A Story of Manila
GENERAL CHARLES KING, U.S.V.
Author of "Ray's Recruit," "Marion's Faith," "The Colonel's Daughter," etc.
Philadelphia and London J. B. Lippincott Company 1901
Copyright, 1900 by J. B. Lippincott Company
Electrotyped and Printed by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, U.S.A.
The long June day was drawing to its close. Hot and strong the slanting sunbeams beat upon the grimy roofs of the train and threw distorted shadows over the sand and sage-brush that stretched to the far horizon. Dense and choking, from beneath the whirring wheels the dust-clouds rose in tawny billows that enveloped the rearmost coaches and, mingling with the black smoke of the "double-header" engines, rolled away in the dreary wake. East and west, north and south, far as the eye could reach, hemmed by low, dun-colored ridges or sharply outlined crests of remote mountain range, in lifeless desolation the landscape lay outspread to the view. Southward, streaked with white fringe of alkali, the flat monotone of sand and ashes blended with the flatter, flawless surface of a wide-spreading, ash-colored inland lake, its shores dotted at intervals with the bleaching bones of cattle and ridged with ancient wagon-tracks unwashed by not so much as a single drop from the cloudless heavens since their first impress on the sinking soil. Here and there along the right of way—a right no human being would care to dispute were the way ten times its width—some drowsing lizards, sprawling in the sunshine along the ties, roused at the sound and tremor of the coming train to squirm off into the sage-brush, but no sign of animation had been seen since the crossing of the big divide near Promontory. The long, winding train, made up of mail-, express-, baggage-, emigrant-, and smoking-cars, "tourists' coaches," and huge sleepers at the rear, with a "diner" midway in the chain, was packed with gasping humanity westward bound for the far Pacific—the long, long, tortuous climb to the snow-capped Sierras ahead, the parched and baking valley of the Great Salt Lake long, dreary miles behind. It was early June of the year '98, and the war with Spain was on.
There had been some delay at Ogden. The trains from the East over the Union Pacific and the Denver and Rio Grande came in crowded, and the resources of the Southern Pacific were suddenly taxed beyond the expectation of its officials. Troops had been whirling westward throughout the week, absorbing much of the rolling stock, and the empty cars were being rushed east again from Oakland pier, but the nearest were still some hundreds of miles from this point of transfer when a carload of recruits was dumped upon the broad platform, and the superintendent scratched his head, and screwed up the corner of his mouth, and asked an assistant how in a hotter place than even Salt Lake Valley the road could expect him to forward troops without delay "when the road took away the last car in the yard getting those Iowa boys out."
"There ain't nuthin' left 'cept that old tourist that's been rustin' and kiln-dryin' up 'longside the shops since last winter," said the junior helplessly. "Shall we have her out?"
"Guess you'll have to," was the answer. "It's that or nothin';" and the boss turned on his heel and slammed the office door behind him. "Ten to one," said he, "there'll be a kick comin' when the boys see what they've got to ride in, an' I'll let Jim take the kick."
The kick had come as predicted, but availed nothing. A score of lusty young patriots were the performers, but, being destined for service in the regulars, they had neither Senator nor State official to "wire" to in wrathful protest, as was usual on such occasions. The superintendent would have thought twice before ever suggesting that car as a component part of the train bearing the volunteers from Nebraska, Colorado, or Iowa so recently shipped over the road. "They could have made it hot for the management," said he. But these fellows, these waifs, were from no State or place in particular. They hadn't even an officer with them, but were hurrying on to their destination under command of a veteran gunner, "lanced" for the purpose at the recruiting station. He had done his best for his men. Ruefully they looked through the dust-covered interior and inspected the muddy trucks and brake-gear. "She wheezes like she had bronchitis," said the corporal, "and the inside's a cross between a hen-coop and coal-bin. You ain't going to run that old rookery for a car, are you?"
"Best we've got," was the curt reply. Yet the yardman shook his head as he heard the squeal of the rusty journals, and ordered his men to pack in fresh waste and "touch 'em up somehow." Any man who had spent a week about a railway could have prophesied "hot boxes" before that coach had run much more than its own length, but it wouldn't do for an employee to say so. The corporal looked appealingly at his fellow-passengers of the Rio Grande train. There were dozens of them stretching their legs and strolling about the platform, after getting their hand-luggage transferred and seats secured, but there was no one in position or authority to interpose. Some seemed to feel no interest.
"Get your rations and plunder aboard," he ordered, turning suddenly to his party, and, loading up with blankets, overcoats, haversacks, and canteens, the recruits speedily took possession of their new quarters, forced open the jammed windows to let out the imprisoned and overheated air, piled their boxes of hard bread and stacks of tinned meat at the ends and their scant soldier goods and chattels in the rude sections, then tumbled out again upon the platform to enjoy, while yet there was time, the freedom of the outer air, despite the torrid heat of the mid-day sunshine.
In knots of three or four they sauntered about, their hands deep in their empty pockets, their boyish eyes curiously studying the signs and posters, or wistfully peering through the screened doors at the temptations of the bar and lunch counter or the shaded windows of the dining-room, where luckier fellow-passengers were taking their fill of the good cheer afforded. Two of the number, dressed like the rest in blue flannel shirts, with trousers of lighter hue and heavier make, fanning their heated faces with their drab, broad-brimmed campaign hats, swung off the rear end of the objectionable car, and, with a quick glance about them, started briskly down the track to where the "diner" and certain sleepers of the Southern Pacific were being shunted about.
"Come back here, you fellers!" shouted the corporal, catching sight of the pair. "You don't know how soon this here train may start. Come back, I say," he added emphatically, as the two, looking first into each other's eyes, seemed to hesitate. Then, with sullen, down-cast face the nearer turned and slowly obeyed. The other, a bright, merry youngster, whose white teeth gleamed as he laughed his reply, still stood in his tracks.
"We're only going to the dining-car, corporal," he shouted. "That's going with us, so we can't be left."
"You've got no business in the dining-car, Mellen; that's not for your sort, or mine, for that matter," was the corporal's ultimatum. And with a grin still expanding his broad mouth, the recruit addressed as Mellen came reluctantly sauntering in the trail of his comrade, who had submitted in silence and yet not without a shrug of protest. It was to the latter the corporal spoke when the two had rejoined their associates.
"You've got sense enough to know you're not wanted at that diner, Murray, whether Mellen has or not. That's no place for empty pockets. What took you there?"
"Wanted a drink, and you said 'keep away from the bar-room,'" answered Murray briefly, his gray eyes glancing about from man to man in the group, resting for just a second on the form and features of one who stood a little apart, a youth of twenty-one years probably. "It was Foster's treat," he added, and that remark transferred the attention of the party at the instant to the youngster on the outskirts.
He had been leaning with folded arms against a lamp-post, looking somewhat wearily up the long platform to where in pairs or little groups the passengers were strolling, men and women both, seeking relief from the constraint and stiffness of the long ride by rail. He had an interesting—even a handsome—face, and his figure was well knit, well proportioned. His eyes were a dark, soft brown, with very long, curving lashes, his nose straight, his mouth finely curved, soft and sensitive. His throat was full, round, and at the base very white and fair, as the unfastened and flapping shirt-collar now enabled one to see. His hands, too, were soft and white, showing that at least one of the twenty came not from the ranks of the toilers. His shoes were of finer make than those of his comrades, and the handkerchief so loosely knotted at the opening of the coarse blue shirt was of handsome and costly silk. He had been paying scant attention to his surroundings, and was absorbed, evidently, in his watch on the tourists up the platform when recalled to himself by the consciousness that all eyes were upon him.
"What's this about your treatin', Foster?" asked the corporal.
For a week he had felt sure the boy had money, and not a little. Nothing would have persuaded him to borrow a cent of Foster or anybody else, but others, and plenty of them, had no such scruples.
The young recruit turned slowly. He seemed reluctant to quit his scrutiny of his fellow-passengers. The abrupt tone and manner of the accustomed regular, too, jarred upon him. It might be the corporal's prerogative so to address his charges, but this one didn't like it, and meant to show that he didn't. His money at least was his own, and he could do with it as he liked. The answer did not come until the question had been asked twice. Then in words as brief and manner as blunt he said,—
"Why shouldn't I?"
Corporal Connelly stood a second or two without venturing a word, looking steadfastly at the young soldier, whose attitude was unchanged and whose eyes were again fixed on the distant group, as though in weary disdain of those about him. Then Connelly took half a dozen quick, springy steps that landed him close to the unmoved recruit.
"You've two things to learn among two thousand, Foster," said he in low, firm voice. "One is to keep your money, and the other, your temper. I spoke for your good principally, but if you've been ladling out your money to be spent in liquor, I say stop it. There's to be no whiskey in that car."
"Nobody wants it less than I do," said Foster wearily. "Why didn't you keep it out of the others?"
"Because I never knew till it was gone. How much money did you give Murray—and why?" and Connelly's eyes were looking straight into those of Foster as he spoke, compelling respect for sturdy manhood.
"A dollar, I believe," was the languid answer, "and because he asked it." And again the lad's gaze wandered off along the platform.
The switch engine was busily at work making up the train, and brakemen were signalling up and down the line. The dining-car, followed by some ponderous sleepers, came gliding slowly along the rails and brought up with a bump and jar against the buffers of the old tourists' ark assigned the recruits. Somewhere up at the thronged station a bell began to jangle, followed by a shout of "All aboard!"
"Tumble in, you men," ordered Connelly, and at the moment there came a general movement of the crowd in their direction. The passengers of the sleepers were hurrying to their assigned places, some with flushed faces and expostulation. They thought their car should have come to them.
"It's because our train is so very long," explained the brakeman to some ladies whom he was assisting up the steps. "We've twice as many cars as usual. Yours is the next car, ma'am; the one behind the diner."
The recruit, Foster, had started, but slowly, when in obedience to the corporal's order his fellows began to move. He was still looking, half in search, half in expectation, towards the main entrance of the station building. But the instant he became aware of the movement in his direction on the part of the passengers he pushed ahead past several of the party; he even half shoved aside one of their number who had just grasped the hand-rail of the car, then sprang lightly past him and disappeared within the door-way. There, half hidden by the gloom of the interior, he stood well back from the grimy windows, yet peering intently through at the swiftly passing crowd.
Suddenly he stooped, recoiled, and seated himself in the opposite section while his comrades came filing rapidly in, and at the moment a tall young officer in dark uniform, a man perhaps of twenty-five, with a singularly handsome face and form, strode past the window, scrupulously acknowledged Connelly's salute, and then, glancing about, saw the heads and shoulders of a dozen soldiers at the windows.
"Why, what detachment is this, corporal?" he asked. "We brought no troops on our train."
"Recruits —th Cavalry, sir," was the ready answer. "We came by way of Denver."
"Ah, yes; that explains it. Who's in command?" And the tall officer looked about him as though in search of kindred rank.
"We have no officer with us, sir," said Connelly diplomatically. "I'm—in charge."
"You'll have to hurry, sir," spoke the brakeman at the moment. "Jump on the diner, if you like, and go through."
The officer took the hint and sprang to the steps. There he turned and faced the platform again just as the train began to move.
A little group, two ladies and a man of middle age, stood directly opposite him, closely scanning the train, and all on a sudden their faces beamed, their glances were directed, their hands waved towards him.
"Good-by! Good-by! Take good care of yourself! Wire from Sacramento!" were their cries, addressed apparently to his head, and turning quickly, he found himself confronting a young girl standing smiling on the platform of the dining-car, her tiny feet about on a level with his knees; yet he had hardly to cast an upward glance, for her beaming, beautiful face was but a trifle higher than his own. In all his life he had never seen one so pretty.
Realizing that he stood between this fair traveller and the friends who were there to wish her god-speed; recognizing, too, with the swift intuition of his class, the possibility of establishing relations on his own account, the young soldier snatched off his new forage-cap, briefly said, "I beg your pardon; take my place," and, swinging outward, transferred himself to the rear of the recruit car, thereby causing the corporal to recoil upon a grinning squad of embryo troopers who were shouting jocular farewell to the natives, and getting much in the way of train-hands who were busy straightening out the bell-cord.
Something seemed amiss with that portion of it which made part of the equipment of the old tourists' car. It was either wedged in the narrow orifice above the door or caught among the rings of the pendants from above, for it resisted every jerk, whereat the brakeman set his teeth and said improper things. It would have grieved the management to hear this faithful employe's denunciation of that particular item of their rolling-stock.
"Get out of the way here, boys, and let's see what's the matter with this damned bell-cord," he continued, elbowing his way through the swarm about the door. Once fairly within, he threw a quick glance along the aisle. The left sections of the car were deserted. Out of almost every window on the right side poked a head and pair of blue flannel shoulders.
Only one man of the party seemed to have no further interest in what was going on outside. With one hand still grasping the edge of the upright partition between two sections near the forward end, and the other just letting go, apparently, of the bell-cord, the tall, slender, well-built young soldier, with dark-brown eyes and softly curling lashes, was lowering himself into the aisle. The brakeman proceeded to rebuke him on the spot.
"Look here, young feller, you'll have to keep your hands off that bell-cord. Here I've been cussin' things for keeps, thinking it was knotted or caught. It was just you had hold of it. Don't you know better'n that? Ain't you ever travelled before?"
The man addressed was stowing something away inside the breast of his shirt. He did it with almost ostentatious deliberation, quietly eying the brakeman before replying. Then, slowly readjusting the knot of a fine black-silk necktie, so that its broad, flapping ends spread over the coarser material of the garment, he slowly looked the justly exasperated brakeman over from head to foot and as slowly and placidly answered:
"Not more than about half around the world. As for your bell-cord, it was knotted; it caught in that ring. I saw that someone was tugging and trying to get it loose, so I swung up there and straightened it. Just what you'd have done under the circumstances, I fancy."
The brakeman turned redder under the ruddy brown of his sun-tanned skin. This was no raw "rookie" after all. In his own vernacular, as afterwards expressed to the conductor, "I seen I was up ag'in' the real t'ing dis time," but it was hard to admit it at the moment. Vexation had to have a vent. The bell-cord no longer served. The supposed meddler had proved a help. Something or somebody had to be the victim of the honest brakeman's spleen, so, somewhat unluckily, as events determined, he took it out on the company and that decrepit car, now buzzing along with much complaint of axle and of bearing.
"Damn this old shake-down, anyhow!" said he. "The company ought to know 'nough not to have such things lyin' round loose. Some night it'll fall to pieces and kill folks." And with this implied apology for his aspersions of Recruit Foster, the brakeman bustled away.
But what he said was heard by more than one, and remembered when perhaps he would have wished it forgotten. The delay at Ogden was supplemented by a long halt before the setting of that blazing sun, necessitated by the firing of the waste in the boxes of those long-neglected trucks. Far back as the rearmost sleeper the sickening smell of burning, oil-steeped packing drove feminine occupants to their satchels in search of scent-bottles, and the men to such comfort as could be found in flasks of bulkier make.
In the heart of the desert, with dust and desolation spreading far on every hand, the long train had stopped to douse those foul-smelling fires, and, while train-hands pried off the red-hot caps and dumped buckets of water into the blazing cavities, changing malodorous smoke to dense clouds of equally unsavory steam, and the recruits in the afflicted car found consolation in "joshing" the hard-sweating, hard-swearing workers, the young officer who had boarded the second sleeper at Ogden, together with half a dozen bipeds in dusters or frazzled shirt-sleeves, had become involved in a complication on the shadier side of the train.
Somewhere into the sage-brush a jack-rabbit had darted and was now in hiding. With a dozen eager heads poked from the northward windows and stretching arms and index fingers guiding them in their inglorious hunt, the lieutenant and his few associates were stalking the first four-footed object sighted from the train since the crossing of the bald divide.
Within the heated cars, with flushed faces and plying palm-leaf fans, a few of the women passengers were languidly gazing from the windows. At the centre window of the second sleeper, without a palm-leaf and looking serene and unperturbed, sat the young girl whose lovely face had so excited Mr. Stuyvesant's deep admiration. Thrice since leaving Ogden, on one pretext or other, had he passed her section and stolen such a look as could be given without obvious staring. Immediately in rear of the seat she occupied was an austere maiden of middle age, one of the passengers who had come on by the Union Pacific from Omaha. Directly opposite sat two men whom Stuyvesant had held in but scant esteem up to the time they left the valley of Salt Lake. Now, because their sections stood over against hers, his manner relaxed with his mood. Circumstances had brought the elderly maid and himself to the same table on two occasions in the dining-car, but he had hitherto felt no desire to press the acquaintance.
This afternoon he minded him of a new book he had in his bag, for literature, he judged, might be her hobby, and had engaged her in conversation, of which his share was meant to impress the tiny, translucent ear that nestled in the dark-brown coils and waves of the pretty head in front of him.
When, however, it became patent that his companion desired to form her own impressions of the pages uninfluenced by his well-delivered comments, Mr. Stuyvesant had bethought him of the semi-somnolent occupants of the opposite section, and some cabalistic signs he ventured with a little silver cup summoned them in pleased surprise to the water-cooler at the rear end, where he regaled them with a good story and the best of V. O. P. Scotch, and accepted their lavish bid to sit with them awhile.
From this coign of vantage he had studied her sweet, serious, oval face as she sat placidly reading a little volume in her lap, only once in a while raising a pair of very dark, very beautiful, very heavily browed and lashed brown eyes for brief survey of the forbidding landscape; then, with never an instant's peep at him, dropping their gaze again upon the book.
Not once in the long, hot afternoon had she vouchsafed him the minimum of a show of interest, curiosity, or even consciousness of his presence. Then the train made its second stop on account of the fires, and Bre'r Rabbit his luckless break into the long monotony of the declining day.
Tentative spikes, clods, and empty flasks having failed to find him, the beaters had essayed a skirmish line, and with instant result. Like a meteoric puff of gray and white, to a chorus of yells and the accompaniment of a volley of missiles, Jack had shot into space from behind his shelter and darted zigzagging through the brush. A whizzing spike, a chance shot that nearly grazed his nose, so dazzled his brainlet that the terrified creature doubled on his trail and came bounding back towards the train.
Close to the track-side ran a narrow ditch. In this ditch at the instant crouched the tall lieutenant. Into this ditch leaped Bunny, and the next second had whizzed past the stooping form and bored straight into a little wooden drain. There some unseen, unlooked-for object blocked him.
Desperately the hind-legs kicked and tore in the effort to force the passage, and with a shout of triumph the tall soldier swooped upon the prize, seized the struggling legs, swung the wretched creature aloft, and for the first time in six mortal hours met full in his own the gaze of the deep, beautiful brown eyes he had so striven to attract, and they were half pleading, half commanding for Bunny. The next instant, uninjured, but leaping madly for life, Bre'r Rabbit was streaking eastward out of harm's way, a liberated victim whose first huge leap owed much of its length to the impetus of Stuyvesant's long, lean, sinewy arm.
This time when he looked up and raised his cap, and stood there with his blond hair blowing down over his broad white forehead, although the soft curves of the ripe red lips at the window above him changed not, there was something in the dark-brown eyes that seemed to say "Thank you!"
Yet when he would have met those eyes again that evening, when "Last call for dinner in the dining-car" was sounding through the train, he could not. Neither were they among those that peered from between parted curtains in the dim light of the sleeper, many in fright, all in anxiety, when somewhere in the dead of the summer night, long after all occupants of the rearmost cars were wrapped in slumber, the long train bumped to sudden jarring standstill, and up ahead there arose sound of rush, of excitement and alarm.
It was just after sunset when, for the second time, the hot boxes of the recruit car had been treated to liberal libations from the water-tank, and the belated train again moved on.
Dinner had been ready in the dining-car a full hour, but so long as the sickening smell of burning waste arose from the trucks immediately in front very few of the passengers seemed capable of eating. The car, as a consequence, was crowded towards eight o'clock, and the steward and waiters were busy men.
The evening air, drifting in through open windows, was cooler than it had been during the day, but still held enough of the noontide caloric to make fans a comfort, and Mr. Stuyvesant, dining at a "four-in-hand" table well to the front, and attempting to hold his own in a somewhat desultory talk with his fellow-men, found himself paying far more attention to the lovely face of the girl across the aisle than to the viands set before him.
She was seated facing the front, and opposite the austere maiden previously mentioned. Conversation had already begun, and now Stuyvesant was able to see that, beautiful in feature as was her face in repose, its beauty was far enhanced when animated and smiling.
When to well-nigh perfect external features there is added the charm of faultlessly even and snowy teeth and a smile that illumines the entire face, shining in the eyes as it plays about the pretty, sensitive mouth, a young woman is fully equipped for conquest.
Stuyvesant gazed in fascination uncontrollable. He envied the prim, precise creature who sat unbending, severe, and, even while keeping up a semblance of interest in the conversation, seemed to feel it a duty to display disapprobation of such youthful charms.
No woman is so assured that beauty is only skin deep as she who has none of it. Her manner, therefore, had been decidedly stiff, and from that had imperceptibly advanced to condescension, but when the steward presently appeared with a siphon of iced seltzer, and, bowing deferentially, said he hoped everything was to Miss Ray's liking, and added that it seemed a long time since they had seen the captain and supposed he must be a colonel now, the thin eyebrows of the tall maiden were uplifted into little arches that paralleled the furrows of her brow as she inquired:
"Miss Ray?—from Fort Leavenworth?"
The answer was a smiling nod of assent as the younger lady buried her lovely, dark face in the flowers set before her by the assiduous waiter, and Stuyvesant felt sure she was trying to control an inclination to laugh.
"Well, you must excuse me if I have been a little—slow," said the elder in evident perturbation. "You see—we meet such queer people travelling—sometimes. Don't you find it so?"
The dark face was dimpling now with suppressed merriment.
"Yes—occasionally," was the smiling answer.
"But then, being the daughter of an army officer," pursued the other hurriedly, "you have to travel a great deal. I suppose you really—have no home?" she essayed in the half-hopeful tone to be expected of one who considered that a being so endowed by nature must suffer some compensatory discomforts.
"Yes and—no," answered Miss Ray urbanely. "In one sense we army girls have no home. In another, we have homes everywhere."
It is a reproach in the eyes of certain severe moralists that a fellow-being should be so obviously content with his or her lot. The elder woman seemed to feel it a duty to acquaint this beaming creature with the manifest deficiency in her moral make-up.
"Yes, but I should think most any one would rather have a real home, a place where they weren't bounden to anybody, no matter if it was homely." (She called it "humbly," and associated it in mind with the words of Payne's immortal song.) "Now, when I went to see Colonel Ray about our society, he told me he had to break up everything, going to Cuba, but he didn't mention about your going West."
"Father was a little low in his mind that day," said Miss Ray, a shade of sadness passing over her face. "Both my brothers are in the service, and one is barely seventeen."
"Out at service!" interrupted the other. "You don't mean——"
"No," was the laughing answer, and in Miss Ray's enjoyment of the situation her eyes came perilously near seeking those of Mr. Stuyvesant, which she well knew were fixed upon her. "I mean that both are in the army."
"Well—I thought not—still—I didn't know. It's all rather new to me, this dealin' with soldiers, but I suppose I'll get to know all about it after a spell. Our society's getting much encouraged."
"Red Cross?" queried Miss Ray, with uplifted brows and evident interest, yet a suspicion of incredulity.
"Well, same thing, only we don't propose to levy contributions right and left like they do. I am vice-president of the Society of Patriotic Daughters of America, you know. I thought perhaps your father might have told you. And our association is self-sustaining, at least it will be as soon as we are formally recognized by the government. You know the Red Cross hasn't any real standing, whereas our folks expect the President to issue the order right away, making us part of the regular hospital brigade. Now, your father was very encouraging, though some officers we talked to were too stuck up to be decent. When I called on General Drayton he just as much as up and told me we'd only be in the way."
Just here, it must be owned, Miss Ray found it necessary to dive under the table for a handkerchief which she had not dropped.
Mr. Stuyvesant, ignoring the teachings of his childhood and gazing over the rim of his coffee-cup, observed that she was with difficulty concealing her merriment. Then, all of a sudden, her face, that had been so full of radiance, became suddenly clouded by concern and distress. The door at the head of the car had swung suddenly open and remained so, despite the roar and racket of the wheels and the sweep of dust and cinders down the aisle. The steward glanced up from his cupboard opposite the kitchen window at the rear, and quickly motioned to some one to shut that door. A waiter sprang forward, and then came the steward himself. The look in the girl's face was enough for Stuyvesant. He whirled about to see what had caused it, and became instantly aware of a stout-built soldier swaying uneasily at the entrance and in thick tones arguing with the waiter. He saw at a glance the man had been drinking, and divined he was there to get more liquor. He was on the point of warning the steward to sell him none, but was saved the trouble. The steward bent down and whispered:
"This makes the second time he's come in since six o'clock. I refused to let him have a drop. Can't something be done to keep him out? We can't lock the door, you know, sir."
Stuyvesant quickly arose and stepped up the aisle. By this time everybody was gazing towards the front entrance in concern and curiosity. The colored waiter was still confronting the soldier as though to prevent his coming farther into the car. The soldier, with flushed and sodden face and angry eyes, had placed a hand on the broad shoulder of the servant and was clumsily striving to put him aside.
Stuyvesant's tall, athletic figure suddenly shut both from view. Never hesitating, he quickly elbowed the negro out of the way, seized the doorknob with his left hand, throwing the door wide open, then, looking the soldier full in the face, pointed to the tourist car with the other.
"Go back at once," was all he said.
The man had been hardly six days in service, and had learned little of army life or ways. He was a whole American citizen, however, if he was half drunk, and the average American thinks twice before he obeys a mandate of any kind. This one coming from a tall young swell was especially obnoxious.
The uniform as yet had little effect on Recruit Murray. Where he hailed from the sight of it had for years provoked only demonstrations of derision and dislike. He didn't know who the officer was—didn't want to know—didn't care. What he wanted was whiskey, and so long as the money was burning in his pocket he knew no reason why he shouldn't have it. Therefore, instead of obeying, he stood there, sullen and swaying, scowling up as though in hate and defiance into the grave, set young face. Another second and the thing was settled. Stuyvesant's right hand grasped the blue collar at the throat, the long, slender fingers gripping tight, and half shot, half lifted the amazed recruit across the swaying platform and into the reeling car ahead. There he plumped his captive down into a seat and sent for the corporal. Connelly came, rubbing his eyes, and took in the situation at a glance.
"I ordered him not to leave the car three hours ago, sir," he quickly spoke. "But after supper I got drowsy and fell asleep in my section. Then he skinned out. I'd iron him, sir, if I had anything of the kind."
"No," said Stuyvesant, "don't think of that. Just keep a watch over him and forbid his leaving the section. No, sir, none of that," he added, as in drunken dignity Murray was searching for a match to light his pipe and hide his humiliation. "There must be no smoking in this flimsy car, corporal. A spark would set fire to it in a second."
"Them was my orders, sir. This fellow knows it as well as I do. But he's given trouble one way or other ever since we started. You hear that again, now, Murray: no drink; no smoke. I'll see to it that he doesn't quit the car again, sir," he concluded, turning appealingly to the young officer, and Stuyvesant, taking a quiet look up and down the dimly lighted, dusty aisle, was about to return to the "diner," when Murray struggled to his feet. Balked in his hope of getting more drink, and defrauded, as in his muddled condition it seemed to him, of the solace of tobacco, the devil in him roused to evil effort by the vile liquor procured surreptitiously somewhere along the line, the time had come for him, as he judged, to assert himself before his fellows and prove himself a man.
"You think you're a better man than I am," he began thickly, glaring savagely at the young officer. "But I'll be even with you, young fellow. I'll——" And here ended the harangue, for, one broad hand clapped over the leering mouth and the other grasping the back of his collar, Corporal Connelly jammed him down on the seat with a shock that shook the car.
"Shut up, you drunken fool!" he cried. "Don't mind him, lieutenant. He's only a day at the depot, sir. Sit still, you blackguard, or I'll smash you!"—this to Murray, who, half suffocated, was writhing in his effort to escape. "A—ch!" he cried, with sudden wrenching away of the brawny hand, "the beast has bitten me," and the broad palm, dripping with blood, was held up to the light.
Deeply indented, there were the jagged marks of Murray's teeth.
"Here, Foster, Hunt, grab this man and don't let him stir, hand or foot. See what you get for giving a drunkard money. Grab him, I say!" shouted Connelly, grinning with mingled pain and wrath as the lieutenant led him to the wash-stand.
Another recruit, a stalwart fellow, who had apparently seen previous service, sprang to the aid of the first two named, and between them, though he stormed and struggled a moment, the wretch was jammed and held in his corner.
Stanching the blood as best he could and bandaging the hand with his own kerchief, Stuyvesant bade the corporal sit at an open window a moment, for he looked a trifle faint and sick,—it was a brutal bite. But Connelly was game.
"That blackguard's got to be taught there's a God in Israel," he exclaimed, as he turned back to the rear of the car. "I beg the lieutenant's pardon, but—he is not in the regular army, I see," with a glance at the collar of the young officer's blouse. "We sometimes get hard cases to deal with, and this is one of them. This kind of a cur wouldn't hesitate to shoot an officer in the back or stab him in the dark if he didn't like him. I hope the lieutenant may never be bothered with him again. No, damn you!" he added between his set teeth, as he looked down at the sullen, scowling prisoner, "what you ought to have is a good hiding, and what you'll get, if you give any more trouble, is a roping, hand and foot. We ought to have irons on a trip like this, lieutenant," he continued, glancing up into the calm, refined face of the young soldier. "But I can get a rope, if you say so, and tie him in his berth."
"I have no authority in the matter," said Stuyvesant reflectively. "No one has but you, that I know of. Perhaps he'll be quiet when he cools down," and the lieutenant looked doubtfully at the semi-savage in the section nearest the door.
"He'll give no more trouble this night, anyhow," said Connelly, as the officer turned to go. "And thank you, sir, for this," and he held up the bandaged hand. "But I'll keep my eyes peeled whenever he's about hereafter, and you'll be wise to do the same, sir."
For one instant, as the lieutenant paused at the door-way and looked back, the eyes of the two men met, his so brave and blue and clear; the other's—Murray's—furtive, blood-shot, and full of hate. Then the door slammed and Stuyvesant was gone.
Twice again that night he visited the recruit car. At ten o'clock, after enjoying for an hour or more the sight of Miss Ray in animated chat with two of the six women passengers of the sleeper, and the sound of her pleasant voice, Stuyvesant wandered into the diner for a glass of cool Budweiser.
"That's an ugly brute of a fellow that bit your corporal, sir," said the steward. "I was in there just now, and he's as surly as a cur dog yet."
Stuyvesant nodded without a word. He was in a petulant frame of mind. He wanted "worst kind," as he would have expressed it, to know that girl, but not a glance would she give him. She owed him one, thought he, for letting that rabbit go. Moreover, being an army girl, as he had learned, she should not be so offish with an officer.
Then the readiness with which the corporal had "spotted" him as a volunteer, as not a regular, occurred to him, and added to his faintly irritable mood. True, his coat-collar bore the tell-tale letters U. S. V., but he had served some years with one of the swellest of swell Eastern regiments, whose set-up and style were not excelled by the regulars, whose officers prided themselves upon their dress and bearing.
If it was because he was not of the regular service that Miss Ray would not vouchsafe him a glance, Mr. Stuyvesant was quite ready to bid her understand he held himself as high as any soldier in her father's famous corps. If it was not that, then what in blazes was it?
He knew that in travelling cross continent in this way it was considered the proper thing for an officer of the regular army to send his card by the porter to the wife or daughter of any brother officer who might be aboard, and to tender such civilities as he would be glad to have paid his own were he so provided. He wondered whether it would do to send his pasteboard with a little note to the effect that he had once met Colonel Ray at the United Service Club, and would be glad to pay his respects to the colonel's daughter.
It was an unusual thing for Mr. Stuyvesant to quaff beer at any time, except after heavy exercise at polo or tennis, but to-night he was ruffled, and when the porter began making up the berths and dames and damsels disappeared, he had wandered disconsolately into the diner and ordered beer as his excuse. Then he crossed the platform and entered the tourist.
The night was hot and close. The men were lying two in a berth, as a rule, the upper berths not being used.
One or two, Murray among them, had not removed their trousers, but most of them were stretched out in their undergarments, while others, chatting in low tones, were watching the brakeman turning down the lights. They made way respectfully as the lieutenant entered. Connelly came to meet him and nodded significantly at Murray, who lay in a berth near the middle of the car, still carefully watched by Hunt. Foster, wearied, had turned in, and, with his face to the window, seemed to have fallen asleep. The conductor came through, lantern in hand.
"It's the quietest and best behaved lot, barring that chap, I ever carried," said he to Stuyvesant. "But he's wicked enough for a dozen. Wonder he don't go to sleep."
"Humph! says he wants a bottle of beer," grunted Connelly. "Can't get to sleep without it. I wouldn't give it to him if I had a kag."
"He doesn't deserve it, of course," said the conductor. "What he ought to have is an all-around licking. But I've known beer to have a soothing effect on men who'd been drinking, and it might put him to sleep and save bother."
"Let him have it," said Stuyvesant briefly. "I'll send it in by the steward. And, corporal, if you or any of your men would like it, I'll be glad——"
Some two or three looked quickly and expectantly up, as though they might like it very much, but Corporal Connelly said he "dassent," he "never took a drink of anything on duty since three years ago come Fourth of July." So the others were abashed and would not ask. Older hands would not have held their tongues.
To Murray's surprise, a brimming glass of cool beer was presently offered him. He gulped it thirstily down, and without a word held out the glass for more. A grinning waiter obliged him with what remained in the bottle. Murray asked if that was all, then, with something like a grunt of dissatisfaction, rolled heavily over and turned his face to the wall.
"Well, of all the ungrateful cads I ever seen," said Hunt, "you're the worst! D'ye know who sent that beer, Murray? It was the young officer you insulted." But Murray's only answer at the moment was a demand that Hunt shut up and let him go to sleep.
The last thing Stuyvesant remembered before dozing off was that the smell of those journal-boxes was getting worse. At two in the morning, in the heart of the desert, the conductor had made his way through the train and remarked that, despite that unpleasant odor, every man of the recruit detachment was sound asleep. In a berth next the door the steward of the dining-car had found room, and the entire car seemed wrapped in repose.
Five minutes later by the watch, it was wrapped in flames.
Speaking of the matter later in the morning, the brakeman said it didn't seem ten seconds after he had pulled the bell-rope and given the alarm before Lieutenant Stuyvesant, a tall, slim figure in pajamas and slippers, came bounding to his aid.
The flames even then were bursting from under the steps and platform, the dense smoke pouring from the rear door of the recruit car, and coughing, choking, blinded, staggering, some of them scorched and blistered, most of them clad only in undershirt and drawers, the luckless young troopers came groping forth and were bundled on into the interior of the diner. Some in their excitement strove to leap from the train before it came to its bumping, grinding halt. Some were screaming in pain and panic. Only one, Hunt, was dressed throughout in uniform.
The steward of the diner, nearly suffocated before being dragged out of his berth, was making vain effort to shove a way back into the blazing car, crying that all his money was under that pillow. But it was impossible to stem the torrent of human forms.
The instant the train stopped, the flames shot upward through the skylight and ventilator, and then the voice of Connelly was heard yelling for aid. Seizing a blanket that had been dragged after him by some bewildered recruit, and throwing it over his head and shoulders, Stuyvesant, bending low, dove headlong into the dense wall of smoke.
The flames came leaping and lapping out from the door-way the instant he disappeared, and a groan of dismay arose from the little group already gathered at the side of the track. Five, ten seconds of awful suspense, and then, bending lower still, his loose clothing afire, his hair and eyebrows singed, his face black with soot and smoke and seared by flame, the young officer came plunging forth, dragging by the legs a prostrate, howling man, and after them, blind and staggering, came Connelly.
Eager hands received and guided the rescuers, leading them into the diner, while the trainmen worked the stiff levers, broke loose the coupling, and swung their lanterns in frantic signals to the engineer, far ahead.
Another moment and the blazing car was drawn away, run up the track a hundred yards, and left to illumine the night and burn to ashes, while male passengers swarmed about the dining-car, proffering stimulant and consolation.
Besides Stuyvesant and Corporal Connelly, two soldiers were seriously burned. Every stitch of clothing not actually on their persons at the moment of their escape was already consumed, and with it every ounce of their soldier rations and supplies.
The men least injured were those who, being nearest the rear door, were first to escape. The men worst burned were those longest held within the blazing car, barring one, Murray, whom Hunt had thoughtfully bound hand and foot as he slept, reasoning that in that way only might his guardians enjoy a like blessing.
Connelly had tripped over the roaring bully as he lay on his back in the aisle. Stuyvesant had rushed in, and between them they dragged him to a place of safety. There, his limbs unbound, his tongue unloosed, Murray indulged in a blast of malediction on the road, the company, the government, his comrades, even his benefactors, and then thoughtfully demanded drink. There was no longer a stern corporal to forbid, for Connelly, suffering and almost sightless, had been led into a rear coach. But there was no longer money with which to buy, for Foster's last visible cent had gone up in smoke and flame, and, scorched and smarting in a dozen places, wrapped in a blanket in lieu of clothes, the dark-eyed young soldier sat, still trembling from excitement, by the roadside.
It was three hours before the wreck could be cleared, another car procured, and the recruits bundled into it. Then, as dawn was spreading over the firmament, the train pushed on, and the last thing Gerard Stuyvesant was conscious of before, exhausted, he dropped off to troubled sleep, was that a soft, slender hand was renewing the cool bandage over his burning eyes, and that he heard a passenger say "That little brunette—that little Miss Ray—was worth the hull carload of women put together. She just went in and nursed and bandaged the burned men like as though they'd been her own brothers."
Certainly the young lady had been of particular service in the case of Connelly and one of the seriously injured recruits. She had done something for every man whose burns deserved attention, with a single exception.
Recruit Foster had declared himself in need of no aid, and with his face to the wall lay well out of sight.
At one of the desert stations in the Humboldt Valley a physician boarded the train under telegraphic orders from the company and went some distance up the road.
He had brought lint and bandages and soothing lotions, but in several cases said no change was advisable, that with handkerchiefs contributed by the passengers and bandages made from surplus shirts, little Miss Ray had extemporized well and had skilfully treated her bewildered patients. Questioned and complimented both, Miss Ray blushingly admitted that she had studied "First Aid to the Wounded" and had had some instructions in the post hospitals of more than one big frontier fort. Passengers had ransacked bags and trunks and presented spare clothing to the few recruits whom the garments would fit. But most of the men were shoeless and blanketed when morning dawned, and all were thankful when served with coffee and a light breakfast, though many even then were too much excited and some in too much pain to eat.
Mellen, the laughing and joyous lad of yesterday, was nursing a blistered hand and arm and stalking about the car in stocking feet and a pair of trousers two sizes too big for him. Murray, now that the corporal was no longer able to retain active command, had resumed his truculent and swaggering manner. Almost the first thing he did was to demand more money of Foster, and call him a liar when told that every dollar was burned. Then he sought to pick a fight with Hunt, who had, as he expressed it, "roped him like a steer," but the carload by this time had had too much of his bluster and made common cause against him.
Two brawny lads gave him fair warning that if he laid a finger on Hunt they would "lay him out." Then he insisted on seeing the corporal and complaining of ill-treatment. And with such diversion the long day wore on.
Stuyvesant, refreshed by several hours of sleep, yet looking somewhat singed and blistered, went through the car to see the sufferers along towards eleven o'clock. He had inquired of the porter for Miss Ray, who was not visible when he had finished his toilet, and was told that she had remained up until after the doctor came aboard, and was now sleeping. Finding three of the men stretched in the berths with comrades fanning them, he ordered cooling drinks compounded by the steward, and later, as they began the climb of the Sierras and the men grew hungry, he sought to get a substantial luncheon for them on the diner, but was told their supply on hand was barely sufficient for the regular passengers.
So when the train stopped at Truckee he tumbled off with three of the party, bought up a quantity of bread and cheese, soda crackers and fruit, and after consultation with the conductor wired ahead to Sacramento for a hot dinner for eighteen men to be ready at the restaurant in the station, it being now certain that they could not reach San Francisco before midnight. "The company ought to do that," said the trainmen, and "the company" had authorized the light breakfast tendered earlier in the day. In view of the fact that every item of personal property in possession of the recruits had been destroyed, together with every crumb of their rations, nobody questioned that the company would only be too glad to do that much for the men so nearly burned alive in their travelling holocaust.
Not a doubt was entertained among either passengers or trainmen as to the origin of the fire. It had started underneath, and the dry woodwork burned like tinder, and what was there to cause it but those blazing boxes on the forward truck? The conductor knew there had been no smoking aboard the car, and that every man was asleep when he went through at two o'clock. The brakeman had prophesied disaster and danger. It was God's mercy that warned the poor fellows in time.
Not until along in the afternoon, as they were spinning swiftly down through the marvellous scenery about Blue Canon and Cape Horn, did Miss Ray again appear. Stuyvesant had been sitting awhile by Connelly, and had arranged with him to wire to the Presidio for ambulances to meet the party at Oakland Pier, for two at least would be unable to walk, and, until provided with shoes and clothing, few could march the distance. Then he had spent a few minutes with the other patients.
When he returned to the sleeper there at last was the object of so many of his thoughts. But she was reclining wearily, her head upon a pillow, and the austere maid and two other women stood guard over her. "A severe headache," was the explanation, and Stuyvesant felt that he must defer his intrusion until later.
Somewhere down the western slope of the Sierras he found at a station some delicious cherries, and a little basket of the choicest he made bold to send with his compliments and the hope that her indisposition would soon disappear. The porter came back with the lady's thanks. The cherries were "lovely," but Stuyvesant observed that not more than one or two found their way to those pearly teeth, the rest being devoured by her too devoted attendants.
It was after nine at night when he marshalled his motley party into the dining-room at Sacramento and they were made glad by substantial, well-cooked food, with abundant hot coffee. They thanked him gratefully, did many of the young fellows, and hoped they might meet more such officers. An elderly passenger who had quietly noted the outlay of money to which Mr. Stuyvesant had been subjected strolled up to the manager. "That young gentleman has had to pay too much to-day. Just receipt the bill if you please," said he, and drew forth a roll of treasury notes. Stuyvesant went in search of this new benefactor when he heard of it. "There was really no necessity, sir," said he, "though I fully appreciate your kindness. The company will doubtless reimburse me for any such outlay."
"If they will reimburse you, my young friend," said the veteran traveller drily, "they'll reimburse me. At all events, I know them better than you do, and I don't intend to let you bear all the risk." The lieutenant argued, but the elder was firm. As the men shuffled back to the train with full stomachs and brightened faces, Murray hulking by them with averted eyes and Mellen tendering a grinning salute, the manager came forward. "There's one man shy, sir, even counting the dinners sent aboard," said he, and Hunt, hearing it, turned back and explained.
"It is Foster, sir. He said he wasn't hungry and couldn't eat. I reckon it's because he wouldn't turn out in such looking clothes as were given him."
Yet when Stuyvesant went to the car to see whether the young soldier could not be induced to change his mind, it was discovered that he had turned out. His berth was empty. Nor did he appear until just as the train was starting. He explained that he had stepped off on the outer side away from the crowd for a little fresh air. There was plenty of bread and cheese left from luncheon. He didn't care for anything, really. And, indeed, he seemed most anxious to get back to his berth and away from the lieutenant, in whose presence he was obviously and painfully ill at ease.
Stuyvesant turned away, feeling a trifle annoyed or hurt, he couldn't tell which, and swung himself to the platform of the sleeper as it came gliding by. At last he could hope to find opportunity to thank Miss Ray for her attention to the injured men and incidentally her ministrations on his own account. Then, once arrived at San Francisco, where he had friends of rank and position in the army, he would surely meet someone who knew her father well and possibly herself, some one to present him in due form, but for the present he could only hope to say a conventional word or two of gratitude, and he was striving to frame his thoughts as he hastened into the brightly lighted car and towards the section where last he had seen her.
It was occupied by a new-comer, a total stranger, and the three women recently sharing her section and more than sharing her cherries were now in animated chat across the aisle. In blank surprise and disappointment, Stuyvesant turned and sought the porter.
"Miss Ray! Yes, suh. She done got off at Sacramento, suh. Dere was friends come to meet her, and took her away in the carriage."
Once more Stuyvesant found himself constrained to seek the society of the maiden of uncertain years. Her presence was forbidding, her countenance severe, and her voice and intonation something appalling. But she might know Miss Ray's address; he could at least write his thanks; but he found the vice-president of the Order of the Patriotic Daughters of America in evil mood. She didn't know Miss Ray's address, and in the further assertion that she didn't want to know too readily betrayed the fact that her petulance was due to her not having been favored therewith.
"After all I did for her last night and to-day 'twould have been a mighty little thing to tell where she was going to stop, but just soon's her fine friends came aboard she dropped us like as if we weren't fit to notice."
The irate lady, however, seemed to find scant sympathy and support in the faces of her listeners, some of whom had long since wearied of her strident voice and oracular ways. It was well remembered that so far from being of aid or value in caring for the injured men, she had pestered people with undesired advice and interference, had made much noise and no bandages, and later, when an official of the company boarded the train, had constituted herself spokeswoman for the passengers, not at all to their advantage and much to his disgust. Then, finding that Miss Ray was looked upon as the only heroine of the occasion, she had assumed a guardianship, so to speak, over that young lady which became almost possessive in form, so passively was it tolerated.
She had plied the girl with questions as to the friends who were to meet her on arrival in San Francisco, and Miss Ray had smilingly given evasive answers.
When, therefore, they neared Sacramento and the vice-president announced her intention of sallying forth to see to it that proper victuals were provided for her soldier boys, Miss Ray had a few minutes in which to make her preparations, and the next thing the vice-president saw of her supposed ward and dependant, that young lady was in the embrace of a richly dressed and most distinguished looking woman, whose gray hair only served to heighten the refinement of her features. Just behind the elder lady stood a silk-hatted dignitary in the prime of life, and behind him a footman or valet, to whom the porter was handing Miss Ray's belongings.
And what the vice-president so much resented was that Miss Ray had not only never mentioned her purpose of leaving the train at Sacramento, but never so much as introduced her friends, at whom the vice-president smiled invitingly while accepting Miss Ray's courteous but brief thanks for "so much attention during the afternoon," but who merely bowed in acknowledgment when she would have addressed them on the subject of Miss Ray's being of so much help to her when help was so much needed, and who spirited the young lady away to the handsome carriage awaiting her.
The vice-president was distinctly of the opinion that folks didn't need to slink off in that way unless they were ashamed of where they were going or afraid of being found out, whereat Stuyvesant found himself gritting his teeth with wrath, and so whirled about and left her.
It was after midnight when they reached the pier at Oakland. There, under the great train-shed, track after track was covered with troop cars and a full regiment lay sleeping.
An alert young officer of the guard raised his hand in salute as Stuyvesant addressed him. No, there were no ambulances, no soldiers from the Presidio. They might be waiting across the ferry.
But how was he to get the injured men across the ferry, thought Stuyvesant. Two of them would have to be carried.
The long train, except that recruit car, was now emptied. The throng of passengers had gone on through the waiting-rooms and up the stairway to the saloon deck of the huge ferry-boat. If he purposed going, no time was to be lost, and the porter bearing his hand-luggage ventured a word to that effect.
Stuyvesant looked back. There were protruding heads at many of the windows of the recruit car, but, obedient to the instructions given by Connelly, no man, apparently, had left his place, and Connelly, though suffering, had evidently resumed control, much benefited by the services of another physician who had boarded the train in the late afternoon and renewed the bandages and dressings of the injured men. Then Stuyvesant became suddenly aware of a messenger-boy with a telegram. It was addressed to "Lieutenant Stuyvesant, A. D. C., Train No. 2, Oakland." Tearing it open, he read as follows:
"Report by wire condition of Recruit Foster. If serious, have him conveyed to St. Paul's Hospital. Commission as lieutenant and signal officer awaits him here."
It was signed by the adjutant-general at department head-quarters, San Francisco.
But the boy had still another. This too he held forth to Stuyvesant, and the latter, not noticing that it was addressed "Commanding Officer U. S. Troops, Train No. 2," mechanically opened and read and made a spring for the car.
The message was from Port Costa, barely thirty miles away, and briefly said: "Any your men missing? Soldier left car here believed jumped overboard return trip ferry-boat."
One man was missing. Recruit Foster, for whom a commission as lieutenant and signal officer was waiting at department head-quarters, could not be found.
In the busy week that followed Lieutenant Stuyvesant had his full share of work and no time for social distraction. Appointed to the staff of General Vinton, with orders to sail without delay for Manila, the young officer found his hours from morn till late at night almost too short for the duties demanded of him.
The transports were almost ready. The troops had been designated for the expedition. The supplies were being hurried aboard. The general had his men all the livelong day at the rifle-ranges or drill-grounds, for most of the brigade were raw volunteers who had been rushed to the point of rendezvous with scant equipment and with less instruction. The camps were thronged with men in all manner of motley as to dress and no little variety as to dialect. Few of the newly appointed officers in the Department of Supply were versed in their duties, and the young regulars of the staff of the commanding general were working sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, coaching their comrades of the volunteers.
The streets were crowded with citizens eager to welcome and applaud the arriving troops. Hotels were thronged. Restaurants were doing a thriving business, for the army ration did not too soon commend itself in its simplicity to the stomachs of some thousands of young fellows who had known better diet if no better days, many of their number having left luxurious homes and surroundings and easy salaries to shoulder a musket for three dollars a week.
Private soldiers in blue flannel shirts were learning to stand attention and touch their caps to young men in shoulder-straps whom they had laughed at and called "tin soldiers" a year agone because they belonged to the militia—a thing most of the gilded youth in many of our Western cities seemed to scorn as beneath them.
In the wave of patriotic wrath and fervor that swept the land when the Maine was done to death in Havana Harbor, many and many a youth who has sneered at the State Guardsmen learned to wish that he too had given time and honest effort to the school of the soldier, for now, unless he had sufficient "pull" to win for him a staff position, his only hope was in the ranks.
And so, even in the recruit detachments of the regulars, were found scores of young men whose social status at home was on a plane much higher than that of many of their officers. But the time had come when the long and patient effort of the once despised militiaman had won deserved recognition. The commissions in the newly raised regiments were held almost exclusively by officers who had won them through long service with the National Guard.
And in the midst of all the whirl of work in which he found himself, Lieutenant Stuyvesant had been summoned to the tent of General Drayton, commanding the great encampment on the sand-lots south of the Presidio reservation, and bidden to tell what he knew of one Walter F. Foster, recruit —th Cavalry, member of the detachment sent on via the Denver and Rio Grande to Ogden, then transferred to the Southern Pacific train Number 2 en route to San Francisco, which detachment was burned out of its car and the car out of its train early on the morning of the —— of June, 1898, somewhere in the neighborhood of a station with the uncouth name of Beowawe in the heart of the Humboldt Desert, and which Recruit Foster had totally disappeared the following evening, having been last seen by his comrades as the train was ferried across Carquinez Straits, thirty miles from Oakland Pier, and later by railway hands at Port Costa on the back trip of the big boat to the Benicia side.
There was little Stuyvesant could tell. He hardly remembered the man except as a fine-featured young fellow who seemed shy, nervous, and unstrung, something Stuyvesant had hitherto attributed to the startling and painful experience of the fire, and who, furthermore, seemed desirous of dodging the lieutenant, which circumstance Stuyvesant could not fathom at all, and if anything rather resented.
He explained to the general that he was in no wise responsible for the care of the detachment. He had only casually met them at Ogden, and circumstances later had thrown him into closer relation.
But the veteran general was desirous of further information. He sat at the pine table in his plainly furnished tent, looking thoughtfully into the frank and handsome face of the young officer, his fingers beating a tattoo on the table-top. The general's eyes were sombre, even sad at times. Beneath them lay lines of care and sorrow. His voice was low, his manner grave, courteous, even cold. He was studying his man and discussing in his mind how far he might confide in him.
Obedient to the general's invitation, Stuyvesant had taken a chair close to the commander's table and sat in silence awaiting further question. At last it came.
"You say he left nothing—no trace—behind?"
"There was nothing to leave, general. He had only a suit of underwear, in which he escaped from the car. The men say he had had money and a valise filled with things which he strove to keep from sight of any of his fellows. They say that he befriended a tough character by the name of Murray, who had enlisted with him, and they think Murray knows something about him."
"Where is Murray now?" asked the chief.
"In the guard-house at the Presidio. He gave the corporal in charge a good deal of trouble and was placed under guard the morning they reached the city. They had to spend the night with the Iowa regiment at Oakland Pier."
Again the gray-haired general gave himself to thought. "Could you tell how he was dressed when he disappeared?" he finally asked.
"A young man in the second sleeper gave him a pair of worn blue serge trousers and his morocco slippers. Somebody else contributed a neglige shirt and a black silk travelling cap. He was wearing these when last I spoke to him at Sacramento, where he would not eat anything. I—I had wired ahead for dinner for them."
"Yes," said the general with sudden indignation in his tone, "and I'm told the company refused to reimburse you. What excuse did they give?"
"It's of little consequence, sir," laughed Stuyvesant. "The loss hasn't swamped me."
"That's as may be," answered the general. "It's the principle involved. That company is coining money by the thousands transporting troops at full rates, and some of the cars it furnished were simply abominable. What was the excuse given?"
"They said, or rather some official wrote, that they wouldn't reimburse us because they had already had to sustain the loss of that car due to the carelessness of our men, and their own train-hands, general, knew there was no smoking and the men were all asleep. Foster had a very narrow escape, and Corporal Connelly was badly burned lugging Murray out."
The general took from a stack of correspondence at his right hand a letter on club paper, studied it a moment, and then glanced up at Stuyvesant. "Was not Colonel Ray's regiment with you at Chickamauga?" he asked.
"It was expected when I left, general. You mean the —th Kentucky?"
"I mean his volunteer regiment—yes. I was wondering whether any of his family had gone thither. But you wouldn't be apt to know."
And Stuyvesant felt the blood beginning to mount to his face. He could answer for it that one member had not gone thither. He was wondering whether he ought to speak of it when Drayton finally turned upon him and held forth the letter. "Read that," said he, "but regard it as confidential."
It was such a letter as one frank old soldier might write another. It was one of a dozen that had come to Drayton that day asking his interest in behalf of some young soldier about joining his command. It was dated at Cincinnati five days earlier, and before Stuyvesant had read half through the page his hand was trembling.
"Dear Drayton," it said, "I'm in a snarl, and I want your help. My sister's pet boy came out to try his hand at ranching near us last year. He had some money from his father and everything promised well for his success if he could have stuck to business. But he couldn't. Billy Ray, commanding my first squadron, was stationed with me, and the first thing I knew the boy was head over ears in love with Billy's daughter. I can't blame him. Marion, junior, is as pretty a girl as ever grew up in the army, and she's a brave and winsome lass besides—her Dad all over, as her mother says.
"Walter's ranch was thirty miles away, but he'd ride the sixty six times a week, if need be, to have a dance with Maidie Ray, and the cattle could go to the wolves. Then came the war. The Governor of Kentucky gave Ray the command of a regiment, and that fool boy of mine begged him to take him along. Ray couldn't. Besides, I don't think he half liked Walter's devotions to the girl, though he hadn't anything against him exactly. Then I was retired and sent home, and the next thing my sister, Mrs. Foster, came tearing in to tell me Walter had gone and enlisted—enlisted in the regulars at Denver and was going to 'Frisco and Manila, as he couldn't get to Cuba. She's completely broke up about it.
"Foster went to Washington and saw the President and got a commission for him in the signal corps,—volunteers,—and he should be with you by the time you get this, so I wired ahead.
"He isn't altogether a bad lot, but lacks horse sense, and gave his parents a good deal of anxiety in his varsity days abroad. He was in several scrapes along with a boon companion who seems to have been so much like him, physically and morally, that, mother-like, Mrs. Foster is sure that very much of which her Walter was accused was really done by Wally's chum. I'm not so sure of this myself, but at all events Foster made it a condition that the boy should cut loose from the evil association, as he called it, before certain debts would be paid. I don't know what soldier stuff there is in him—if any—but give him a fair start for old times' sake.
"I need not tell you that I wish you all the joy and success the double stars can bring. I'd be in it too but for that old Spotsylvania shot-hole and rheumatics. My eagles, however, will fold their wings and take a rest, but we'll flap 'em and scream every time you make a ten-strike.
"Yours, as ever,
Stuyvesant did not look up at once after finishing the letter. When he did, and before he could speak, the general was holding out some telegrams, and these too he took and read—the almost agonized appeals of a mother for news of her boy—the anxious inquiries, coupled with suggestions of the veteran soldier concerning the only son of a beloved sister. Drayton's fine, thoughtful face was full of sympathy—his eyes clouded with anxiety and sorrow. Martindale was not the only old soldier in search of son or nephew that fateful summer.
"You see how hard it is to be able to send no tidings whatever," he said. "I sent to you in the hope that you might think of some possible explanation, might suggest some clue or theory. Can you?"
There was just one moment of silence, and then again Stuyvesant looked up, his blue eyes meeting the anxious gaze of the commander.
"General," he hazarded, "it is worth while to try Sacramento. Miss Ray is there."
At sunset that evening the regiments destined to embark with the expedition commanded by General Vinton were paraded for inspection in full marching order, while a dozen other commands less fortunate looked enviously on. The day had been raw and chilly. The wind blew salt and strong, sending the fog in dripping clouds sailing in at the Golden Gate, obscuring all the bold northern shore, and streaming up the sandy slopes and over the wide wastes south of Sutro Heights. Men who owned overcoats were few and far between, so while the designated battalions stood and shivered in the wet grass, the mass of spectators hovered about in ponchos or wrapped in blankets, the down-turned brims of their campaign hats dripping heavily and contributing much to the weird and unmilitary look of the wearers. Officers had donned Mackintoshes and heavy boots. Badges of rank, except in cases of those provided with the regulation overcoat, were lost to sight. Only among the regulars and one or two regiments made up from the National Guard were uniforms so complete that in their foul-weather garb it was possible to distinguish colonel from subaltern, staff sergeant from private.
In front of the guard-house at the Presidio a dozen cavalrymen armed with the new carbine and dressed throughout for winter service, this being San Francisco June, had formed ranks under command of a sergeant and stood silently at ease awaiting the coming of the officer of the day. The accurate fit of their warm overcoats, the cut of their trooper trousers, the polish of their brasses and buttons, the snug, trim "set" of their belts, all combined to tell the skilled observer that these were regulars.
As such they were objects of interest and close scrutiny to the little knots of volunteers who had sauntered in to pick up points. To the former it looked odd and out of gear to see the forage-caps and broad white stripes of commissioned officers mingling with the slouch hats and ill-fitting nether garments of the rank and file.
It was too early in the campaign for "the boys" to have settled down to realization of the subtle distinction between their status as soldiers of the Nation and citizens of a sovereign State. To private A of the far Westerners his company commander was still "Billy, old boy," or at best "Cap.," save when actually in ranks and on drill or parade.
To the silently observant volunteer, on the other hand, it was just as odd to note that when a gray-haired veteran sergeant, issuing from the guard-house, caught sight of a trig, alert little fellow, with beardless face and boyish features and keen, snapping dark eyes, hastening towards him in the garb of a lieutenant of cavalry, the veteran was suddenly transformed into a rigid statue in light blue, standing attention and at the salute—a phenomenon that extracted from the infant officer only a perfunctory touch of finger to cap visor and not so much as a glance.
How could the "boys" from far Nebraska be supposed to know that the little chap had spent his whole life in the shadow of the flag, and had many a time in baby days been dandled on the very arm that was now so deferentially bent and uplifted in soldier homage? What was there in the manner of the youngster to betray the fact that he dreaded old Sergeant Rigney's criticism even more than that of his commanding officer?
Then came another phenomenon.
At a brief, curt "Sergeant, get out your prisoners," from the beardless lips, there was instant fumbling of big keys and clanking of iron from the hidden recesses of the guard-house.
The dismounted troopers sprang suddenly to attention. The guard split in two at its middle, each half facing outward, marched half a dozen paces away like the duellists of old days from the back to back position, halted, faced front once more, and stood again at ease, with a broad gap of a dozen paces between their inner flanks.
Into this space, shuffling dejectedly in some cases, stalking defiantly in others, slinking, shivering, and decrepit in the case of two or three poor wrecks of the rum fiend, a stream of humanity in soiled soldier garb came pouring from the prison door and lined up under the eyes of vigilant non-commissioned officers in front of the young lieutenant in command.
There they stood, their eyes shifting nervously from group to group of huddling spectators, their shoulders hunched up to their ears—the riff-raff of the garrison—the few desperate, dangerous characters from the surrounding camps, an uncouth, uncanny lot at any time, but looking its worst in the drip of the floating fog-wreaths and the gloom and despond of the dying day. The boom of the sunset gun from Alcatraz fell sullenly on the ear even as the soft trumpets of the cavalry, close at hand, began sounding the "Retreat." At its last prolonged note the sharp crack of an old three-inch rifle echoed the report from Alcatraz, and from the invisible, mist-shrouded top of the staff the dripping folds of the storm-flag came flapping down in view, limp and bedraggled, and the guard sprang again to attention as a burly, red-faced, hearty-looking soldier, with a captain's insignia in loop and braid on the sleeves of his overcoat, broke a way through the group of lookers-on and, barely waiting for the salute and report of the young lieutenant commanding, began a sharp scrutiny of the prisoners before him.
Down along the line he went, until at the fourth man from the left in the front rank he stopped short. A bulky, thick-set soldier stood there, a sullen, semi-defiant look about his eyes, a grim set to the jaws bristling with a week-old beard of dirty black. Then came the snapping colloquy.
"Your name Murray?"
"That's what they call me."
"What was your name before that?"
Whereat there was a titter in the ranks of prisoners. Some of the guard even allowed their mouths to expand, and the groups of volunteers, chuckling in keen enjoyment, came edging in closer.
Instantly the voice of the officer of the guard was heard ordering silence, and faces straightened out in the twinkling of an eye.
The elder officer, the captain, grew a trifle redder, but he was master of himself and the situation. It is with school-boys as with soldiers, their master is the man whom pranks or impudence cannot annoy. The officer of the day let no tone of temper into his next question. Looking straight into the shifting eyes, he waited for perfect silence, and then spoke:
"Jim what? I wish the name under which you served in your previous enlistment."
"Never said I'd served before."
"No. You declared you had not. But I know better. You're a deserter from the Seventh Cavalry."
The face under the shrouding campaign hat went gray white with sudden twitch of the muscles, then set again, rigid and defiant. The eyes snapped angrily. The answer was sharp, yet seemed, as soldiers say, to "hang fire" a second.
"Never seen the Seventh Cavalry in my life."
The officer of the day turned and beckoned to a figure hitherto kept well in the background, screened by the groups of surrounding volunteers. A man of middle age, smooth shaven and stout, dressed in business sack-suit, came sturdily forward and took position by the captain's side.
At sight of the new-comer Murray's face, that had regained a bit of its ruddy hue, again turned dirty white, and the boy lieutenant, eying him closely, saw the twitch of his thin, half-hidden lips.
"Point out your man," said the captain to the new arrival.
The civilian stepped forward, and without a word twice tapped with his forefinger the broad breast of Prisoner Murray and, never looking at him, turned again to the officer of the day.
"What was his name in the Seventh?" asked the latter.
The captain turned to the officer of the guard. "Mr. Ray," said he, "separate Murray from the garrison prisoners and have him put in a cell. That man must be carefully guarded. You may dismiss the guard, sir."
And, followed by the stranger, Captain Kress was leaving the ground when Murray seemed to recover himself, and in loud and defiant voice gave tongue,—
"That man's a damned liar, and this is an outrage."
"Shut up, Murray!" shouted the sergeant of the guard, scandalized at such violation of military proprieties. "It's gagged you'll be, you idiot," he added between his set teeth, as with scowling face he bore down on the equally scowling prisoner. "Come out of that and step along here ahead of me. I'll put you where shoutin' won't help." And slowly, sullenly, Murray obeyed.
Slowly and in silence the groups of spectators broke up and sauntered away as the last of the prisoners dragged back into the guard-house, and the guard itself broke ranks and went within doors, leaving only the sentry pacing mechanically the narrow, hard-beaten path, the sergeant, and at the turn of the road, the young lieutenant whom Captain Kress had addressed as Mr. Ray. This officer, having silently received his superior's orders and seen to it that Murray was actually "behind the bars," had again come forth into the gathering twilight, the gloaming of a cheerless day, and having hastened to the bend from which point the forms of the officer of the day and his associate were still faintly visible, stood gazing after them, a puzzled look in his brave young face.
Not yet a month in possession of his commission, here was a lad to whom every iota of the routine of a lieutenant's life was as familiar as though he had drawn the pay for a decade.
Born and bred in the army, taught from early boyhood to ride and shoot, to spar and swim, spending his vacation in saddle and his schooldays in unwilling study, an adept in every healthful and exhilarating sport, keen with rifle and revolver, with shotgun and rod, with bat and racquet, with the gloves and Indian clubs, the nimblest quarter-back and dodger, the swiftest runner of his school, it must be owned that Mr. Sanford Ray was a most indifferent scholar. Of geography, history, and languages he had rather more than a smattering because of occasional tours abroad when still at an impressionable age. Yet Sandy "took more stock," as he expressed it, and "stawk," as he called it, in Sioux and the sign language than he did in French or German, knew far more of the Rockies and Sierras than he did of the Alps, studied the European cavalry with the eye of an accomplished critic, and stoutly maintained that while they were bigger swells and prettier to look at, they could neither ride nor shoot to compare with the sturdy troopers of his father's squadron.
"As to uniforms," said Sandy, "anybody could look swagger in the lancer and huzzar rig. It takes a man to look like a soldier in what our fellows have to wear."
It wasn't the field garb Sandy despised, but the full dress, the blue and yellow enormity in which our troopers are compelled to appear.
It had been the faint hope of his fond parents that Master Sandy would grow up to be something, by which was meant a lawyer, an artist, architect, engineer,—something in civil life that promised home and fortune. But the lad from babyhood would think of nothing but the army and with much misgiving, in Sandy's fifteenth year, his father shipped him to Kentucky, where they were less at home than in Kansas, and gave him a year's hard schooling in hopes of bracing up his mathematics.
Sandy was wild to go to West Point, and at the bottom of his heart Major Ray would have rejoiced had he thought it possible for Sandy to pull through; but ruefully he minded him how hard a task was his own, and how close he came to failure at the semi-annual exams. "Sandy hates Math. even more than I did," said he to Marion, his devoted wife. "It was all I could do to squirm through when the course was nowhere near as hard as it is to-day, so don't set your heart on it, little woman."
The appointment was not so hard to get, for Major Billy had a host of friends in his native State, and an old chum at the Point assured him he could coach young Sandy through the preliminary, and indeed he did. Sandy scraped in after six months' vigorous work, managed to hold his own through the first year's tussle with algebra and geometry, which he had studied hard and faithfully before, was a pet in his class, and the pride and joy of his mother's and sister's heart in yearling camp, where he blossomed out in corporal's chevrons and made as natty and active a first sergeant as could be found while the "furlough class" was away.
But the misery began with "analytical" and the crisis came with calculus, and to the boy's bitter sorrow, after having been turned back one year on the former and failing utterly on the latter, the verdict of the Academic Board went dead against him, and stout old soldiers thereon cast their votes with grieving hearts, for "Billy Ray's Boy" was a lad they hated to let go, but West Point rules are inexorable.
So too were there saddened hearts far out on the frontier where the major was commanding a cavalry post in a busy summer, but neither he nor Marion had one word of blame or reproach for the boy. Loving arms, and eyes that smiled through their sorrow, welcomed him when the little chap returned to them. "Don't anybody come to meet me," he wrote. "Just let mother be home." And so it was settled.
He sprang from the wagon that met him at the station, went hand in hand with his father into the hall, and then, with one sob, bounded into Marion's outstretched arms as she stood awaiting him in the little army parlor.
The major softly closed the door and with blinking eyes stole away to stables. There had been another meeting a little later when Marion the second was admitted, and the girl stole silently to her brother's side and her arms twined about his neck. Her love for him had been something like adoration through all the years of girlhood, and now, though he was twenty and she eighteen, its fervor seemed to know no diminution. They had done their best, all of them, to encourage while the struggle lasted, but to teach him that should failure come, it would come without reproach or shame.
The path to success in other fields was still before him. The road to the blessed refuge of home and love and sympathy would never close.
It was hard to reconcile the lad at first. The major set him up as a young ranchman in a lovely valley in the Big Horn Range, and there he went sturdily to work, but before the winter was fairly on the country was rousing to the appeals of Cuba, and before it was gone the Maine had sunk, a riddled hulk, and the spring came in with a call to arms.
Together with some two hundred young fellows all over the land, Sanford Ray went up for examination for the vacant second lieutenancies in the army, and he who had failed in analytical and calculus passed without grave trouble the more practical ordeal demanded by the War Department, was speedily commissioned in the artillery, and, to his glory and delight, promptly transferred to the cavalry.
Then came the first general break up the family had really known, for the major hurried away to Kentucky to assume command of the regiment of volunteers of which he had been made colonel. Billy, junior, a lad of barely seventeen, enlisted at Lexington as a bugler in his father's regiment, and swore he'd shoot himself if they didn't let him serve. The Kentuckians were ordered to Chickamauga, the young regular to the Presidio at San Francisco, and Mrs. Ray, after seeing her husband and youngest son started for the South, returned to Leavenworth, where they had just settled down a week before the war began, packed and stored the household furniture, then, taking "Maidie" with her, hurried westward to see the last of her boy, whose squadron was destined for service at Manila.