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- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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THE OPENING OF THE BATTLE AT WOUNDED KNEE]
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TO THE FRONT
A SEQUEL TO CADET DAYS
BY GENERAL CHARLES KING
NEW YORK AND LONDON HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS MCMVIII
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Copyright, 1908, by HARPER & BROTHERS.
All rights reserved.
Published March, 1908.
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TO THREE BOYS, CADETS YET TO BE TO "COPE" AND THE MAJOR
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I. FROM THE GRAY TO THE BLUE 11
II. THE FIRST CALL 30
III. AWAY TO THE WEST 39
IV. "I'M READY NOW" 49
V. FIRST NIGHT ON THE RANGE 61
VI. FIRST AID TO THE WOUNDED 76
VII. A BALKED ARREST 89
VIII. A RACE TO THE FORT 102
IX. BAD NEWS FROM THE MINES 114
X. FIRST SHOTS OF THE SUMMER 128
XI. A NIGHT ON GUARD 142
XII. THE MAN OF THE SIEGE 156
XIII. AWAY ON THE WARPATH 168
XIV. A SCOUT FOR THE SIOUX 180
XV. FIRST SIGHT OF THE FOE 198
XVI. PROOF POSITIVE OF GUILT 213
XVII. THE WAR-DANCE AND THE CHARGE 224
XVIII. BATTLE AND VICTORY 239
THE OPENING OF THE BATTLE AT WOUNDED KNEE Frontispiece
CADETS AT DRILL, WEST POINT Facing p. 14
"BIG BEN WAS BUSY WITH HIS OIL-CAN" " 84
"NOT A WHIFF OF THE DRAUGHT COULD BE WASTED" " 102
SILVER SHIELD " 128
"'STRAIGHT THROUGH THE HERD, MEN. CH-A-A-A-RGE!'" " 236
UNITED STATES CAVALRY IN WINTER RIG " 242
"UP WENT TWO LITTLE PUFFS OF EARTH" " 248
TO THE FRONT
TO THE FRONT
It was graduation day at West Point, and there had been a remarkable scene at the morning ceremonies. In the presence of the Board of Visitors, the full-uniformed officers of the academic and military staff, the august professors and their many assistants, scores of daintily dressed women and dozens of sober-garbed civilians, the assembled Corps of Cadets, in their gray and white, had risen as one man and cheered to the echo a soldierly young fellow, their "first captain," as he received his diploma and then turned to rejoin them. It was an unusual incident. Every man preceding had been applauded, some of them vehemently. Every man after him, and they were many, received his meed of greeting and congratulation, but the portion accorded Cadet Captain "Geordie" Graham, like that of Little Benjamin, exceeded all others, and a prominent banker and business man, visiting the Point for the first time, was moved to inquire why.
"I think," said the officer addressed, a man of his own age, though his spare form and smooth-shaven cheek and chin made him look ten years younger—"I think it is that Graham has been tried in all manner of ways and has proved equal to every occasion. They say he's sheer grit."
A keen and close observer was the banker—"a student of men," he called himself. He had been tried in many a way and proved equal to every occasion. He had risen from the ranks to the summit. He, too, they said in Chicago, was "sheer grit." Moreover, they did not say he had "made his pile out of others' losings"; but, like most men who have had to work hard to win it, until it began to come so fast that it made itself, John Bonner judged men very much by their power to earn money. Money was his standard, his measure of success.
And this, perhaps, was why John Bonner could never understand his brother-in-law, the colonel, a most distinguished soldier, a modest and most enviable man.
Twenty-five years had Bonner known that now gray-haired, gray-mustached veteran. Twenty-five years had he liked him, admired him, and much of late had he sought to know him, but Hazzard was a man he could not fathom.
"Fifteen years ago," said he to a fellow-magnate, "I told that man if he'd quit soldiering, and bring Carrie and the children to Chicago, I'd guarantee him an income ten times the regular pay he's getting; and he smiled, thanked me, and said he was quite content—content, sir, on two thousand a year, and so, too, was Sis. Now, think of that!"
And Bonner was bubbling over with the same idea to-day, yet beginning to see light. Two prominent senators, men of world-wide renown, held Hazzard long in close conference, and were merely civil to him, the magnate, who, as he said, "could buy the three of 'em three times over." A general whose name was but second to that of Grant seized his brother-in-law by both hands, and seemed delighted to greet him, yet had barely a word for "his millions," him to whom the Board of Trade bowed humbly at home. A great war secretary, whom they had recently dined at the Grand Pacific and whose dictum as to the purchase of supplies meant much to Chicago, but vaguely remembered and absently greeted the man of wealth, yet beamed with pleasure at sight of his small-salaried soldier companion. The secretary drew Hazzard off to one side, in fact, and left the man of stocks and the stock-yards standing.
That evening, after the simple home dinner, with Carrie and the young people and the colonel smiling about the board, Bonner's vexation of spirit found vent. Duties drew the soldier away, and the banker was left with his sister.
"What is your pay now, Carrie?" he abruptly asked.
"A row of threes, John—$333.33 a month," was the amused answer.
"And Hazzard's been through two wars, Heaven knows how many campaigns and vicissitudes, and been serving the United States, night and day, some thirty years, and that's all he has to show for it, every cent of which has to go for living expenses—rearing, feeding, clothing, and educating these youngsters."
"Pretty nearly. We've a little laid by for Jack's college, and the President gives Lou his cadetship, you know, but"—and here the blithe-faced little woman looked archly at "Uncle John," though her look was one that said, "I mean every word of this"—"we don't think that's all there is to it, by any manner of means. Think of his war record! Isn't that a proud thing to leave to our boys? See how he is regarded by the best men in our country, from the President down! He is not yet an old man, but he has 'all that should accompany old age—love, honor, obedience, troops of friends'—and, honestly, John, with health and competence and us, what more should he want?"
"Well," said Bonner, tenaciously, "I could have put him where he would have been worth three hundred thousand by this time."
"And it wouldn't have tempted him; and I'd rather see him as he is."
"Well, I'm blessed if I can understand it," said Bonner. Then callers put a stop to the chat. Then the colonel himself came home to his cosey quarters, and silence had settled down over the beautiful plain. The lights were dimmed in the barracks; the sentries paced their measured rounds; from the verandas of the hotel came the ripple of murmured words and soft laughter, and a tinkle of banjo and guitar. At the gate the colonel exchanged good-night greetings with a happy-faced, motherly looking woman whom Bonner had noticed overwhelmed with pride and emotion during the ceremonies in the morning. He did not at first recognize the tall, erect young fellow on whose arm she proudly leaned as she walked home through the shifting moonlight.
"That was young Graham, in whom you were so interested this morning," said Hazzard, briefly.
"Was it? Oh, I thought he'd gone with the graduates."
"Only down to the city to say good-bye. He came back to his mother by late train. I fancy she's more to him than a lot of fun with the boys."
"See here, Hazzard," observed Bonner, solemnly, "I've been looking into things here nigh onto a week. It's fine! It's all right for a soldier school! But, now take that young chap for a sample. What on earth does he know outside of drill and mathematics and what you call discipline? What could he do in case we cut off all this—this foolishness—and came down to business? I'd be willing to bet a sweet sum that, take him out of the army, turn him loose in the streets, and he'd starve, by gad! before he could ever earn enough to pay for a quick lunch."
"I think you'd lose," was the quiet answer.
"Well, I'd just like to try it. Pit him and his kind against our keen-witted, sharp, aggressive young business men—men with business heads, business experience"—Bonner's emphasis on the first syllable was reinforced by a bang of the fist on the arm of his chair—"and, and, by gad! they'd be skinned alive—skinned out of their last cent, sir."
"That," said the colonel, dryly, "is not improbable. They are trained as soldiers, not as sharpers. But, all the same, in spite, if you please, of their soldier training, I fancy most of these lads that quit us to-day, if brought face to face with sudden emergency, responsibility, something calling for courage, coolness, judgment—above all, for action—would hold their own, and I'd back them even in competition with your aggressive young friends in business life."
"Why, they're taught to deal only with soldiers—with machines—not men," argued Bonner.
"Well, such as they have handled men not soldiers more than once, in your own city, Bonner, and to your vast benefit. They'll come to it again some day. As for that young man, I picked him a year ago from his whole class for the place that calls for the most judgment, tact, quiet force, capacity to command—the 'first captaincy'—and never did I see it better filled."
"Oh, granted as to that! But strip off the uniform, sword, and authority; set him among the men we have to deal with—what could he do with a railway strike? How could he handle maddened mill operatives, laborers, switchmen, miners? Think of that, Hazzard! That isn't fighting Indians, with a regiment at your back. You mark what I say!"
"Well, mobs, miners, or Indians, our young officers have had to meet all kinds at times," said the colonel; "and if ever Graham is up against them, Bonner, I'm thinking you'll hear of it."
And, oddly enough, before he was one month older, sitting in his office in Chicago, Bonner was hearing it with a vengeance. There was the mischief to pay in at least one of his mines. Oddly enough, before he was one year older, George Montrose Graham, graduated cadet, was "up against them," all three—mobs, miners, and Indians. How he met them and how he merited the colonel's confidence let them judge who read.
FROM THE GRAY TO THE BLUE
It was just after sunset of one of the longest days of the loveliest of our summer months. The roar of the evening gun had gone re-echoing through the Highlands of the Hudson. The great garrison flag was still slowly fluttering earthward, veiled partially from the view of the throng of spectators by the snowy cloud of sulphur smoke drifting lazily away upon the wing of the breeze. Afar over beyond the barren level of the cavalry plain the gilded hands of the tower-clock on "the old Academic" were blended into one in proclaiming to all whom it might concern that it was five minutes past the half-hour 'twixt seven and eight, and there were girls in every group, and many a young fellow in the rigid line of gray and white before them, resentful of the fact that dress parade was wofully late and long, with tattoo and taps only two hours or so away. The season for the regular summer "hops" had not yet begun, for this was away back in the eighties, when many another old West Point fashion still prevailed; but there was to be an informal dance in the dining-room of the hotel, and it couldn't come off until after supper, and supper had to be served to some people who were "pokey" enough to care to come by late boat, or later train, and were more eager to see the cadets on parade than to seek Mine Host Craney's once bountiful table.
What made it more exasperating was that rumors were afloat to the effect that the adjutant had long and important orders to publish, and this would still further prolong the parade. Cadet Private Frazier, First Class, one of the best dancers in the battalion, was heard to mutter to his next-door neighbor in the front rank of the color company: "It'll be nine o'clock before we get things going at the hotel, and we've got to quit at nine-thirty. Confound the orders!" And yet, peering from under the visor of his shako, Mr. Frazier could see without disturbing the requisite pose of his head, "up and straight to the front, chin drawn in," that over near the south end of the row of gayly attired visitors, seated or standing at the edge of the camp parade-ground, there was one group, at least, to whom, as Frazier knew, the orders meant much more than the dance. There, switching the short grass with his stocky cane, stood their grim senior surgeon, Doctor, or Major, Graham. There, close beside him and leaning on the arm of a slender but athletic, sun-tanned young fellow in trim civilian dress, stood the doctor's devoted wife. With them was a curly-headed youth, perhaps seventeen years of age, restless, eager, and impatient for the promised news. Making his way eagerly but gently through the dense throng of onlookers, a bronze-faced, keen-eyed, powerfully built officer in the uniform of the cavalry came up at the moment and joined them. "Have you heard anything yet?" he murmured to Mrs. Graham, whose kind and gentle eyes seemed to light at sound of his voice.
"Not yet," she answered, with a shake of the head. "All we learned just a few minutes ago was that the order was here and would be published on parade. The commandant returned only just in time."
"And there's been no telegram—no word from outside?"
"Not a thing, Mr. McCrea. It just so happened."
"Well, if that isn't odd! To begin with, it's most unusual to get out the order so early. They must be in a hurry to assign the graduates this year. Pops, old boy, if you don't get our regiment, I'll say the secretary of war is deaf to the wishes of every officer and most of the men. We told him when he came out to look over Fort Reynolds, and incidentally look into the mines—but that was last year—Oh, bother, Williams," he suddenly broke off, "what do you want to lose precious time for, putting 'em through the manual?"
This sudden outbreak was levelled at the unconscious officer commanding the parade (the "officer in charge," as he was termed), Mr. Williams having replied, "Take your post, sir," to the adjutant's stately salute in presenting the statuesque line. Whereupon the adjutant "recovered" sword, strode briskly up, passed beyond the plumed commander, and took his station to his left and rear. With much deliberation of manner, Mr. Williams drew sabre and easily gave the various orders for the showy manual of arms, the white-gloved hands moving like clockwork in response to his command until, with simultaneous thud, the battalion resumed the "order," certain spectators with difficulty repressing the impulse to applaud.
Then back to the centre stalked the young adjutant, Mrs. Graham unconsciously drawing unflattering comparison between the present incumbent, soldierly though he seemed, and her own boy's associate and friend, Claude Benton, adjutant of the class graduated barely a fortnight earlier, "her own boy," perhaps the most honored among them. She was clinging to his arm now, her pride and joy through all his years of sturdy boyhood and manly youth. She knew well that the hope and longing of his heart was to be assigned to the cavalry regiment of which Lieutenant McCrea was quartermaster, the regiment once stationed at old Fort Reynolds, in the Rockies, when Dr. Graham was there as post surgeon and Geordie was preparing for West Point. Indeed, Mr. McCrea had "coached" her son in mathematics, and had been most helpful in securing the appointment. And now here was the quartermaster on leave of absence, the first he had had in years, spending several weeks of his three months' rest at the scene of his own soldier school-days.
But it was "Bud," her younger son, who had come rushing down to the surgeon's quarters only a few minutes before parade with the all-important news. "Mither!—Geordie!" he cried, "Captain Cross says the assignment order's come and will be published at parade. Hurry up!"
Dr. Graham could hardly believe it. As McCrea said, the War Department seldom issued the order before mid-July. "Mac" even hoped to be in Washington in time to say a word to the adjutant-general in Geordie's behalf. It was known that many would be assigned to the artillery, to which Cadet Graham had been recommended by the Academic Board. But all his boyhood had been spent on the frontier; his earliest recollections were of the adobe barracks and sun-dried, sun-cracked, sun-scorched parade of old Camp Sandy in Arizona. He had learned to ride an Indian pony in Wyoming before he was eight; he had learned to shoot in Montana before he was twelve; and he had ridden, hunted, fished, and shot all over the wide West before the happy days that sent him to the great cadet school of the nation. And now that he was graduated, with all his heart and hope and ambition he prayed that he might be commissioned in a cavalry regiment, if possible in McCrea's. Give him that, he said, and he would ask no favor from any man.
How his heart was beating as he watched the adjutant, whom he himself had schooled and drilled and almost made, for Graham had been famous in his cadet days as a most successful squad instructor, a model first sergeant, and a great "first captain." How odd it seemed that he, a graduate, and that all these people, officers, and children, should now be hanging on the words that might fall from the younger soldier's lips! A telegram from Washington had told a veteran general visiting at the Point that his son had been assigned to the artillery, that the order would doubtless be published that evening. But it so happened that not until just before parade did the commandant return from a long ride, and so had no time to read it through. He had simply handed it, with others, to the silent young soldier, who had stood in full uniform full five minutes awaiting his coming. "Better order 'parade rest' part of time. It's a long read," he briefly said, and, stowing the orders under his sash, the adjutant had saluted, faced about, and hastened away.
And now that young official has received the reports of the first sergeants and sent them, high-headed, martial, and precise, back to their stations in the line. And now again he has faced the commanding officer, saluted, and announced, "All are present, sir." And now that deliberate functionary has at last said, "Publish the orders, sir." And silence seems to fall, even upon the chatting groups of girls, as, with brief "'Tentio-o-o-on to Orders," the adjutant drops the point of his sword, letting it dangle from the gold swordknot on his wrist, and in another moment the clear young voice is ringing over the attent and martial audience.
"War Department, Washington, D.C., June 25, 189—," he begins, and then briskly rattles away at the terse official paragraphs: "The following assignment of graduates of the United States Military Academy are hereby announced to take effect from June 14th." It begins with that highly scientific and enviable body, the Corps of Engineers, and Mr. George Graham, up to this moment still officially known as cadet, touches his mother's arm at sound of the third name on the list—that of Connell, his chum, his chosen comrade, his much-loved classmate through the long four years. "Dear old Con," he murmurs into her ears. "I'll telegraph my congratulations to him, whatever comes to me."
There are eight in all assigned to the engineers, and then come the names of those gazetted to the artillery—five famous regiments, too, and Graham notes with joy that Beard, Conway, Foster, and Lawrence, all of whom were lower in general standing than himself, get their longed-for billet with the "red legs," and his name is not mentioned. That means he has not been assigned where he preferred not to go. But would the war secretary assign him where he longed to be? Yes, here it comes, first on the cavalry list, and his heart beats for joy.
"F——th Regiment of Cavalry.
"No. 15, Cadet George Montrose Graham to be Second Lieutenant, Troop 'E,' vice Fenton, promoted."
And though her eyes are brimming and her lips will quiver, Mrs. Graham clasps both her boy's hands in her own in speechless sympathy. It cannot all be joy, for this means miles and miles of separation that must come all too soon. Geordie can scarce believe his ears. Oh, it is too good! Not only the —th, but "E" Troop, Captain Lane's troop, the troop of which Feeny was first sergeant, the troop in which veteran Sergeant Nolan, two years ago at old Fort Reynolds, had said he and the men so hoped to see the day when Mr. Geordie might come back to them to be their lieutenant.
And now McCrea was grasping and wringing his hand, with a "Welcome to the old regiment, Geordie," and blue-eyed "Bud" was dancing rapturously about until the doctor sternly bade him cease. "Is that the way you think they behave at Columbia, sir?" having never seen the behavior of Columbiads, or other collegians, at a ball match or boat-race or any public occasion of undergraduate rejoicing. Even among the spectators were many who lost interest for the moment in what the adjutant was reading, and watched, with kindling eyes, the unexpected little scene. But when Colonel Hazzard himself, the soldierly commandant, with his silver-gray mustache and hair, came striding through the crowd and held forth his hand to the young soldier, who instantly and instinctively faced him at attention, everybody within hearing noted the cordiality in his hearty tones as he shook Geordie's hand: "Mr. Graham, I'm more than glad you got the regiment of your choice, and you're going to one of the best captains in the army. I was on duty in tactics when Lane was in the Corps. Well, Mrs. Graham, we think we are sending him the making of one of the best lieutenants," and with that the colonel bowed as he took the hand of Geordie's mother. "Good sons make good soldiers all the world over, Mrs. Graham, and we'll expect great things of yours," he added, then grasped the doctor's out-stretched hand and gave way to others who came crowding forward, among them a gentle, motherly woman in half-mourning, whose eyes were moist as she exchanged greeting with Mrs. Graham.
"Benny will be here the moment they break ranks," she said. "I know he, too, will want to congratulate George."
And so there was quite a little gathering, and what the papers call an "ovation," about the young graduate, who was blushing not a little through his healthy tan. He was quite unable to hear where his classmates had been distributed in the other regiments of cavalry and infantry, and he was anxious to know, but even when the line of cadet officers came marching to the front and stood at salute before the battalion commander, and then broke ranks, and as many as a dozen made a rush at their former first captain, eager to take him by the hand and say a word of congratulation before they went bounding away to doff dress hats, plumes, and sashes—even then Graham could not see the order, for Colonel Hazzard called for it to show to a bevy of bright-eyed girls, who knew the graduating class, now scattered all over the United States, knew almost every one of them better than they did this, their foremost cadet officer, for George Graham, though he could dance, had seemed to care little for hops and less for girls. His few leisure hours of the last year at the Point he had spent at the side of his mother.
But at last, leaving Mrs. Frazier and Benny at camp, the Grahams were walking slowly homeward in the wake of the brave young battalion, marching away with its quick, elastic stride to the spirited music of the fifes and drums. Lieutenant McCrea was still with them, while Lieutenant Wood, another family friend, had taken to the telegraph office Geordie's pencilled words of congratulation to his chum Connell, now lieutenant of engineers. Mrs. Graham leaned heavily on the arm of her sturdy son, thinking of all the joy that had been hers, after the years of separation. It had been such a welcome, welcome order that took Major Graham to duty at West Point the last lap of their boy's cadet life. Every Saturday evening he had spent "at home" in the surgeon's quarters, and many a Sunday afternoon. How she had looked forward from week end to week end! How swiftly had the weeks slipped by! How would she miss him in the years to come! How lonely would be the Saturdays and Sundays without her boys, for "Buddy" too, was to leave the home nest. He had passed for Columbia and was to have some terms at what the doctor loved to call "the humanities" before taking up the study of medicine. Her heart had been full of rejoicing and thanksgiving when graduation came, barely a fortnight agone—yet when, for the last time in cadet uniform Geordie stood before her, so soldierly, so manly, so honored by his comrades in the Corps, and she followed him with brimming eyes when, leaving his diploma in her hand, he turned away to his room, in the tower of the old first division, to lay aside forever the plume and sash, the sword and chevrons of the first captaincy, to shed the academy uniform for good and all, she knew she wished the whole year could be lived over again; she knew she would rather the time were still far distant when her son should "change the gray for the blue."
But now, now, every hour of every day for three glorious and beautiful months, she was to have him by her side. She need not, she would not, think of the separation to come late in September, when he must join his regiment and be her boy no more. At least she would try not to think, but here was this cold, stern, business-like order to remind her that she had given her first-born to the service of his country—that now he belonged to the general government and no longer to her. All too soon—oh, many weeks too soon—had the mandate appeared, for it would haunt her day and night until the hour for parting came. Ah, thank God, that at least would not be for weeks! Even Geordie now had become silent and serious. He was listening to McCrea's eager words to Dr. Graham, all about the regiment and Fort Reynolds, and how he wished they were back there again, the finest station the —th had ever had, he declared, and "so near the mines!"
"Just think, Geordie," he cried, "if we were all at Reynolds we could run up the range to the Silver Shield any day, and watch them dragging out gold."
"You haven't lost faith in the Shield, then?" asked Mrs. Graham, smilingly. She thought and cared so little herself. She knew that several officers at Reynolds, her husband and McCrea among them, had invested their scant savings in that most promising venture. She knew that McCrea had vowed it would make them all rich if not famous one of these days, and that her methodical, cautious "canny Scot" of a husband had figured, pondered, and consulted long before he, too, had become convinced. She knew their holdings had been quoted far above what was paid for them, but what of all that? She had her boys, her husband, her army home, her health, and high content. What was wealth to her?
"I own I was thinking more of the hunting and fishing, the scenery, and the splendid range," said Geordie, "but no matter where 'E' Troop goes, I want to be with it."
"If the Shield pans out according to promise," said McCrea, with a laugh, "the regiment won't see me for many a day after I realize. I'm going in for a year's leave—and Europe."
They had reached the front of Grant Hall by this time and were strolling slowly along, their voices hushed for the moment by the cheery hum of boyish talk and the clatter of mess furniture, as the Corps sat at their late supper. Then several officers, gathered about the steps of the club rooms in the south end, lifted their caps to Mrs. Graham and smiled greeting to the party.
"Come back, Geordie!" was the cheery hail. "We want to wet that assignment in cavalry fashion." But Graham laughed and shook his head.
"Can't break away just now," said he. "I'll look in later."
"What I can't understand," said McCrea, "is that we got no word. With Freeman and Blake both on duty in Washington, one would think they'd have wired if they knew."
"It's coming now," said the doctor, pointing to the telegraph orderly turning away from the steps of his quarters and coming swiftly toward them, brown envelope in hand. Just in front of the hospital gateway he met the party, saluted, and tendered the uppermost of two or three despatches to the doctor.
"Freeman, I'm betting," said McCrea, as the doctor tore it open and read. They walked on slowly, expectant, but he did not speak. Then Mrs. Graham turned, gave one look, dropped Geordie's arm and clasped that of her husband. The rugged, weather-beaten face had grown suddenly gray.
"George! husband!" she cried. "What's gone wrong?"
For answer he simply handed her the paper.
"Designate proxy; meeting Monday. Fear everything lost. Come if possible."
"Mac," said the old doctor, solemnly, "it's Silver Shield that's melted away. Everything we had in the world."
THE FIRST CALL
Fort Reynolds, as has been told in the earlier story of George Graham's cadet days, lay among the eastward foot-hills of the Rocky Mountains, with a bustling little frontier city only six miles away down the winding valley of what was, in the early eighties, a clear, cold, and beautiful mountain stream that shone in the sun like molten silver.
Silver Run it was called when Uncle Sam built the picturesque frontier fort of hewn logs and unseasoned pine soon after the Civil War. Silver Run, cold, pure, and glistening, it remained when Fort Reynolds became an important military post. Then the —th Cavalry took station at Reynolds, and there Geordie Graham found them when, with his father and mother and "Bud," he had come from cold Montana to the finest station they yet had known, and to the firmest friends, many of whom they had met before, when Geordie, as a little boy, was "Corporal Pops" to every man at old Camp Sandy.
But Silver Run, though it ran more silver than it ever knew before, was beautiful no longer. Mines of remarkable value, mines of gold and silver, had been discovered twenty and thirty miles back in the mountains. Mining towns had sprung up along the steep and rocky banks. Mining methods had turned a limpid stream into a turbid torrent. Two railways had run their lines, hewing, blasting, boring, and tunnelling up the narrow valley, first to reach the mines and finally to merge in a "cut-off" to the great Transcontinental, so that now huge trains of Pullmans went straining slowly up-grade past the site of old Fort Reynolds, or came coasting down with smoking tires and fire-spitting brake-shoes, and between the loss of the water for his horses, and the hemming in of his rifle-ranges by rail right of way, Uncle Sam declared Fort Reynolds no longer tenable for cavalry. The regiment had been sent elsewhere, and only a quartermaster-sergeant and a squad of men remained.
Yet Reynolds stood in the midst of thriving industries and swarming men. The First National Bank in town had now a marble front and a thousand depositors. The town was now a city and a railway centre, and the backbone of its business was no longer cattle, but mines and mining, full of fabulous wealth for those "on the inside," but of dark and devious measures for those "on the outside" or away, and of these were half a dozen army officers who had been dazzled by the easily acquired dollars of the earliest arrivals, and of these officers was one of the last men his friends thought possible to mislead—shrewd, calculating, cautious, canny old "Sawny" Graham, post surgeon at Fort Reynolds in the late eighties.
Yet prospectors and explorers ten years earlier had declared gold would be found up the banks of Silver Run. In the glorious park country back of Squaw Canon, where Geordie and Bud had camped and fished and hunted as boys, the signs of the restless scouts of the great army of miners were to be seen at every hand. And then finally, in the very September that followed the return of Graham and Connell to take up the last half of their course at the Academy, there came sudden and thrilling announcement of "big finds" along Lance Creek, the upper tributary of Silver Run; then even finer indications on the Run itself, and the West went wild. All of a sudden the mountain-sides bristled with armed men and their burros. Camps sprang up in a night and shafts were sunk in a day. Yampah County, from primeval wilderness, leaped to renown, with a population of ten thousand. Gold and silver came "packed" down the trails to the First National. Then, faster than the precious metal came down, costly machinery, and prices, went up. Fortunes were declared in a week. Officers and men at Reynolds caught the craze.
Many an old sergeant took his discharge and his savings and went to the mines; and young troopers without discharges took their lead and followed suit, and the colonel wired the War Department that if the regiment wasn't ordered away there wouldn't be anything left to order in the spring. Luckily, heavy snow-storms came and blocked the trails, and there was a lull at the mines, but unluckily, not before the few officers at Reynolds who had saved a dollar had invested every cent of their savings in the shares of the Golconda, the White Eagle, the Consolidated Denver, and especially the Silver Shield, and the man who, through frugality and good management, had the most to invest, and who had invested all, was Major Graham. When he left there for West Point the August following he had refused four times what he paid for his shares, and saw fortune smiling on his pathway to the Hudson. Now, less than ten months thereafter, on the borders of the Hudson, he saw ruin staring him in the face.
For there had been assessments, and he had borrowed to meet them. There had come rumors of "leaks" and he had kept them to himself. McCrea, his boy's best friend in the regiment, had consulted him only ten days back as to whether it were not wise to realize on a portion at least of their holdings, and Graham, dreading a "bear" movement on the market, had said, "Hold fast."
And now McCrea had turned back. He must go at once, he said, to the telegraph office. So Graham, his sorrowing wife, and his silent boys went on. She led him into their cheery quarters, and seated him in his old arm-chair and came and nestled beside him.
"What is there to grieve about, dear?" she pleaded. "What does it really matter to us? We have health, home, our boys, each other—quite enough to live on—Why should it so distress you? Indeed, I almost cried aloud, 'Is that all?' when you showed me the message. I feared so much worse. Why, think, Graeme, in all the gay crowd that comes here every day, is there a woman half as happy as I am? Is there one of them really as rich as we are—we who have so many blessings?"
"It's for 'Bud' I'm thinking most now," was the mournful answer. "There can be no Columbia for him. I've borrowed money to meet the assessments, and the money's got to be paid. This isn't like having one's house burned, or his ranch blown away, his herds scattered, by the act of God. This is being robbed of the savings of years by organized, legalized swindlers, men who claimed to be our friends. It's that—and my helplessness—that hurts."
The boys had remained without, talking in low, grave tones, Bud's boisterous spirits suddenly quenched. Presently the sound of their murmuring died away. There was no answer when Mrs. Graham called. Going to the door she looked anxiously about her. From up the roadway to the north came the sound of merry voices and the shuffle of many feet—the battalion hurrying down the broad stone steps of Grant Hall and forming for the march back to camp. The young "first captain" called them to attention and gave the commands that swung them into column of platoons and striding away under the leafy arch to the open plain. Oh, with what pride had she not listened, night after night, from September to mid-June, to Geordie's ringing, masterful tones, her Geordie, foremost officer of the Corps! And now all that was ended with the graduation to which he had so long looked forward, and now, when but half an hour ago he had so rejoiced in his assignment to the regiment of his choice—now must come this cloud upon his young life, his and blithe-hearted Bud, who so adored him. She knew well that his first act would be to set aside a certain portion of his scanty pay for her use, and for her own part she would not so have it.
But where were the boys, and why had they gone? It was some minutes before Bud returned, alone.
"Where is Geordie?" she asked.
Bud dropped his cap on the hall table, looking dispirited and troubled.
"Gone to the hotel, mother—wants to see"—with a gulp—"McCrea—and I'm of no use to anybody."
"You can be and will be," was the gentle answer, as the mother wound an arm about and led him within. There in silence and semi-darkness they sat awhile. The doctor had gone into his little library to look over memoranda and accounts. It was nine o'clock when Geordie's quick, soldierly step was heard on the walk without. He came bounding up and in, alert, virile, and vigorous.
"You saw Mr. McCrea, Geordie?"
"Yes, mother. He's going to Newburg to catch the Pacific express on the Central, and, mother—I'm going with him."
AWAY TO THE WEST
By the general regulations of the United States army there is granted three months' leave of absence to graduated cadets of the Military Academy, to be taken advantage of immediately after graduation. It is given to these young men after their four years of rigorous discipline and hard study, that they may have abundant time to visit home and friends, and to enjoy a period of rest before reporting for duty again to begin their careers as officers of the army.
For nearly two weeks since Graham's graduation day the mother had had him for her very own, busying herself in the choice of his modest outfit, and taking it not a little to heart that he declined to order his uniform and equipment until, as he said, he knew where he was going. She longed to see him in his "regimentals," yet shrank from it as a reminder that all too soon he would be taken from her side to wear it day after day with his comrades in arms. She could not think of that parting to come late in September. She would think only of the glory that was hers in having him here, having him now, with no bugle-call to tear him from her side. She was just beginning to realize her possession, her happiness, when that hateful telegram told of disaster at the mines, and urged her husband to have a representative at the spot. Within one hour of its receipt, George had come to say that he would be that representative, and within two hours, with at least his father's full consent, her dream was at an end and her boy was gone.
That night toward ten he and McCrea were spinning away up the west shore under the lofty, rock-ribbed scarp of Crow Nest and Storm King, to ferry over to Fishkill from Newburg, and there take the Pacific express, making its first stop out of New York City. Each had hurriedly packed such store of clothing as seemed most appropriate to the region and the business to which he was bound. There was no vestige of uniform or badge of rank and station. Geordie took with him his favorite rifle, and in his valise, to be exhumed when they reached the Rockies, was a revolver he knew, rather better than his classmates, how to use, for he had learned as a lad on the plains. Each had his ticket for Chicago, where they were to change for Denver. Each had a money belt and a modest sum in currency. Each had his hopes of rescuing something if not all of the imperilled property, and neither had even a vague idea of the peril, difficulty, and treachery he was destined to encounter.
Everything had promised well when Silver Shield was first exploited. Its promoters and agents showed high-grade ore, and reports of expert mining engineers promised abundance of it. All that was needed was development. "Come in now, on the ground-floor, and you'll be coining money in a year's time," said Mr. Breifogle, and to the number of seven the commissioned force at Fort Reynolds had "come." So long as they remained close to the spot all seemed going well. But Graham had been ordered to the Point, and the regiment over in the Oklahoma country. Then came trouble.
It seemed odd that stock held so high should so soon have to be assessed. But "some expensive machinery was necessary." Then came a second and larger demand. Silver Shield was so valuable that envious eyes had been directed to it, and fraudulent claims and claimants were constantly turning up. Threatened litigation would be long and expensive. It would be cheaper far to buy off the litigants. So Graham, with a sigh and sore premonition of trouble, obtained the necessary amount on his personal note. McCrea, with inward misgiving, borrowed and sent it. Officers at Reno sent up what they could, but it wasn't enough, and in May came a third appeal. The secretary wrote that litigation had begun, and there was reason to believe the courts were being "approached" by the enemy. It was absolutely essential that "these parties should be bought off," and quite a sum would be necessary. The First National Bank of Argenta (which had once been robbed of a great sum by road-agents, who were run down and captured by officers and men of the —th, and the money recovered) ought in all conscience to be grateful to its benefactors, yet when Graham, McCrea, and Major Lawrence wrote, begging advice in the premises, the bank was non-committal. Some of its customers were among the litigants, as was later discovered. And so it resulted that not until near the end of June did it dawn upon the officers involved that the whole matter was nothing more nor less than a well-conceived, but rascally, scheme to "milk them dry," as was the expression, secure their shares at a sacrifice, or drive them out entirely.
And they, the absentees, were only seven against seventy or more, who were experienced in all the crafts and devices by which mines have been dug at the expense of the many and then made to enrich the few.
It was late at night when the fellow-travellers reached Denver. McCrea was depressed and silent, Geordie eager to push ahead. The former had had time to think over the situation, and in Chicago, while waiting for the Pacific express to start, he had had a fifteen-minute talk with a relative, a Western business man, to whom mining and undermining were matters well understood, and what this expert said had filled him with dismay. "You've simply been bled until you could bleed no more," said he. "Now they've no further use for you. What they want is your stock at five cents on the dollar, to sell to some new gudgeon at fifty. Why on earth, Mac, when you were considering this, didn't you consult me?" Why, indeed! Like many another man, Mac's eyes had been blinded, his ears deafened to everything but the wiles of the charmer. But with Geordie it was different. He had come because his father was bound to the wheel of duty and could not. Moreover, barring inexperience and youth, Geordie was better fitted to go and do than was his father, the doctor.
He would waste no time with agents. He would employ no lawyer—that was simply waste of both time and money. Of the former they had little and of the latter even less. But his brain was active and fertile. He had slept but little on their swift westward way until after crossing the Mississippi. His mother's grief at parting, and her speechless anxiety as to the dangers that might beset him, had affected him deeply, and at first his silence and preoccupation were due to that. But the fighting blood of the Graeme was in his veins, and against the abominable wrong these "sharks" would do his father and his scattered friends the young fellow was bent on giving valiant battle; and he thought he saw his way to strike and to strike hard.
McCrea had given him the names of most of the sergeants of the old regiment who, when their time expired, had taken their discharge and gone to the mines. Among them were three on whom he believed he could count to back him in a pinch. Among them was the veteran Nolan, on whom he knew he could count.
McCrea had wired ahead to an old and trusted friend, a resident of Denver and a successful railway engineer. He was at the station waiting when the two alighted from their train. It was McCrea's plan to spend one day in Denver in consultation with certain officials, and then to spring a surprise on the "board" at Argenta two days later. He had wired to Fort Reno on the way, urging that one officer, at least, of those most interested should hasten to Denver and meet him, and in the hands of Mr. Warden, their engineer friend, was the reply: Captain Lee would be with them in the morning. To register at a prominent hotel would simply advertise their coming. Warden had seen to that and engaged quarters for them near his own. Thither they were to go at once, and, valises in hand, they followed Warden's lead, McCrea and their guide talking eagerly together, Geordie following, silent and observant. Toward the iron gateway they pressed, jostled and elbowed by hurrying passengers.
"It's but a few blocks' walk," Warden was saying. "I've a cart to take your grips and we can chat as we go. I thought you'd be glad of a bite or a cup of tea or something before turning in. Mr. Ross, who wired Dr. Graham, is here, and he'll meet us at the restaurant. He thinks they are following him—shadowing him."
"Who?" asked McCrea.
"Why, the crowd that are trying to get control there of Silver Shield. Some of them live in Argenta, he says, and found out he had been in correspondence with the doctor, and that it was he who had given warning." Then, glancing over his shoulder as they neared the gate, and speaking to Geordie, he continued, "What is the name of the brewer up there who wanted your place at the Point for his son?"
"That's the man," answered Warden. "Ross says he's one of the leaders of the move. Most of his money has been made by freezing out other men."
And just at that moment, moving leisurely along in the rear of the train-load of belated passengers, they reached the exit gate, and the instant they came under the broad, blue-white glare of the electric globe overhead there was a sudden stir in the little gathering along the iron fence. A burly young man darted swiftly away, and in his haste tripped backward over an empty baby carriage. In a second he was floundering on the floor, his bowler hat rolling one way, his stick flying another. A shrill voice began to berate him as he struggled to his feet, but he paused neither to explain nor listen. He swooped for his hat and shot for a dark passage, but not before Geordie had caught a glimpse of his face.
"That was young Breifogle," said he.
"I'M READY NOW"
There was no other train over the Transcontinental, westward, before 7.30 A.M. They had reached Denver by the Pacific express, and in five minutes the sleeper in which the two had journeyed from Chicago would be whirling swiftly away for "The Springs" before beginning the long, tortuous climb over the huge bulwark between them and the watershed of the great Colorado beyond. There had really been no reason why Graham should stop over at Denver. He knew none of the officials of the Silver Shield there resident. He did not wish to know them. They had doubtless conspired with their associates at Argenta to "squeeze out" his father and friends. They hoped and expected to buy in for a song the valuable stock held by this scattered band of soldiers and some twenty or thirty prospective victims in the distant East. This would give them a controlling interest in the property. It would make them virtual owners of a valuable mine. It would make them richer by far than they were beforehand. This would impoverish, and it might ruin, many of the absent who had furnished the means by which Silver Shield was developed. It was robbery outright, but robbery of a kind so common in our country that people have become callous to it. It was by just such means and methods that many of the great fortunes of America have been won, and the winners ride to-day on the topmost wave of prosperity and popular acclaim, when, if the people but realized the truth, many an object of their adulation would be wearing convict stripes and prison pallor to the end of his dishonored days.
But Graham had journeyed with his long-time friend and senior officer—senior by seven years—and McCrea's plans, to a certain point, seemed to dominate those of the younger and less experienced man. McCrea's idea was to "tackle" the local directors first and compel recognition of their rights. He, as post quartermaster, had had business dealings with bankers and merchants both in Denver and Chicago. He believed that, reinforced by the presence of Captain Lee from Reno, he could make a certain impression, or else certain threats, that would bring these magnates to time.
But Dr. Graham, an older head, thought otherwise, had so instructed Geordie and so endeavored to impress McCrea. The men, said he, had planned this out. "They stand to lose little in the market if the stocks are 'beared.' They have invested little; we have invested our all. If nothing was found they could quit. If good ore was found, then it was their game to conceal the fact, to demand more and more money for more and more development, force us out, get our shares, and own the property. Why, laddie, the man that warned me dared not sign his name, for every wire was watched; yet I'd stake six months' pay he's got the rights of it. There's ore there in plenty!"
And so every indication said at the start. It wasn't until many Eastern people had been induced to invest (Dr. Graham's New York friends, the Fraziers, among them) that managers and directors began to tell dismal tales and ask for more and more. It was then that Dr. Graham bethought him of a brother Scot who dwelt near Argenta, a man once so poor that when his bairns were down with diphtheria he could not coax Argenta doctors out across the five-mile stretch of storm-swept, frozen prairie. It was the burly post surgeon from the fort who rode eight miles to and eight miles back in any kind of weather, night or day, until he snatched those babies back from death, and gave them, weak and gasping, yet alive, to the arms of their weeping and imploring and at last rejoicing mother. Oh, those are deeds that women remember so long as life remains to them, and that but few men forget, and the clansman, who couldn't begin to pay in cash for what "the Graeme" had done for him and his, could reward in fealty now. It was Donald Ross to whom the doctor had written, and Ross who made investigation and reply.
And yet, though he had taken precaution to send his letter from a village post-office, and his message from a railway station ten miles east of Argenta, the spies of Silver Shield had heard of one or both, and now their watcher knew that two at least of the enemy were in their camp. For what else was young Breifogle there? For what but to give warning had he so suddenly vanished?
It was of all this that Geordie was thinking, as silently he strode along by the side of the two elders, hearing yet scarcely heeding their eager talk. He had plans and projects of his own. Father was not the only one who had a friend or two in Yampah and up the range. Veteran troopers of the old regiment were scouting there for gold and silver, where ten years earlier they had scouted for the red warriors of Colorow and Yampah Jack. If he could but get in touch with Nolan, with Feeny, with almost any one of those now mining who once rode in "E" Troop! If he could only reach some of the men he guided over the Divide to the successful capture of the gang that looted the First National! Oh, the shame of Breifogle's ingratitude! As one of the bank's directors at that time, he had pledged everlasting gratitude to the officers and troopers who had restored their treasure.
Suddenly Warden turned a corner, pushed back a swinging door, led the way into a clean, brightly lighted little "dairy" restaurant, passed on through to the less public tables partitioned off in alcoves of their own, and here, behind an outspread newspaper, sat, lonely and expectant, a broad-shouldered ranchman whose weather-beaten face beamed joyously at sight of the three, and whose big hands were on young Graham's squared shoulders before they had fairly shaken greeting to any one. "Geordie, mon, but it's glad I am to see ye!" was the whispered welcome. "Softly, now, there's—others here."
Quickly they were served with steaks, scrambled eggs, toast, tea or coffee, as they chose, and two at least were hungry, yet Geordie, brimful of eagerness to put his plan into execution, could hardly spare time to eat. Yes, Ross knew Nolan and Feeny of old. Many's the time they'd dropped in at the ranch when antelope-stalking down the foot-hills. Nolan had prospered. He and Feeny, both, when last heard of were somewhere up among the mines. Burns was in Collins's Camp on Lance Creek. Toomey and Scully had got "cleaned out" and were firing on the Transcontinental.
"Where?" demanded Geordie, his eyes dilating.
"Mountain Division, both of 'em. Toomey on the Mogul that pulls the Time Freight over the range—" And here Geordie stopped him.
"Hear this, Mr. McCrea," said he. "Toomey, of 'E' Troop, fireman on the big freight-engine! He'll surely know where the others are. Now, you know the railway people. You say you've got to stay here a day or two. Get me permission to ride on any freight-engine, Mountain Division, for the next three days, and I'm off for the mines before we're half a day older, and no man here or there the wiser."
"They'd spot you as you went through Argenta," said McCrea. "Breifogle will be watching every train."
"Every car of every train, perhaps; but I'll be firing by the time we get there, black with soot and coal-dust, and they wouldn't know me if they saw me. If the division superintendent doesn't give it away—and you—who's to know I've turned fireman on a freight? There's my chance, McCrea, and you know it!"
"By Jove, Geordie, but I believe you're right," was McCrea's answer, rising to his feet and facing the eager young fellow across the table. "You're a 'dandy,' as was said of you on graduation day, only it was meant in a different sense. Who's in charge at the station now, Warden?" he asked, with sudden resolution. "I knew most of their traffic men when I was quartermaster."
Warden whipped out a railway folder. "Colorado Transcontinental," he read, and began skimming down a long list of official titles and names. Traffic managers, freight and passenger agents, superintendents, division superintendents, and then, "Here we are, Mountain Division: W.B. Anthony."
"Know him well," cried McCrea. "He brought the first passengers up to Argenta in eighty-seven. He was freight conductor on the U.P. when I was a boy at Cheyenne. We'll nab him first thing in the morning."
"Can't we nab him to-night?" asked Geordie.
McCrea laughed. "You're keen as your father, Pops," said he. "Niver put off till t'-morrow what can be done the day."
"The laddie's right," said Ross. "I'm betting you'll find him at the yards till after No. 2 comes in—the Flyer—that's due at 12.40."
And so it happened that, as the clocks were pointing to the quarter after midnight, Lieutenant Ralph McCrea and the newly appointed subaltern, both in plain travelling dress, once more appeared at the Union Station, and presently learned that Mr. Anthony was about the yard. It was not long thereafter that they found him, busy, as such men must ever be, yet recognizing McCrea at a glance and giving him cordial welcome.
But when McCrea presented his friend, "Lieutenant Graham, whose father you probably knew as post surgeon at Reynolds," and then made his request, the official looked grave.
"It's against orders," said he. "The Old Man has jacked up more than one of the best engineers for allowing it. Why, the Governor had to get a permit from the general manager for his son to ride in the cab of the Flyer only last week, and for some reason they've shut down on our freight people entirely. Gil Frost, bringing his own brother, who used to fire on the Union Pacific, over on old 550 two weeks ago, had to dance the carpet the next morning right here in Denver."
"How do you break in your new firemen?" asked Geordie. "Some of our best men are firing for you now. They had to begin somehow, I suppose."
"Pitch 'em neck and crop into a cab, with a short-handled shovel and a sharp-tongued old hand. It nigh breaks their backs, but they learn quick that way."
"Well, pitch me, neck and crop, into a cab, with as short a handle and sharp a tongue as you like, Mr. Anthony. I'm on three months' leave, and for reasons of my own want to learn how to fire an engine."
For a moment Anthony looked at the young fellow in amaze. Then the resolute, square-jawed, clean-cut face began to impress him.
"Well, I've been dealing with you army men out here nigh onto twenty years," said he, "and I'm blessed if I ever heard the like of that."
"Don't let it surprise you into telling it, Anthony, that's all," put in McCrea. "Here! Let me give you a pointer—you've got a West Pointer. I've known you for a square man ever since we were stationed at Russell," and, linking his arm in that of the astonished official, McCrea drew him a few paces away from the point where they found him, with a great passenger-engine hissing and throbbing close at hand, waiting to take the Flyer whirling eastward toward the Missouri. Geordie stood silently and watched them. He saw the wonderment in Anthony's strong face give way to interest as McCrea talked rapidly on; saw interest deepen to sympathy and a certain excitement. In three minutes Anthony broke away and came hurrying back, looking at his watch.
"Mr. Graham," said he, "d' you want to go up the line this very night? Could you be ready in two hours?"
"I'm ready now," was the instant reply. "All I want is an old cap and overalls—the blacker the better."
FIRST NIGHT ON THE RANGE
Away up among the Rockies, with towering, pine-fringed, snow-sprinkled crests looming dimly about them in the moonlight, two young men stood waiting by a switch-target of the Transcontinental. Facing westward, they could see the huge bulk of the mountain range rolling up between them and the starry sky-line, black and forbidding in the middle distance, yet fading away northward and southward into faint and tender outlines—soft grays and violets—and with the earliest signals in the East of the speedy coming of the long summer's day. Facing eastward, there confronted them close at hand the huge black bulk of the mammoth Mogul engine, its dazzling head-light shining afar up the westward right of way, and throwing into heavier shade, by force of contrast, every object outside its beams. In the solemn stillness of nature in those high levels, almost the only sound was the soft hiss of escaping steam from the cylinder-cocks or an occasional rumble from the boiler. Even murmured words seemed audible and intelligible sixty feet away, and twice big Ben Tillson, the engineer of 705, had pricked up his ears as he circled about his giant steed, oiling the grimy joints, elbows, and bearings, and pondering in his heavy, methodical way over certain parting instructions that had come to him from the lips of the division superintendent. "A young feller learning firing" would board him at Chimney Switch, forty miles out from the Springs, and the Boss desired Ben Tillson to understand that "The Road" had its reasons, and the "young feller" was to be spared the customary quizzing. Furthermore, Ben Tillson was to understand that nothing was to be said about it. If anybody at Argenta or among the mines had any questions to ask, Ben was to know next to nothing.
But what set Ben's wits to work was the odd behavior of his fireman, Jim Toomey. Toomey was a silent sort of chap as a rule, and surely, too, with a grudge against the gang over in Hatch's Cove and up the Run. Toomey had taken to firing because he had got cleaned out at the mines. Toomey ordinarily wasn't over-civil to anybody. Toomey, too, had been favored with a word from Mr. Anthony, and never had Big Ben seen his fireman more cheery over his work than he was that night as they panted and strained up the foot-hills to Chimney Switch. Ben could have sworn Toomey was "excited like" when they side-tracked there for a way-train, and never in the course of Big Ben's experience had he seen an old fireman greet a would-be as Toomey welcomed the tall "young feller" in the dirty cap, shirt, and overalls who there clambered into the cab. Twice, Ben could have further sworn, he had heard Toomey say "sir," a word Toomey used to no one less than the division superintendent.
Somewhat grudgingly and suspiciously, therefore, had Ben nodded greeting and looked the "young feller" over. He did not extend his hand. The new-comer had on a pair of oiled-buck gauntlets, "soldier gauntlets," such as the cavalry used to have at Reynolds, that "all the boys in the cabs are stuck on." Even at the hardest kind of shovelling they outlived every other kind a dozen weeks, and the fireman was a lucky malefactor who could induce a soldier to part with his.
And though the "young feller's" cap and clothing were strictly and unimpeachably professional and grimy, it was the face no less than the gloves and boots that told Ben Tillson this was no needy seeker after a job. The boots were new and fine, laced daintily up the front, and showed their style even through the lack of polish and the coating of dust and ashes. The gauntlets also, though worn and old, were innocent of grease. This was no cub fireman, said Ben, resentfully, as he revolved in mind a scheme or two that should take the stuffing of conceit out of him, when suddenly he paused. "Why, certainly," Ben had it, just another case such as he had been reading about, how the sons of successful railway magnates, discarding wealth and luxuries, had determined to learn the business from the bottom up and fit themselves for future eminence in railway circles. The "young feller" must be a Gould or a Vanderbilt, a Ledyard, a Huntington, a son of somebody at the financial head of things. While sacrificing none of his steady self-reliance or self-respect, Ben Tillson decided to treat his new fireman, assistant to the old, with all due civility. He would cringe or kowtow to no one, but, like the sturdy citizen he was, Ben deemed it wise to keep on the good side of the powers. It was necessary, however, that the new-comer should understand who was boss on that engine, and even as they stood waiting at the Chimney Ben had taken occasion to say, "I see you're not stuck on shovelling, young man"; then with a most knowing and suggestive wink, "I reckon you'd rather do tennis or tiddlywinks," and was surprised at the answer.
"As matters stand, I'd rather be shovelling here than playing tennis—anywhere."
"It's the first time you ever saw the West from a cab-window, I'm betting," said Ben. And George Graham, who had seen more of the West than Ben could ever hope to see, and who knew the Silver Run country before ever the railway reached the foot-hills, had the wisdom to answer, "You'd win."
And now at Buffalo Butte 705 was side-tracked, awaiting the coming of passenger No. 4, east bound, and then—then there would be a clear run to and through Argenta. Then would come the familiar scenes about old Fort Reynolds; then the wild and picturesque beauty of Squaw Canon and Hatch's Cove, and then George Graham would be able to judge by surface indications how far his disguise had really disguised him. Toomey had already told him where Nolan and Feeny could be found. Toomey was to send word or a letter to both of them, and then it would be time to decide on the next move.
For now the scheme was to reach the heart of what might be called the enemy's country, and to get there unsuspected, unobserved, and thus far all was working well.
It was the second morning after his reaching Denver. Mr. Anthony had put him through to the Springs, and then to Chimney Switch, where he was to wait for 705 and Toomey. And even now as they stood there, he and Toomey, exchanging at intervals some low-toned words at the switch, the eastward skies were slowly taking on their early morning garb of pink and violet, the eastward fronts of the snow-sifted peaks and domes far to the north and south were lighting up with wondrous hues of gold and crimson; the stars aloft were paling and the moon was sinking low, and still big 705 stood hissing and grumbling placidly on the long siding, and the green lights back at the caboose blinked sleepily against the dawn. Two glimmering threads of light in rigid right lines, converging far beyond the rear of the train, stretched eastward from their feet until lost in the shadows of Buffalo Butte, and not yet had Toomey's accustomed ear been able to detect the faint, whirring, song of the rails that tells of the coming of far-distant, thundering wheels. "She's late again," said Toomey, uneasily. "We should have heard her whistling for Spearman's Ranch five minutes ago, and I wanted to pull you out of Argenta before seven o'clock."
"You still think I'm not grimy enough," said Geordie, with a grin. "I can lay on a coat of coal-dust—"
"'Tisn't that," came the murmured answer, with a shake of the head. "It's the back and shoulders, sir. You couldn't turn yourself hindside-foremost, could you, and get your chest between your shoulder-blades?"
"I can cultivate a stoop," said Geordie, with a forward hunch of the shoulders. "But there you go with that 'sir' again. We're in uniform, but not that of the cavalry. You'll betray me yet, Toomey, if you're not careful. Now, about the stoop—"
"It might do, s—, if you could keep it, but from the time you came to Reynolds you were the straightest boy in the garrison, and now, with four years at West Point, you've got a back on you flat as a board. That's what's going to queer us in passing you off for a kid fireman. It was hard enough going through before it was fairly light. Now, unless No. 4 gets in in five minutes, the sun will be lighting the length of the shed at Argenta, and we've got cars to cut out there, too. Confound No. 4!"
And then a certain superfluous lantern, bleary with a night of service, came dawdling up the side of the train, and the conductor hove in sight, watch in hand. "Four left Argenta on time," said he to the engineer. "What the mischief keeps her? She ought to have gone by five minutes ago. Who's yonder with Toomey?"
"Friend of his; young feller from Chimney, learning firing. Old man's orders," he added, at sight of rebuke in the conductor's eyes. "Told me himself to take him along and give him a show."
The conductor set his lantern down near the fore truck of the tender. He did not half like it that a superior should give orders to his engineer that did not come through him. He had been a soldier in his day and accustomed to military ways of doing things. He was already chafing over a delay that would bring him behind time to Argenta. Now he was nettled at this apparent slight. "When did he tell you, and where?" was the demand. "He was at Denver the last I saw of him."
"He ran out to the Springs on No. 5; passed you at Monument, probably; spoke to me at the round-house about ten o'clock." And having thus summarily settled the matter, Big Ben clambered sulkily once more into the cab.
The conductor made a grimace expressive of much disgust. Presently he turned, left his lantern by the side of the engine, and then came angering on to the switch. He decided to see for himself what the stranger was like.
In the gray light of the dawn the two young men, one of them stockily, strongly built, the other very slender and erect, were absorbed in eager talk. Not until the conductor was within five yards of them did Graham note his coming and signal "Hush." Abruptly came the challenge:
"'Ain't you heard her whistle yet, Toomey?" and the tone implied that sheer neglect could be the only explanation for Toomey's failure in case no whistle had been heard.
"Nary whistle," was the indifferent answer.
"Well, how could you expect to hear it? You were talking a blue streak." And while the conductor's rebuke was levelled at Toomey, his sombre eyes were on Graham.
"Doing that to keep awake," was the blunt reply. "Haven't been to bed for thirty hours."
"That's nothing. In my day a-soldiering we didn't get to bed once a week. That's when we was after Morgan. You regulars couldn't stand that, I s'pose."
"In my day we didn't get to bed once a month," answered Toomey, with equal truth. "That was when we was after Sittin' Bull. The volunteers that started on that chase petered out at Powder River."
The conductor sniffed. It had been give and take 'twixt him and Toomey ever since the discovery that each had served in the cavalry. Beaten thus far in the battle of chaff, the conductor tried another as he studied Geordie with unfriendly eyes.
"Got a kid fireman here—'nother of y'r officers' dog-robbers?" he demanded.
Toomey whirled on him in an instant, in spite of Geordie's quick-gripping hand. "You're boss on this train, Cullin," said he, savagely, "and you know I can't jaw back as you deserve, but if Bob Anthony happens to be where he can hear of that remark, you'll get your time or I'm a liar."
For a moment Cullin stood and glared, wrath and humiliation commingling. Graham it was who quickly stepped forward and interposed.
"Yes, I'm playing kid fireman, Mr. Cullin," said he, quietly, "and I was told by the division superintendent if any trouble arose to give this to the conductor," whereat he held forth a card on the back of which dimly appeared some written words. Over these Cullin glanced, unappeased, until he came to the last line and signature. Then a curious change swept slowly over his face. He looked Graham carefully, doubtfully from head to foot, slowly thrust the card in a waistcoat-pocket, and was turning silently away when Geordie hailed him, a ready smile on his young face.
"I'll trouble you for the card," said he. "I may meet other conductors."
Slowly Cullin fumbled for it, twiddled it between his fingers, and finally, half reluctant, restored it. At that instant, faint, distant, but distinct, came the sound of the whistle of the belated No. 4. "That's for Spearman's now," thought Geordie, but so tense had been the scene that for a moment no man spoke.
Then Toomey gave tongue.
"She'll go by here kiting," said he. "Ten miles down-grade and a two-mile straightaway from Cimarron Bend, out yonder." Again the whistle, and nearer. "That's for the crossing at the creek. By gad, she's just jumping! Hang onto your hair when you see her head-light and scramble for the cab."
Another whistle, two short blasts and a long. Nearer still, yet still out of sight; and then presently there shot into view, over a mile away to the west, even though the gray light of the summer's dawn now overspread the landscape, the glare of a head-light. It was No. 4 coming full tilt.
And then—surprise! From steam-drum and 'scape-valve jetted clouds of flat-driven steam. No. 4 had suddenly "shut off," and was now coasting downhill like a huge toboggan.
Another blast came from the whistle. "By Jove, she's going to stop!" said Cullin. "What on earth's the meaning of that?"
With prodigious shriek and roar of steam, with clinching, crunching air-brakes on the glistening tires, with sparks flying from the whirring wheels and signal-lanterns swinging at the side, No. 4 came rushing in. As the baggage-car shot by, a little group of men stood by the doorway about a recumbent figure, and the conductor whisked up his lantern and started after it. When nearly opposite the caboose the big train settled to a stop. Four pairs of strong arms lifted the prostrate figure from one car to the other. There were brief, hurried words. A lantern waved; the whistle sounded two quick blasts; No. 4 slowly started, quickly gained speed, and, almost as quickly as it came, was steaming away for Buffalo Butte, its pale lamps gleaming dimly in the gathering light. The conductor came running forward.
"Pull out for Argenta, Ben!" he shouted. "Say, young feller, drop shovelling and come back. I've got nobody to help me, and here No. 4's loaded me with a half-dead man to be taken home. There's a row at the mines. Every man is out from Silver Shield!"
FIRST AID TO THE WOUNDED
Slowly, jerkily, the Time Freight began to gather headway as the big Mogul pulled, hissing loudly, from the siding to the main track, the ugly brown cars winding grudgingly after. This was before the days of mile-long freight-trains with air-brakes and patent couplers. Over the grades of the Transcontinental no engine yet had pulled more than twenty "empties." There was ever the danger of breaking in two. In the dim interior of the caboose the conductor, with Geordie Graham by his side, was bending over a battered and dishevelled form. As the rear trucks went clicking over the switch-points, the former sprang to the open doorway to see that his brakeman reset and locked the switch, and with a swift run overtook the caboose and swung himself aboard.
"I'll be up in a minute, Andy," cried Cullin to his aid, already scrambling up the iron ladder for his station on the roof. "This poor devil's battered into pulp and I can't leave him." And again he was by Graham's side—Graham who, kneeling now and sponging with cold water the bruised, hacked, disfigured face of the senseless victim, had made a startling discovery.
Here, with his clothing ripped, torn, and covered with dirt and blood, with one arm obviously broken and his head beaten, kicked, and cruelly gashed—here, beyond a doubt, lay the man who nearly five years earlier had been the one obstacle between him and the goal of his ambition, the cadetship at West Point; here lay the son of the man probably most prominent in the conspiracy against the absent shareholders of Silver Shield; here, in fine, lay the almost lifeless body of the youth he had seen spying upon their arrival at Denver—young Breifogle himself.
By this time the Mogul was grinding her way up the track, in determined effort to land the Time Freight in the yards at Argenta before the whistle blew for seven o'clock. It was a twelve-mile pull up-grade, every inch of the way—twisting, turning, and tunnelling, as has been said—and the caboose reeled and swayed from side to side as it rounded the reverse curves and swung at the tail of the train. Cullin, lantern in hand, had climbed to his seat in the lookout.
"I've got to be up here," he explained, "till we are through the tunnels. Do what you can. I suppose sponging is all we can do."
Graham nodded. He had stripped the leather-covered cushion from the conductor's chair, and with this and a rolled coat made a support for the senseless head. He had a fire-bucket of cold water, and even as he plied the wet sponge and sought to stanch the trickling blood, his wits were at work. The men on No. 4 had only time to say that four miles out from Argenta, down the Run beyond Narrow Gauge Junction, their whistle suddenly shrieked, the air-brakes were set with a clamp that jolted the whole train, and they slowed down just enough not to knock into flinders a hand-car that was sailing ahead of them, down-grade. "The pilot hit it a lick that tossed it into the ditch," No. 4's crew had explained, and beside it they had found—this.
And "this" it was now Geordie's task and duty to keep alive until they could turn it over to competent hands at Argenta. "This," which others failed to know, he had recognized. "This" it was for him to make known, yet in so doing he might betray himself and the purpose of his coming, and so undo every hope and plan he had made. There was no Toomey to help him now—no devoted ex-trooper and friend to back him. Engineer, fireman, conductor, and brakemen, every man of the crew had to be at his post as the freight panted away up the winding mountain road. The crew of No. 4 had searched the pockets in vain for a clew as to the injured man's identity. Everything was gone. His assailants had seen to that. Not a scrap had been found that could account for him. Even the shirt "tab" bore no initials; the watch-pocket of the trousers bore no name. The garments had been purchased ready-made and gave no sign.
Then there was another matter to be considered. Badly as he was battered and bruised, the man was not dying. Graham knew how to test the pulse, and its strength told him not to fear. The chances were that his patient would return to consciousness before very long. Then recognition of his grimy attendant would probably follow. Breifogle was no fool, as Graham remembered, and a fireman's black cap and sooty shirt and overalls would be but scant disguise.
And to carry out his plan it was essential that he should pass through Argenta, reach Hatch's Cove and eventually the Silver Shield mine, and reach this latter unknown and unsuspected. Toomey and he had hit on a plan—once Toomey could succeed in getting word to Nolan. But that, reasoned Geordie, might be impossible now in view of this new complication—serious trouble at the mines, and "every man out at Silver Shield."
If only he could see Toomey again for a moment! That was impossible. Toomey's every muscle was needed to keep that fiery and insatiable monster fed with fuel every rod of the way to Argenta. There was no intermediate stop. There could be no signals—no sending of a message. Half the distance had they gone, panting and straining, barely fifteen miles to the hour. Broad daylight, and then the rejoicing sunshine, had come to cheer and gladden and revive, and Cullin shouted inquiry, as he bent down from his perch, and Graham nodded or shook his head by way of reply. Swiftly and scientifically he kept up the play of the sponges; shook his head to Cullin's suggestion of a little more whiskey—the frontier's "first aid" for every kind of mishap. The pulse said there was no further need of it, at the moment at least. And then, as they rumbled over some resounding bridge-work and crossed the swift and foaming Run, the train crept under the shadow of the cliff and stretched away over a bit of open, undulating grassland, and then the racket ceased for a while and it was possible, by bending down, to catch the patient's breathing.
And it gave Geordie an idea.
The poor, bruised head was turning in restless pain; the puffed and swollen lips were moving; the still unconscious man was muttering. Not a word could Geordie distinguish. It was all guesswork. But, glancing up at Cullin, he called: "He's trying to talk. Perhaps I can get his name," and again inclined his ear and bent down over the luckless fellow's face. "Yes," he said, loudly, so that Cullin could hear—"yes, I understand.... Don't worry.... You're with friends.... Tell us your name and home.... What? Try once again.... Bry—what? Oh, Breifogle?... Yes. Argenta? That's just where we're going. We'll be there very soon. Don't try to talk more now." And again the sponge was busily plied, and then the grimy nurse glanced upward at Cullin, now shinning down from his perch in the skylight. "His home's right ahead at Argenta. Breifogle's the name."
"Breifogle!" shouted Cullin, aghast. "Why, that's the big brewer, banker, mine-owner, and Lord knows what all—that owns half of Yampah County and wants to own the rest. Could he tell who slugged him? Does he know anything about it? Ask him."
Obediently Geordie put the question, but no answer came. "Seems to have wandered off," he said. "Perhaps we'd be wise to worry him with no more questions. If he's what you say, they'll be looking everywhere for him. When did the men at Silver Shield go out?"
"Yesterday morning at ten o'clock, so they said on No. 4. There was a pack of 'em come down to Argenta to get to the owners, they said. By gad, they seem to have got at one of 'em!"
A moan from the sufferer was the only answer. Graham shook his head. "How soon can you make it?" he asked. "The sooner this man's in expert hands the better 'twill be."
"Twelve minutes," said Cullin, with a snap of his silver watch-lid. "You seem no slouch of a handler yourself. Where'd you learn?"
"I lived with a doctor awhile," was the quiet answer. "He had to patch men up occasionally." And Geordie could barely suppress the grin that twitched the corners of his mouth. How strangely already his adventure was faring! "I suppose after hammering him senseless they set him adrift on that hand-car, hoping it would finish him and hide their crime," he hazarded.
"Looks like it," was Cullin's short answer as once more he climbed to his station.
Ten minutes later they were slowly trundling in among a maze of tracks and sidings, with long trains of gondolas, coal-cars, and dingy-brown freight-boxes on both sides. Cullin was shouting to invisible switchmen, and presently the train came bumping to a stand. Another minute and two or three early birds among the yardmen were climbing aboard and curiously, excitedly, peering over Geordie's head. He never looked up. Calmly he continued his sponging. Then Cullin's voice was heard again. A stretcher was thrust in at the rear door. Three or four men, roughly dressed, but with sorrow and sympathy in their careworn faces, bent over the prostrate body. They seemed to look to Graham for instructions.
"You know where to take him?" he asked. "All right, then, I'll leave him with you." And before the station-master or other official could come, Graham had seen his patient transferred to the stretcher, borne forth into the sunshine and away to the passenger-room. Then, slipping from the left rear steps, with the train between him and the building, Geordie sauntered, softly whistling, up to the front again, and in five minutes was helping Toomey at the cab.
It was not yet seven. Big Ben was busy with his oil-can. Three cars had been cut out from the train and run to a platform close at hand. It was high time they were off again, but the conductor was held in the office, whither he had gone for orders, as well as to report concerning their unsought passenger. Toomey was still angered against Cullin, between whom and himself there was ever more or less friction, but Geordie had begun to take a fancy to him. Cullin would never have said what he did had he known the identity of Toomey's pupil, and Geordie argued that Cullin's gruff and insolent greeting was in reality a tribute to his powers—a recognition of the fact that he looked the part he was trying to play.