicking distance of the heels of the cavalry escorting the general commanding the department, and that official noted with unerring eye that the populace was coming up on his flanks, so to speak, at the moment when the etiquette of the service required that he should be gazing only to his immediate front and responding to the salutes of the marching column. Back of him, ranged in long, single rank, was drawn up what the newspapers unanimously described as a "brilliant" staff, despite the fact that all were in sombre campaign uniform and several had never been so rated before. In their rear, in turn, was the line of mounted orderlies and farther still the silent rank of the escorting troop. Sentries had been posted to keep the throng at proper distance, but double their force could have accomplished nothing—the omniscient corporal could not help them, and after asking one or two stray officers what they would do about it, the sentries gave way and the crowd swarmed in. It was just as the head of the long tramping column came opposite the reviewing point, and the brigade commander and his staff, turning out after saluting, found their allotted station on the right of the reviewing party completely taken up by the mass of eager spectators. A minute or so was required before the trouble could be remedied, for, just as the officers and orderlies were endeavoring to induce the populace to give way—a thing the American always resists with a gay good humor that is peculiarly his own—a nervous hack driver on the outskirts backed his bulky trap with unexpected force, and penned between it and the wheels of a newly-arrived and much more presentable equipage a fair equestrian who shrieked with fright and clung to her pommel as her excited "mount" lashed out with his heels and made splinters of the hack's rearmost spokes and felloes. Down went the hack on its axle point. Out sprang a tall officer from the open carriage, and in a second, it seemed, transferred the panic-stricken horsewoman from the seismatic saddle to the safety of his own seat and the ministrations of the two young women and the gray haired civilian who were the latest arrivals. This done, and after one quick glance at the lady's helpless escort, a young officer from the Presidio, he shouldered his way through the crowd and stood, presently, on its inner edge, an unperturbed and most interested spectator. Battalion after battalion, in heavy marching order, in the dark-blue service dress, with campaign hats and leggings, with ranks well closed and long, well-aligned fronts, with accurate trace of the guides and well-judged distance, the great regiments came striding down the gentle slope, conscious, every officer and man, of the admiration they commanded. Armstrong, himself commander of a fine regiment of volunteers in another brigade, looked upon them with a soldier's eye, and looked approvingly. Then, as the rearmost company passed the reviewing point and gentlemen with two stars on each shoulder extended their congratulations to the reviewed commander with one, Armstrong also made his way among the mounted officers in his calm, deliberate fashion, heedless of threatening heels and crowding forehands, until he, too, could say his word of cordial greeting. He had to wait a few minutes, for the general officers were grouped and talking earnestly. He heard a few words and knew well enough what was meant—that quantities of stores intended for the soldiers—even dainties contributed by the Red Cross Society—had been stolen from time to time and spirited off in the dead of night, and doubtless sold in town for the benefit of a pack of unknown scoundrels enlisted for no better purpose. In his own regiment his system had been so strict that no loss was discoverable, but in certain others the deficit was great. Complaints were loud, and the camp commander, stung possibly by comments from the city, had urged his officers to unusual effort, and had promised punishment to the extent of the law on the guilty parties whenever or wherever found.
Even as he was exchanging a word with the brigadier, Armstrong heard the exclamation: "By Jove—they've caught another!" for with a grim smile of gratification the camp commander had read and turned over to his adjutant-general a brief dispatch just handed him by a mounted orderly who had galloped part.
"One of your irreproachables, Armstrong," said one of the staff, with something half-sneer, half-taunt as he too read and then passed the paper to the judge-advocate of the division.
Armstrong turned with his usual deliberation. There was ever about him a quiet dignity of manner that was the delight of his friends and despair of his foes.
"What is his name?" he calmly asked.
"One of those society swells of whom you have so many," was the reply.
"That does not give his name—nor identify him as one of my men," said Armstrong coolly.
"Oh, well, I didn't say he belonged to your command," was the staff officer's response, "but one of the kid-glove crowd that's got into the ranks."
"If you mean the recruits in the —teenth Infantry, I should be slow to suspect them of any crime," said Armstrong, with something almost like a drawl, so slow and deliberate was his manner, and now the steel-gray eyes and the fair, clear-cut face were turned straight upon the snapping eyes and dark features of the other. There was no love lost there. One could tell without so much as seeing.
"You're off, then! That commissary-sergeant caught one of 'em in the act—he got wind of it and skipped, and to-day came back in handcuffs."
"All of which may be as you say," answered Armstrong, "and still not warrant your reference to him as one of my irreproachables."
By this time much of the crowd and most of the vehicles had driven away. The generals still sat in saddle chatting earnestly together, while their staff officers listened in some impatience to the conversation just recorded. Everybody knew the fault was not Armstrong's, but it was jarring to have to sit and hearken to the controversy. "Don't ever twit or try funny business with Armstrong," once said a regimental sage. "He has no sense of humor—of that kind." Those who best knew him knew that Armstrong never tolerated unjust accusations, great or small. In his desire to say an irritating thing to a man he both envied and respected, the staff officer had not confined himself to facts, and it proved a boomerang.
And now, Armstrong's eyes had lighted for an instant on the alleged culprit. Seated opposite Miss Lawrence as the carriage whirled across Point Lobos Avenue, and watching her unobtrusively, he saw the sudden light of alarm and excitement in her expressive face, heard the faint exclamation as her gloved hand grasped the rail of the seat, felt the quick sway of the vehicle as the horses shied in fright at some object beyond his vision. Then as they dashed on he had seen the running guard and, just vanishing within the portals of the corner building, the slim figure of the escaping prisoner. He saw the quivering hands tearing at their fastenings. He turned to the driver and bade him stop a minute, but it took fifty yards of effort before the spirited horses could be calmed and brought to a halt at the curb. To the startled inquiries of Mr. Prime and his daughter as to the cause of the excitement and the running and shouting he answered simply: "A prisoner escaped, I think," and sent a passing corporal to inquire the result. The man came back in a minute.
"They got him easy, sir. He had no show. His hands were tied behind his back and he couldn't climb," was the brief report.
"They have not hurt him, I hope," said Armstrong.
"No, sir. He hurt them—one of 'em, at least, before he'd surrender when they nabbed him in town. This time he submitted all right—said he only ran in for a glass of beer, and was laughing-like when I got there."
"Very well. That'll do. Go on, driver. We haven't a minute to lose if we are to see the review," he continued, as he stepped lightly to his seat.
"I saw nothing of this affair," said Miss Prime. "What was it all about?"
"Nor could I see," added her father. "I heard shouts and after we passed saw the guard, but no fugitive."
"It is just as well—indeed I'm glad you didn't, uncle," answered Miss Lawrence, turning even as she spoke and gazing wistfully back. "He looked so young, and seemed so desperate, and had such a—I don't know—hunted look on his face—poor fellow."
And then the carriage reached the entrance to the reservation and the subject, and the second object of Miss Lawrence's sympathies, evoked that day, were for the time forgotten. Possibly Mrs. Garrison was partly responsible for this for, hardly had they rounded the bend in the road that brought them in full view, from the left, or southern flank, of the long line of masses in which the brigade was formed, than there came cantering up to them, all gay good humor, all smiles and saucy coquetry, their hostess of the evening at the General's tent. She was mounted on a sorry-looking horse, but the "habit" was a triumph of art, and it well became her slender, rounded figure.
No one who really analyzed Mrs. Frank Garrison's features could say that she was a pretty woman. No one who looked merely at the general effect when she was out for conquest could deny it. Colonel Armstrong, placidly observant as usual, was quick to note the glances that shot between the cousins on the rear seat as the little lady came blithely alongside. He knew her, and saw that they were beginning to be as wise as he, for the smiles with which they greeted her were but wintry reflections of those that beamed upon her radiant face. Prime, paterfamilias, bent cordially forward in welcome, but her quick eyes had recognized the fourth occupant by this time, and there was a little less of assurance in her manner from that instant. "How perfectly delicious!" she cried. "I feared from what you said yesterday you weren't coming, and so I never ordered the carriage, but came out in saddle—I can't say on horseback with such a wreck as this, but every decent horse in the Presidio had to go out with the generals and staffs, you know, and I had to take what I could get—both horse and escort," she added, in confidential tone. "Oh!—May I present Mr. Ellis? He knows you all by name already." The youth in attendance and a McClellan tree two sizes too big for him, lifted his cap and strove to smile; he had ridden nothing harder than a park hack before that day. "Frank says I talk of nothing else. But—where's Mr. Gray? Surely I thought he would be with you." This for Armstrong's benefit in case he were in the least interested in either damsel.
"Mr. Gray was detained by some duties in camp," explained Miss Prime, with just a trace of reserve that was lost upon neither their new companion nor the colonel. It settled a matter the placid officer was revolving in his mind.
"Pardon us, Mrs. Garrison," he said briefly. "We must hurry. Go on, driver."
"Oh, I can keep up," was the indomitable answer, "even on this creature." And Mrs. Garrison proved her words by whipping her steed into a lunging canter and, sitting him admirably, rode gallantly alongside, and just where Mr. Prime could not but see and admire since Colonel Armstrong would not look at all. He had entered into an explanation of the ceremony by that time well under way, and Miss Lawrence's great soft brown eyes were fixed upon him attentively when, perhaps, she should have been gazing at the maneuvers. Like those latter, possibly, her thoughts were "changing direction."
Not ten minutes later occurred the collision between the hack and the heels that resulted in the demolition of one and "demoralization" of the rider of the victor. While the latter was led away by the obedient Mr. Ellis lest the sight of him should bring on another nervous attack, Mrs. Garrison was suffering herself to be comforted. Her nerves were gone, but she had not lost her head. Lots of Presidio dames and damsels were up on the heights that day in such vehicles as the post afforded. None appeared in anything so stylish and elegant as the carriage of the Prime party. She was a new and comparative stranger there, and it would vastly enhance her social prestige, she argued, to be seen in such "swell" surroundings. With a little tact and management she might even arrange matters so that, willy nilly, her friends would drive her home instead of taking Colonel Armstrong back to camp. That would be a stroke worth playing. She owed Stanley Armstrong a bitter grudge, and had nursed it long. She had known him ten years and hated him nine of them. Where they met and when it really matters not. In the army people meet and part in a hundred places when they never expected to meet again. She had married Frank Garrison in a hand gallop, said the garrison chronicles, "before she had known him two months," said the men, "before he knew her at all," said the women. She was four years his senior, if the chaplain could be believed and five months his junior if she could. Whatever might have been the discrepancy in their ages at the time of the ceremony no one would suspect the truth who saw them now. It was he who looked aged and careworn and harassed, and she who preserved her youthful bloom and vivacity.
And now, as she reclined as though still too weak and shaken to leave the carriage and return to saddle, her quick wits were planning the scheme that should result in her retaining, and his losing the coveted seat. There was little time to lose. Most of the crowd had scattered, and she well knew that he was only waiting for her to leave before he would return. Almost at the instant her opportunity came. A covered wagon reined suddenly alongside and kind and sympathetic voices hailed her: "Do let us drive you home, Mrs. Garrison; you must have been terribly shaken." She recognized at once the wife and daughter of a prominent officer of the post.
"Oh, how kind you are!" she cried. "I was hoping some one would come. Indeed, I did get a little wrench." And then, as she moved, with a sudden gasp of pain, she clasped Miss Lawrence's extended hand.
"Indeed, you must not stir, Mrs. Garrison," said that young lady. "We will drive you home at once." Miss Prime and her father were adding their pleas. She looked up, smiling faintly.
"I fear I must trouble you," she faltered. "Oh, how stupid of me! But about Stanley Armstrong—I haven't even thanked him. Ah, well—he knows. We've been—such good friends for years—dear old fellow!"
There had been a morning of jubilee in the camp of the Fifth Separate Brigade, and a row in the tents of the regulars. Up to within a fortnight such a state of affairs would have been considered abnormal, for the papers would have it that the former were on the verge of dissolution through plague, pestilence and famine due to the neglect of officials vaguely referred to as "the military authorities," or "the staff," while, up to the coming of Canker to command, sweet accord had reigned in the regular brigade, and the volunteers looked on with envy. But now a great martial magnate had praised the stalwart citizen soldiery whom he had passed in review early in the day, and set them to shouting by the announcement that, as reward for their hard work and assiduous drill, they should have their heart's desire and be shipped across the seas to far Manila. It had all been settled beforehand at headquarters. The "chief" had known for four days that that particular command would be selected for the next expedition, but it tickled "the boys" to have it put that way, and the home papers would make so much of it. So there was singing and triumph and rejoicing all along the eastern verge of a rocky, roughly paved cross street, and rank blasphemy across the way. To the scandal and sorrow of the —teenth Infantry some of the recent robberies had been traced to their very doors. A commissary-sergeant had "weakened," a cartman had "squealed," and one of the most popular and attractive young soldiers in the whole command was now a prisoner in the guardhouse charged with criminal knowledge of the whole affair, and of being a large recipient of the ill-gotten money—Morton of the adjutant's office, a private in Company "K."
What made it worse was the allegation that several others, noncommissioned officers and "special duty men," were mixed up in the matter, and Canker had rasped the whole commissioned force present for duty, in his lecture upon the subject, and had almost intimated that officers were conniving at the concealment of the guilt of their sergeants rather than have it leak out that the felony was committed in a company of their commanding.
He and Gordon had had what was described as a "red-hot" row, all because Gordon flatly declared that while something was queer about the case of the young clerk who "had money to burn," as the men said, he'd bet his bottom dollar he wasn't a thief. Canker said such language was a reflection on himself, as he had personally investigated the case, was convinced Morton's guilt could be established, and had so reported to the brigade commander in recommending trial by general court-martial. Indeed he had made out a case against the lad even before he was arrested and returned to camp. Gordon asked if he had seen the boy and heard his story. Canker reddened and said he hadn't, and he didn't mean to and didn't have to. Gordon said he had—he had talked with the lad fully and freely on his being brought to camp toward nine o'clock, and was greatly impressed with his story—as would any one else be who heard it. Canker reddened still more and said he wouldn't allow officers to interview prisoners without his authority. "I'll prefer charges against the next that does it," said he.
And not three hours later, Mr. Billy Gray, sprawling on his camp cot, striving to forget the sorrow of the earlier morning, and to memorize a page of paragraphs of army regulations, was suddenly accosted by an orderly who stood at the front of the tent, scratching at the tent flap—the camp substitute for a ring at the bell.
"A note for the lieutenant," said he, darting in and then darting out, possibly fearful of question. It was a queer note:
"I am a total stranger to you, but I wore in brighter days the badge of the same society that was yours at the university. Three of the fraternity are in my company—one is on guard and he urged me to write at once to you. They know me to be a Brother Delt, even though I dare not tell my real name. What I have to say is that the charge against me is utterly false, as I can convince you, but could not convince a court. I am confined at the moment of all others in my life when it is most vitally important that I should be free. Grant me ten minutes' interview this afternoon and if I do not prove myself guiltless I will ask no favor—but when I do convince you, do as you would be done by.
Yours in [Greek:D S CH], "George Morton."
"Well, I'll be blessed!" said Mr. Gray, as he rolled out of his gray blanket. "Here's a state of things! Listen to this, captain," he called to his company commander in the adjoining tent. "Here's Morton, back from forty-eight hours' absence without leave, brought back by armed guard after sharp resistance, charged with Lord knows what all, wants to tell me his story and prove his innocence."
"You let him alone," growled his senior. "Remember what Canker said, or you'll go in arrest. What call has Morton on you, I'd like to know?"
The lad flushed. Fraternity was a very sacred thing in the [Greek: D S CH]. It was "the most exclusive crowd at the 'Varsity." Its membership was pledged to one another by unusual ties. It was the hardest society for a fellow to get into in any one of the seven colleges whereat it flourished, and its mystic bonds were not shaken off with the silken gown and "mortar board" of undergraduate days, but followed its membership through many a maturer year. It was a society most college men might ask to join in vain. Money, social station, influence were powerless. Not until a student had been under observation two whole years and was thoroughly known could he hope for a "bid" to become a "Delta Sig." Not until another six months of probation could he sport its colors, and not until he formally withdrew from its fold, in post graduation years, could he consider himself absolved from its mild obligations. But the boast of the "Delta Sig" had ever been that no one of its membership had ever turned a deaf ear to a fellow in need of aid. Who of its originators ever dreamed of such a thing as its drifting into and becoming a factor in the affairs of the regular army?
No wonder Gray stood for a moment, the paper still in his hands, irresolute, even disturbed. Not to answer the appeal meant to run counter to all the tenets of his fraternity. To answer might mean arrest and court-martial for deliberate disobedience of orders. Canker had no more mercy than an Indian. It was barely forty-eight hours since he had been publicly warned by an experienced old captain that he would find no "guardian angel" in Squeers. It would seriously mar his prospects to start now with Squeers "down on him," and as that lynx-eyed commander was ever on watch for infractions of orders, Billy well knew that he could not hope to see and talk with the prisoner and Canker not hear of it. To ask permission of Canker would only make matters worse—he was sure to refuse and then re-emphasize his orders and redouble his vigilance. To ask the consent of the officer-of the-day or the connivance of the officer-of-the-guard was to invite them to court arrest and trial on their own account. He couldn't do that even to oblige a brother Delt. If only Ned Craven were officer-of-the-guard something might be done—he was a college man, too, and though not a "Delt," but rather of a rival set, he "would understand" and possibly help. Guard mount was held toward dusk and that was four hours away, at least. The prisoner's note and tone were urgent. An idea occurred to Billy: What if he could get Gordon to let him "go on" this very evening? It wasn't his tour. He had "marched off" only two days before as he well remembered, for Canker had "roughed" him up and down about that little error in copying the list of prisoners from the report of the previous day. Moreover, he had counted on going to town right after "retreat," dining at the Palace, an extravagance not to be thought of at other times, so as to be on hand when the Primes and Amy Lawrence came down to dinner. He had planned it all—even to the amount of surprise he was to exhibit when he should discover about when he had finished his own dinner that they were just beginning theirs, and the extent and degree of pleasurable emotion he might venture on showing as he hastened over to greet them, and accept their offer to be seated with them, even if he had been so unkind as to dine beforehand solus instead of with them. He had set his heart on having a chat with Miss Lawrence as part recompense for all he had lost that morning, and all this he was thinking of while still fumbling over that disturbing note. Time was getting short, too; there was no telling how much longer they might stay. Mr. Prime had brought his only daughter all that long journey across the continent on the assurance that the boy he loved, with whom he had quarreled, and whom, in his anger, he had sorely rebuked, had enlisted there in San Francisco and was serving in a regiment at the great camp west of the city. He had come full of hope and confidence; he had found the young soldier described, and, in his bitter disappointment, he declared there was no resemblance to justify the report sent him by the boy's own uncle, who vowed he had met him with comrades on the main street of the city, that the recognition was mutual, for the boy had darted around the first corner and escaped. His companions were scattered by the time Mr. Lawrence returned to the spot after a brief, fruitless search, but private detectives had taken it up and "located," as they thought, young Prime and telegraphed the father in the distant East.
Now, Mr. Lawrence was away on business of his own. Written assurances that he couldn't be mistaken lost weight, and Mr. Prime, disheartened, was merely waiting the report of an agent who thought he had traced the boy to Tampa. In twenty-four hours he might spirit his daughter away on another chase, and then there would be no further warrant for Miss Lawrence's remaining in the city. She would return to her lovely home in one of the loveliest of Californian valleys, miles away from the raw fogs and chills of the Golden Gate, and would be no more seen among the camps. That, said Billy Gray to himself, would take every bit of sunshine from his life.
All this detail, or much of it, he had learned from the fair lips of Miss Lawrence herself, for Mr. Prime and his daughter seemed to shrink from speaking of the matter. From the first Miss Amy had had to take the young gentleman under her personal wing, as it were. In her desire to aid her uncle and cousin in every way, and knowing them to be strangers to the entire camp, she had eagerly sent for him as the first familiar or friendly object she saw. Then when he came and was presented, and proved to possess little interest to the careworn man and his anxious and devoted child, it devolved upon Miss Lawrence to make much of Billy in proportion as they made little of him, and for three days or so the blithe young fellow seemed fairly to walk on air. Moreover, she had taken him into the family confidences in telling him of the missing son and brother, for both her uncle and cousin, she said, were so sensitive about it they could not talk to any one except when actually necessary. They had leaned, as it were, on the General and on Colonel Armstrong for a day, and then seemed to draw away from both. They even seemed to take it much amiss that her father had to be absent when they came, though they had sent no word, until too late, of their coming. He was on his return, might arrive any hour, but so might they go. Now if Billy could only discover that missing son——
Then came an inspiration! Penciling a brief note he gave it to a soldier of his company and bade him take it to the guard tents. It told Morton of the colonel's orders, issued that very day, and bade him be patient—he hoped and believed opportunity would be afforded for an interview that evening. Then he hunted up a subaltern of his own grade whom he knew would probably be the detail for officer-of-the-guard that evening. "Brooke," said he, "will you swap tours with me if Gordon's willing. I have—I'd like mightily to exchange if it's all the same to you."
Brooke hesitated. He had social hopes and aspirations of his own. By "swapping" with Gray he might find himself doomed to a night in camp when he had accepted for some pleasant function in town.
"Thought you were keen to go in to-night—right after retreat," he hazarded.
"Well, I was," said Gray, pulling his drab campaign hat down over his eyes to shut out the glare of the westering sun. "But I've got—a new wrinkle."
"Some bid for Friday? That's your tour, isn't it?" And Brooke began counting on his fingers. "Wait till I look at my notebook. Friday? Why, that's the night of the Burton's card party—thought you didn't know them."
"I don't," said Gray, glad enough to escape the other question. "And you hate card parties, you know you do. It's a go, is it? I'll see Gordon at once." And off he went, leaving Brooke to wonder why he should be so bent on the arrangement.
But Gordon proved an unexpected foe to the plan. "Can't be done, Billy," said he, sententiously. "Canker watches those details like a hawk. He hasn't forgotten you only came off two days ago, and if I were to mount you to-night he'd mount me—with both feet."
"Think there's any use in asking him?" queried the boy, tossing a backward glance toward Canker's tent. "Not unless you're suffering for another snub. That man loves to say 'no' as much as any girl I ever asked, and he doesn't do it to be coaxed, either. Best leave it alone, Billy."
And then the unexpected happened. Into the tent with quick, impetuous step, came the commanding officer himself, and something had occurred to stir that gentleman to the core. His eyes were snapping, and his head was high.
"Mr. Gordon," said he, "here's more of this pilfering business, and now they're beginning to find out it isn't all in my camp by a damned sight. I want that letter copied at once." Then with a glance at Gray, who had whipped off his cap and was standing in respectful attitude, he changed his tone from the querulous, half-treble of complaint. "What's this you'd best leave alone?" he suddenly demanded. "There are a dozen things you'd best leave alone and a dozen you would do well to cultivate and study. When I was—however, I never was a lieutenant except in war-time, when they amounted to something. I got my professional knowledge in front of the enemy—not at any damned charity school. You're here to ask some new indulgence, I suppose. Want to stay in town over night and fritter away your money and the time the government pays for. No, sir; you can't have my consent. You will be back in camp at twelve o'clock, and stop and report your return to the officer-of-the-guard, so that I may know the hour you come in. Who's officer-of-the-guard to-night, Mr. Gordon?"
"Mr. Brooke, sir."
"Mr. Brooke! Why, I thought I told you he was to take those prisoners in town to-morrow. He has to testify before that court in the case of Sergeant Kelly and it saves my sending another officer and having two of our lieutenants away from drill and hanging around the Bohemian Club. Detail somebody else!"
"All right, sir," answered Gordon imperturbably. "Make any odds, sir, who is detailed?"
Canker had turned to his desk and was tossing over the papers with nervous hand. Gray impulsively stepped forward, his eyes kindling with hope. It was on the tip of his tongue to launch into a proffer of his own services for the detail, but Gordon hastily warned him back with a sweep of the hand and a portentous scowl.
"No. One's as bad as the other. Next thing I know some of 'em will be letting prisoners escape right under my nose, making us the laughing stock of these damned militia volunteers." (Canker entered service in '61 as a private in a city company that was militia to the tip of its spike-tailed coats, but he had forgotten it.) "I want these young idlers to understand distinctly, by George, that the first prisoner that gets away from this post takes somebody's commission with him. D'you hear that, Mr. Gray?" And Canker turned and glared at the bright blue eyes as though he would like to blast their clear fires with the breath of his disapprobation. "Has that young fellow, Morton, been put in irons yet?" he suddenly asked, whirling on Gordon again.
"Think not, sir. Supplies limited. Officer-of-the-day reported half an hour ago every set was in use. Sent over to division quartermaster and he answered we had a dozen more'n we were entitled to now. Wanted to know 'f we meant to iron the whole regiment——"
"The hell he did!" raged Canker. "I'll settle that in short order. My horse there, orderly! I'll be back by four, Mr. Gordon. Fix that detail to suit yourself." And so saying the irascible colonel flung himself out of the tent and into his saddle.
"You young idiot," said Gordon, whirling on Billy the moment the coast was clear. "You came within an ace of ruining the whole thing. Never ask Canker for anything, unless it's what you wish to be rid of. Tell Brooke you're for guard, and he's to go to town instead."
"Hopping mad," as he himself afterward expressed it, Colonel Canker had ridden over to "have it out" with the quartermaster who had ventured to comment on his methods, but the sight of the commanding general, standing alone at the entrance to his private tent, his pale face grayer than ever and a world of trouble in his eyes, compelled Canker to stop short. Two or three orderlies were on the run. Two aides-de-camp, Mr. Garrison and a comrade were searching through desks and boxes, their faces grave and concerned. The regimental commander was off his horse in a second. "Anything amiss, General?" he asked, with soldierly salute.
The General turned slowly toward him. "Can our men sell letters," he said, "as well as food and forage? Do people buy such things? A most important package has been—stolen from my tent."
The great thoroughfare of that wonderful city, seated on more than her seven hills, and ruling the Western world, was thronged from curb to curb. Gay with bunting and streamers, the tall buildings of the rival newspapers and the long facades of hotels and business blocks were gayer still with the life and color and enthusiasm that crowded every window. Street traffic was blocked. Cable cars clanged vainly and the police strove valiantly. It was a day given up to but one duty and one purpose, that of giving Godspeed to the soldiery ordered for service in the distant Philippines, and, though they hailed from almost every section of the Union except the Pacific slope, as though they were her own children, with all the hope and faith and pride and patriotism, with all the blessings and comforts with which she had loaded the foremost ships that sailed, yet happily without the tears that flowed when her own gallant regiment was among the first to lead the way San Francisco turned out en masse to cheer the men from far beyond the Sierras and the Rockies, and to see them proudly through the Golden Gate. Early in the day the guns of a famous light battery had been trundled, decked like some rose-covered chariot at the summer festival of flowers, through the winding lanes of eager forms and faces, the cannoneers almost dragged from the ranks by the clasping hands of men and women who seemed powerless to let go. With their little brown carbines tossed jauntily over the broad blue shoulders, half a regiment of regular cavalry, dismounted, had gone trudging down to the docks, cheered to the gateway of the pier by thousands of citizens who seemed to envy the very recruits who, only half-uniformed and drilled, brought up the rear of the column. Once within the massive wooden portals, the guards and sentries holding back the importunate crowd, the soldiers flung aside their heavy packs, and were marshalled before an array of tempting tables and there feasted, comforted and rejoiced under the ministrations of that marvelous successor of the Sanitary Commission of the great Civil War of the sixties—the noble order of the Red Cross. There at those tables in the dust and din of the bustling piers, in the soot and heat of the railway station, in the jam and turmoil at the ferry houses, in the fog and chill of the seaward camps, in the fever-haunted wards of crowded field hospitals, from dawn till dark, from dark till dawn, toiled week after week devoted women in every grade of life, the wife of the millionaire, the daughter of the day laborer, the gently born, the delicately reared, the social pets and darlings, the humble seamstress, no one too high to stoop to aid the departing soldier, none too poor or low to deny him cheer and sympathy. The war was still young then. Spain had not lowered her riddled standard and sued for peace. Two great fleets had been swept from the seas, the guns of Santiago were silenced, and the stronghold of the Orient was sulking in the shadow of the flag, but there was still soldier work to be done, and so long as the nation sent its fighting men through her broad and beautiful gates San Francisco and the Red Cross stood by with eager, lavish hands to heap upon the warrior sons of a score of other States, even as upon their own, every cheer and comfort that wealth could purchase, or human sympathy devise. It was the one feature of the war days of '98 that will never be forgotten.
At one of the flower-decked tables near the great "stage" that led to the main deck of the transport, a group of blithe young matrons and pretty girls had been busily serving fruit, coffee, bouillon and substantials to the troopers, man after man, for over two hours. There was lively chat and merry war of words going on at the moment between half a dozen young officers who had had their eyes on that particular table ever since the coming of the command, and were now making the most of their opportunities before the trumpets should sound the assembly and the word be passed to move aboard. All the heavy baggage and ammunition had, at last, been swung into the hold; the guns of the battery had been lowered and securely chocked; the forecastle head was thronged with the red-trimmed uniforms of the artillerymen, who had already been embarked and were now jealously clamoring that the troopers should be "shut off" from the further ministrations of the Red Cross, and broadly intimating that it wasn't a fair deal that their rivals should be allowed a whole additional hour of lingering farewells.
Lingering farewells there certainly were. Many a young soldier and many a lass "paired off" in little nooks and corners among the stacks of bales and boxes, but at the table nearest the staging all seemed gay good humor. A merry little woman with straw-colored hair and pert, tip-tilted nose and much vivacity and complexion, had apparently taken the lead in the warfare of chaff and fun. Evidently she was no stranger to most of the officers. Almost as evidently, to a very close observer who stood a few paces away, she was no intimate of the group of women who with good right regarded that table as their especial and personal charge. Her Red Cross badge was very new; her garb and gloves were just as fresh and spotless. She had not been ladling out milk and cream, or buttering sandwiches, or pinning souvenirs on dusty blue blouses ever since early morning. Other faces there showed through all their smiles and sweetness the traces of long days of unaccustomed work and short nights of troubled sleep. Marvelous were Mrs. Frank Garrison's recuperative powers, thought they who saw her brought home in the Primes' stylish carriage, weak and helpless and shaken after her adventure of the previous day. She had not been at the Presidio a week, and yet she pervaded it. She had never thought of such a thing as the Red Cross until she found it the center of the social firmament after her arrival at San Francisco, and here she was, the last comer, the foremost ("most forward" I think some one described it) in their circle at one of the most prominent tables, absorbing much of the attention, most of the glory, and none of the fatigue that should have been equally shared by all.
"Adios!" she gayly cried as the "assembly" rang out, loud and clear, and waving their hands and raising their caps, the officers hastened to join their commands. "Adios, till we meet in Manila."
"Do you really think of going to the Philippines, Mrs. Garrison?" queried a much older-looking, yet younger woman. "Why, we were told the General said that none of his staff would be allowed to take their wives."