Transcriber's Note: Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Dialect spellings, contractions and discrepancies have been retained.
SON OF THE SIERRAS
A Story of the Apache War
GENERAL CHARLES KING
"NORMAN HOLT," "THE IRON BRIGADE," "THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER," "A DAUGHTER OF THE SIOUX," ETC.
CHARLES J. POST
G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Copyright, 1906, by
G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London All rights reserved
Issued June, 1906.
Tonio, Son of the Sierras, erect and slender Frontispiece 8
Scrambling down the adjacent slope every man for himself 81
"Keep watch now all around, especially east and southeast" 175
"They've opened on Case and Clancy" 188
SON OF THE SIERRAS
"Does it never rain here?" asked the Latest Arrival, with sudden shift of the matter under discussion.
"How is that, Bentley?" said the officer addressed to the senior present, the surgeon. "You've been here longest."
"Don't know, I'm sure," was the languid answer. "I've only been here three years. Try 'Tonio there. He was born hereabouts."
So the eyes of the six men turned to the indicated authority, an Apache of uncertain age. He looked to be forty and might be nearer sixty. He stood five feet ten in his tiptoed moccasins, and weighed less than little Harris, who could not touch the beam at five feet five. Harris was the light weight of the —th Cavalry, in physique, at least, and by no means proud of the distinction. To offset the handicap of lack of stature and weight, and of almost cat-like elasticity of frame and movement, he saw fit to cultivate a deliberation and dignity of manner that in his cadet days had started the sobriquet of "Heavy," later altered to "Hefty"; and Hefty Harris he was to the very hour this story opens—a junior first lieutenant with four years' record of stirring service in the far West, in days when the telegraph had not yet strung the Arizona deserts, and the railway was undreamed of. He had only just returned to the post from a ten days' scout, 'Tonio, the Apache, being his chief trailer and chosen companion on this as on many a previous trip. The two made an odd combination, having little in common beyond that imperturbable self-poise and dignity. The two elsewhere had met with marked success in "locating" rancherias of the hostile bands, and in following and finding marauding parties. The two were looked upon in southern Arizona as "the best in the business," and now, because other leaders had tried much and accomplished little, it had pleased the general commanding the Division of the Pacific to say to his subordinate, the general commanding the Department of Arizona, that as the "Tonto" Apaches and their fellows of the Sierra Blanca seemed too wily for his scouting parties sent out from Whipple Barracks, and the valley garrisons of McDowell and Verde, it might be well to detach Lieutenant Harris from his troop at old Camp Bowie and send him, with 'Tonio, to report to the commanding officer at Camp Almy.
Now the commanding general of Arizona had thought of that project himself, and rejected it for two reasons: first, that the officers and men on duty at Almy would possibly take it as a reflection; second, that 'Tonio would probably take it as an affront to himself. 'Tonio, be it understood, was of the Apache Mohave tribe, whose hunting grounds had long been the upper Verde and adjacent mountains. 'Tonio had no scruples as to scouting and shooting Chiricahuas and Sierra Blancas or the roving bands of Yaquis that sometimes ventured across the "Gadsden Purchase" from Mexico. 'Tonio had done vengeful work among these fellows. But now he was brought face to face with a far different proposition. The renegades of northern Arizona in the earliest of the seventies were mainly Tontos, but many a young brave of the Apache Mohave tribe had cast his lot with them. Many had taken their women and children, and 'Tonio would be hunting, possibly, his own flesh and blood. The junior general had ventured to remonstrate by letter, even when issuing the order indicated, but the senior stood to his prerogative with a tenacity that set the junior's teeth on edge, and started territorial and unbecoming comparisons between the division commander's firmness on the fighting line a decade earlier, and far behind it now. San Francisco was perhaps five hundred miles from the scene of hostilities, and those farthest away seldom fail to see clearer than those on the spot, and to think they know better, so Harris and his dusky henchman came up to Almy with little by way of welcome, and back from their first scout with nothing by way of result. Therefore, the sextette of officers that had been but lukewarm at the start became lavish in cordiality at the close. The failure of Harris, the favorite of the chieftain of the big Division, meant that no further criticism could attach to them. If Harris could accomplish nothing worth mention, what could be expected of others?
Therefore, while awaiting the return of the courier sent up to Prescott, with report of what Harris had not accomplished, and asking instructions as to what the gentleman would have next, the commanding officer of the old post, built by California volunteers during the Civil War and garrisoned later by reluctant regulars, set a good example to his subordinates by doing his best to console the "casuals," as visitors were officially rated, and his subordinates loyally followed suit.
But Harris seemed unresponsive. Harris seemed almost sulky. Harris had added silence to dignity, and spent long hours of a sunny day sprawled in a hammock, smoking his pipe and studying 'Tonio, who squatted in the shade at the end of the narrow porch of the old officers' mess building, still more silent and absorbed than his young commander.
And this was the condition of things when the Latest Arrival appeared on the scene, fresh from head-quarters, some ninety miles northwest and two thousand feet higher. He had come late the previous afternoon. He had skated down the flinty scarp of Misery Hill, with the wheels of his buckboard locked, and hauled up at the adjutant's in a cloud of dust and misapprehension, with barely time for a bath and a shave before dinner. He was a new aide-de-camp of the department commander. He had served him well and won his notice on Indian campaigns afar to the north in the Columbia valley, where gum boots and slickers were as indispensable as here they were superfluous. He had never been, he said, so dry in his life as when he scrambled from his mud-colored chariot to the steps of the official residence. The temporal wants had been spiritually removed, but not the impression. Now, some eighteen hours later, he wished to know if it never rained at Almy, and there was no white man could tell him. So, one and all, they looked to 'Tonio, whose earliest recollections were of the immediate neighborhood.
And 'Tonio proved a reluctant witness. Urged by Stannard, the senior captain referred to, Harris put the question in "Pidgin" Apache, and 'Tonio, squatting still, gazed dreamily away toward the huge bulwark of Squadron Peak, and waited for respectful cessation of all talk before he would answer.
At last he rose to his full height and, with a sweeping gesture the length of his arm, pointed to the domelike summit, dazzling in the slant of the evening sunshine, that seemingly overhung the dun-colored adobe corrals on the flats to the south, yet stood full five miles away. 'Tonio so seldom opened his lips to speak that the six men listened with attention they seldom gave to one another. Yet what 'Tonio said was translatable only by Harris:
"When the picacho hides his head in the clouds, then look for rain."
"Lord," said the doctor, "I doubt if ever I've seen a cloud above it—much less on it! If it weren't for the creek yonder the whole post would shrivel up and blow away. Even the hygrometer's dead of disuse—or dry rot. But, talk of drying up, did you ever see the beat of him?" and the doctor was studying anatomy as displayed in this particular Apache.
Five feet ten 'Tonio stood before them, not counting the thatch of his matted black hair, bound with white cotton turban. Five feet ten in height, but so gaunt and wiry that the ribs and bones seemed breaking through the tawny skin, that in flank and waist and the long sweep of his sinewy, fleshless legs, he rivalled the greyhound sprawled at his feet. "'Tonio has not half an ounce of fat in his hide," said Harris, in explaining his tireless work on the trail. "'Tonio can go sixty miles without a gulp of water and come out fresh as a daisy at the end." 'Tonio's eminently fit condition had been something Harris ever held in envy and emulation, yet on this recent scout even 'Tonio had failed him. 'Tonio had complained. To look at him as he stood there now, erect, slender, with deep chest and long, lank arms and legs, trammelled only by the white cotton breechclout that looped over the waist belt and trailed, fore and aft, below the bony knee, his back and shoulders covered by white camisa unfastened at the throat and chest, his feet cased in deerskin moccasins, the long leggings of which hung in folds at the ankles, one could liken him only to the coyote—the half-famished wolf of the sage plain and barren, for even the greyhound knew thirst and fatigue,—knew how to stretch at full length and luxury in the shade, whereas 'Tonio, by day at least, stood or squatted. Never in all their long prowlings, by day or night, among the arid deserts or desolate ranges along the border, had Harris known his chief trailer and scout to hint at such a thing as weariness. Yet, within the week gone by, thrice had he declared himself unable to go farther. Did it mean that at last 'Tonio would purposely fail him, now that there were some of his own people among the renegades?
'Tonio had stoutly denied such a weakness. The few young men with the hostiles, said he, were more Tonto than Mohave—fools who had offended their brothers and dishonored their tribe. Chiefs, medicine men, even the women, he said, disowned them. The braves would kill, and the women spurn, them on sight. 'Tonio pointed to the "hound" scouts with the Verde company—Hualpais, some of them—splendid specimens from the mountains; Apache Yumas, some of them, not quite the peer of the Hualpais; but many of them—most of them, in fact—Apache Mohaves, fiercest, surest trailers of the wild Red Rock country, familiar with every canon and crag in all the rude range from Snow Lake to the Sierra Blanca. "All brothers," protested 'Tonio. "All soldiers. All braves, unafraid of a thousand Tontos, eager only to meet and punish their traitor fellows who had taken the White Chief's pay and bread, pledged their best services and then gone renegading to the fastnesses of the Mogollon," adding with scorn unspeakable, "taking other women with them."
And still Harris was not content. Harris had sent a runner back when the scout was but half finished, with a note to be relayed to Prescott, to tell the general of his ill success and his evil suspicions, and the chief being himself out a-hunting, what did his chief of staff do but order the Newly Arrived down to Almy to meet the home-coming party and see for himself—and his general!
And of all men chosen to meddle in matters concerning "Hefty" Harris, perhaps the latest suitable, in some ways, was his classmate and comrade lieutenant, though in different arms of the service—Hal Willett of "The Lost and Strayed," so called from the fact that they had been sent to desert wilds in '65, scattered over three territories, and despite some hard fighting and many hard knocks, had never, said their detractors, been heard from since.
Rivals they had been in cadet days and more than one pursuit. Rivals they still were in the field of arms, for the name Harris had won for himself in Arizona Willett had matched in the Columbia, and now, fresh from the ill-starred campaign of the Lava Beds, was one of the few men to get something better than hard knocks, censure and criticism. Until the previous evening, not since the day they parted at West Point had they set eyes one on the other, and, knowing nothing of what had gone before and never dreaming of what would come to pass, a benighted bureau officer had sent the one down to find out what was the matter with the other.
And thereby hangs this tale.
For, as luck would have it, there was even then stationed in that far-away land a luckless lieutenant-colonel of infantry who had started with good prospects in the Civil War, had early been given command of a brigade of volunteers and within the month had had his raw concourse of undrilled, undisciplined levies swept from under him in the first fierce onset at Shiloh. What else could have been expected of men to whom arms had been issued but ten days before, and who had not yet learned which end to bite from the cartridge? Hurled from his terrified horse, the general had been picked up senseless, to see no more of fighting until Stone's River, eight months later, where with a more seasoned command the same thing happened. And still he persisted, when well of an ugly wound, and, while juniors in years and length of service were now heading corps and divisions, with double stars on their shoulders, and he had to begin again with a brigade, he got into line for Chickamauga with his usual luck just within range of the fatal gap left by a senior in command—the gap through which poured the impetuous gray torrent of the Southland—and for the third time everything crumbled away in spite of him, while he was left for dead upon the field. He had done his best, as had other men, and had fared only the worst. It was a case of three times and out. The impatient North had no more use for names linked only with disaster. When, finally exchanged, he limped back to duty, they put him on courts, boards and other back-door business until the war was over, then sent him to the Pacific Slope, with the blanket brevet of March, 1865, and here he was, eight long years thereafter, "The General" by way of title, without the command; silver leaves where once gleamed the stars on his shoulders; silver streaks where once rippled chestnut and gold; wrinkled of visage and withered in shank; kindly, patient, yet pathetic; "functioning" a four-company post in a far-away desert, with grim mountain chains on east and west, and waters on every side of him, four long weeks and four thousand miles by mail route from home, and much longer by sea; with nothing to do but send out scouts, sign papers, sing an old song or two when the spirit moved him; with not a thing in his soldier past to be ashamed of, nothing much in his soldier present to rejoice in, nothing whatever in his soldier future to hope for, finding his companionship in the comrades about him, and his sweetest comfort in the unswerving love of a devoted wife, and their one unstinted pride and delight, Lilian, their only daughter—their only surviving child.
Many of these eight years of what then was exile, while he, at first as a major of foot, was campaigning in regions long since reclaimed from savagery, and rusticating at frontier forts long since forgotten, Lilian and her mother had dwelt in lodgings at "The Bay" that the child might have the advantage of San Francisco's schools. Only once each year, until of late, had he been able to visit them, usually at Christmas-tide, but by every runner, courier, stage or post there came to them his cheery letters, bearing such old-time, outlandish post-marks or headings as "Lapwai," "Three Forks, Owyhee," and later "Hualpai," or "Hassayampa," until finally it became mild, civilized, pacific, even "Almy."
The uniform of a general, that the law had let him wear just as long in peace as had been the war in years, was finally packed in camphorated hope of resurrection, and the garb of actual rank resumed in 1870. He could bear the title ad infinitum, but not the sign.
The silver leaf, as said, had come to replace the worn and tarnished gold by '73, then mountain fever had seized and laid him by the heels, and then all the Indians in Arizona, or the army women out of it, could not dissuade Mrs. Archer from her duty. She and Lilian were the heroines of a buckboard ride from Drum Barracks to the Colorado, from the Colorado to Prescott, from Prescott down through wild and tortuous canons to and beyond the valley of the Verde—to the wondering eyes of the waiting garrison and the welcoming arms of the fond husband and father at Almy.
And this was but the week gone by, just before the "Newly Arrived" had reached Prescott—just before "Hefty" Harris had returned from scout. Not until this very morning—the first since their reunion of that warm, yet winter's evening of the previous day—had the two classmates set eyes on Miss Archer (it was as she rode away by her father's side for a canter up the valley), and not until this late afternoon, as the sun was dipping behind the black range of the Mazatzal, did they have opportunity to speak with her.
Even as 'Tonio stood, silent and statuesque, while the doctor went on record as to the rainfall of the Verde watershed, there came suddenly into view, jogging quietly up the winding road from the lower ford, three riders, followed by half a pack of lagging, yapping hounds—"The Old Man," the maiden and the orderly—and all men on the wooden porch of the unpainted mess building, rose to their feet in deference to the united "powers above," rank and age, youth and beauty, and presently the commander was saying for the benefit of the two new-comers: "My daughter, gentlemen. Lilian, Mr. Harris, Mr. Willett."
Inadvertently he had named them in the inverse order of rank—a small matter, though Willett had been promoted to his bar a year ahead of Harris. Otherwise, it was with a fair field and no favor the old-time rivals of cadet days stood for the first time in the presence of the only army girl at that moment to be found in the far-flung shadow of the Mazatzal—stood side by side, facing both the starter and the prize in what was destined to be the last great contest of their lives.
"Come and dine with us this evening, you two," the "Old Man" was saying, a few minutes later. He had been home long enough to consult the "Commanding General," as he frequently referred to that smiling better half, and to compare notes as to the condition of the larder and cellar. He had flung conventionality to the winds, as most of us had to in early Arizona days. "You others," he said, "have suffered so often from my steaks and stories, you're glad not to be included. To-day I'm bidding only these two youngsters. You know our dining table holds only six. No, never mind about the call!" he interposed, with uplifted hands, one to receive the toddy Briggs was stirring for him, the other in kindly protest, for both the youngsters were on their feet confusedly striving to make it understood that they had only been waiting for the cool of the evening to come to pay their respects. "And never mind about spike tail and shirt fronts either—come just as you are!"
"Indeed, I'll have to, sir," said Willett, whose undress uniform fitted him like a glove and was cut and made by the then expert military artist of the far East. They had not taken it too kindly, these others in white cotton sack coats, hewed and stitched by the company tailor, or even in canvas shooting rig, as was Harris, that the young aide-de-camp, after brief siesta in the mid-day lazy hour, should have appeared among them all, fresh-shaved and tubbed, and in faultless, bran-new, spick-and-span cap and blouse and trousers, with black silk socks and low-cut patent leather "Oxford ties." Harris, hammock slung, and moodily studying 'Tonio, looked approvingly, but made no remark whatever. Stannard, ever blunt and short of speech, had shoved his hairy hands deep in his trousers' pockets, a thing no sub would twice venture in his presence, looked Willett over from head to foot, then, with a sniff, had turned away, but Bentley and Turner had indulged in whimsical protest, "Gad, man, but you put us all to shame," said the surgeon. "I've seen no rig to match that since I came to this post. It's rarer than rain."
"What do you wear when you call on the commanding officer?" queried the Latest Arrival, with jovial good-nature. "Thank you, Briggs. That was a good toddy."
"Never had a family here until this week," said Bentley, "and such calling as I've done has been in what I happened to have on, and even then I've wished we dressed like 'Tonio there. Why, Mr. Willett, only once since I came to this post has there been an officer's daughter with us. Only twice has there been an officer's wife. Even Mrs. Archer wouldn't have tried it if the general hadn't been sick."
Willett laughed again, good-naturedly as before. "Well," said he, "in the field 'The Lost and Strayed' didn't dandy much, but here I had not even unpacked my trunk; had a whole buckboard to myself after we left Captain Wickham at the Big Bug, so I just fetched 'em along. This is light, you see—nothing but serge," and he held forth his arm. "Up there, of course, we had no use for white. Gunboats and 'plebeskins' was full dress half the year round——" And just then it had occurred to him to put that question: "Does it never rain here?" and in so doing he had appealed rather to Stannard and his fellows of the line, quite as though he thought Bentley doing too much of the talk, especially since Bentley's bent was criticising. But Stannard, as we have seen, had referred back the question, whereat the doctor, defrauded of his game, yawned languidly and turned over the matter to 'Tonio, thus dragging Harris, all unwilling, into the tide of talk, and presently out of his hammock. Next thing noticed of him he had disappeared.
To no man as yet, save the lieutenant-colonel commanding, had Willett told the purpose of his coming. Late the previous evening Archer had come to his office to receive the aide-de-camp, and there listened to his message. "The Old Man" looked up suddenly as he sat in the lamplight at the rude wooden table that served for his official desk, surprise and concern mingling in his kindly face.
"The general said that?" he asked.
"No, sir: the adjutant-general who was left in charge. The general is away hunting."
"I might have known that," said Archer to his inner self. To the aide-de-camp he merely bowed—bowed most courteously. He liked boys, and the Lord had seen fit to take back to himself the one lad poor Archer had liked most, and loved unspeakably.
"I think I shall say—nothing of it," said he, presently, after some reflection, "and—you can find out, through Harris, all there is to be told."
And not a word had he said, even to the post adjutant, from the moment of Willett's reporting to him at nine the night before, yet every man of the officers' mess knew well that something had sent the young staff officer to Almy—that something was to be looked into—and every man, including Harris, felt it in his bones that that something was the recent and unprofitable scout. That being the case, it placed them all on the defensive, and Willett, unhappily, upon his mettle.
A silence fell upon the party when it was found Harris was gone. 'Tonio himself had risen again, had stood gazing awhile along the eastward mountains, tumbling up toward a brazen sky, then had slowly vanished from sight round the corner of the adobe wall.
"Sticks closer'n a brother," said Stannard, epigrammatically, with a look at Turner, his comrade captain, whereat the latter shot a warning glance, first at Stannard, then toward the unconscious N.A., now hobnobbing with Briggs at the mess-room door.
"Harris doesn't like the young swell! What's the matter, d'ye s'pose?" asked Bucketts, the post quartermaster, a man of much weight, but not too much discrimination.
"Bosh! They're classmates and old chums," was Stannard's quick reply. "Harris is hipped because his scout was a fizzle, and he simply doesn't feel like talking."
"All the same, he doesn't like Willett, classmate or no classmate. You mark my words," persisted the man of mops and brooms, and Stannard, who had seen the youngster's face as he turned away, knew well the quartermaster was right. Therefore was it his duty, for the sake of the regiment, said he, to stand by Harris as hailing from the cavalry. He scoffed at the quartermaster and began to pace the veranda. 'Twas high time for evening stables, and the brief and perfunctory grooming the short-coupled, stocky little mountain climbers daily received. The herds had been driven in, watering in the shallows as they forded the stream full fifteen minutes before. There were only the surgeon, the adjutant, the quartermaster, and Lieutenant Willett seated on the veranda when Harris presently came back, silent as before, but clad in undress uniform, as neat and trim as that of the Latest Arrival, if not so new. Then came General Archer, his daughter, and the meeting. Then, a few minutes later, the bid to dinner, and then, barely an hour from that time, the dinner itself—a function the classmates marched to almost arm in arm when either would rather have been without the other.
The members of what there was of the mess, six officers in all, sat waiting the summons to their own board, and gazing idly after. Stannard, the only married captain whose wife had had the nerve to go to that desolate and distant station, was sitting under his own figurative vine and fig-tree represented by a pine veranda, about which neither vine nor fig nor other tree had ever been induced to grow, but that was not without other extravagances, since it represented to Uncle Sam an aggregate sum that could be best computed at a shilling a shingle. Stannard, hearing footsteps on the sandy soil, glanced up from the columns of an Alta California, ten days old, and growled through the adjacent blinds "They're coming now," whereat there was sound of rustling skirt within, and between the slats there came a glimpse of shining, big blue eyes, alive with womanly interest, and parted lips disclosing two opposing rows of almost perfect teeth, all the whiter by contrast with the sunburned, "sonsy" face that framed them. Together, yet separated, this Darby and Joan of the far frontier sat and watched the coming pair. "Isn't it good to see the real uniform again?" said she. "Isn't it absurd to think of trying a dinner here?" said he. Then both subsided as the two young officers stepped upon the resounding boards of the next veranda to the south, knocked at the commander's open door and were promptly welcomed.
"Now, Luce, they're going to have a very nice dinner," protested Mrs. Stannard. "I was in there helping over an hour, and Mrs. Archer's a wonder! Even if the dinner didn't amount to much, there would be Lilian."
"They can't eat her," persisted, grimly, the man.
"She looks sweet enough to eat," responded the woman. "You ought to see her. After a six hours' ride she looks fresh as a daisy, all creamy white with—but you wouldn't understand——"
"What on earth kept them out so long?"
"Didn't I tell you? Why, they went away to Bennett's ranch. Couldn't find a vestige of vegetables nearer. Mrs. Bennett has a little patch where she raises lettuce and radishes. The orderly carried a basket full of truck, and leaves and flowers, poppies and cactus, you know, and you've no idea how pretty they've made the table look."
Stannard sniffed. "Take their Sauterne hot or lukewarm?" he asked. "Fancy a dinner without ice, fruit or cream!"
"Of course they haven't white wine here, Luce! But there's claret—famous claret, too, and the water in the big olla's even cooler than the spring. They'll have French dressing for the salad. They have tomato soup even you couldn't growl at, and roast chicken, with real potatoes, and petits pois, and corn, and olives; then salad cool as the spring; then there's to be such an omelette soufflee—and coffee!—but it's the way the table looks, Luce!"
"Men don't care how a thing looks, so long as it tastes right. How does it look?"
"So white and fresh, and sprinkled with green and purple and crimson, the leaves and the poppies, you know. She——" But Mrs. Stannard broke off suddenly. "What is it, Wettstein?" she asked, for their own particular chef, a German trooper, with elementary culinary gifts, appeared in the hallway.
"It's Suey, mattam, says would Mrs. Stannard come over a minute. He's stuck, mattam."
"Stuck! Heavens! how?" cried Mrs. Stannard, up at once in alarm, and vanishing through the dim light of the blanketed window. The presumably punctured Chinaman was even then in full flight for his own kitchen door, some fifty feet away, and Mrs. Stannard followed. No Roman in Rome's quarrel was ever more self-sacrificing than were our army women of the old days in their helpfulness. Had the hounds ravished the roast again, as once already had happened? If so, the Stannard dinner stood ready to replace it, even though she and her captain had to fall back on what could be borrowed from the troop kitchen. No, the oven door was open, the precious chickens, brown, basted and done to a turn, were waiting Suey's deft hands to shift them to the platter. (No need to heat it even on a December day.) Mrs. Stannard's quick and comprehensive glance took in every detail. The "stick" was obviously figurative—mere vernacular—yet something serious, for Suey's olive-brown skin was jaundiced with worry, and the face of Doyle, the soldier striker, as he came hurrying back from the banquet board, was beading with the sweat of mental torment. Soup, it seems, was already served, and Doyle burst forth, hoarse whispering, before ever he caught sight of the visiting angel.
"Sure I can't, Suey! The General's sittin' on it!"
And Suey's long-nailed Mongolian talons went up in despair as he turned appealingly to their rescuer.
"Sitting on what, Doyle? Quick!" said Mrs. Stannard.
"The sherry, ma'am! The doctor sent it over wid his comps to s'prise him, an' my orders was to fill the little glasses when I'd took in the soup, an' I put it under the barrel chair——"
But Mrs. Stannard had heard enough. Even though convulsed with merriment, she seized a pencil and scribbled a little line on a card. "Give this to Mrs. Archer," she said, and a moment later, in the midst of his first story, the veteran was checked by these placid words from the head of the table:
"Pardon me, dear, but you are on the lid of the wine cooler. Let Doyle get at it a moment."
The general was not the nimblest-witted man in the service, but long experience had taught him the wisdom of prompt observance of any suggestion that came from his wife. Dropping his napkin, and the thread of his tale, he rose to his feet. Blushing furiously, Doyle bent, and with vigorous effort pried off a circular, perforated top, revealing a dark, cylindrical space beneath, from the depths of which he lifted a dripping bucket of galvanized iron, and sped, thus laden, away to the kitchen, to the music of Mrs. Archer's merry laughter and a guffaw of joy from the general's lips.
"How came you to put it there, sir?" demanded he, a moment later, as Doyle circumnavigated the table, filling, as ordered, the five little glasses with fragrant Amontillado. "I must tell you, gentlemen, this is one of the pleasant surprises that most admirable woman yonder is forever putting up on me. Life would be a desert without such."
"Indeed it wasn't mine!" expostulated madam, "though I'm deeply indebted to somebody. Who was it, Doyle?"
"Docther Bentley, ma'am. He said I was to keep it dark, ma'am—'an' in the coolest place I could find——"
But here the peals of laughter silenced the words and rang the glad tidings to listening, waiting ears in the kitchen that all was well. Mrs. Stannard scurried away to explain to her Luce, and the dinner went blithely on.
"You did right, Doyle! you did right!" shouted the general, "and we'll drink the doctor's health. Keep it dark, indeed! Haw, haw, haw!" And then nothing would do but he must tell the story of this precious and particular chair. Furniture, even such as he bought at San Francisco, and would live to a green old age along the Pacific, came speedily to pieces in the hot, dry atmosphere of Arizona. Little enough there was of cabinet ware, to be sure, because of the cost of transportation; but such as there was, unless riveted in every seam and joint, fell apart at most inopportune moments. Bureaus and washstands, tables, sofas and chairs, were forever shedding some more or less important section, and the only reliable table was that built by the post carpenter, the quartermaster.
And so these pioneers of our civilization, the men and women of the army, had had no little experience in cabinetmaking and upholstering. While the emigrants and settlers, secure under its wing, could turn swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks, as saith the Scriptures, their soldier folk turned clothing boxes into couches, soap boxes into cradles, and pork barrels into fauteuils. Chintz and calico, like charity, covered a multitude of sins, as declared in unsightly cracks and knotholes. The finest reclining chair in all Camp Almy belonged to the doctor, a composite of condemned stretchers and shelter tent. The best dining-room set was sawed out from sugar barrels, and, being stuffed with old newspapers and gayly covered with cheese cloth and calico, rivaled in comfort, if not in airy elegance, the twisted woodwork of Vienna. When it was known that Mrs. and Miss Archer had descended upon the camp, and their beloved commander had next to nothing by way of furniture with which to deck their army home, every officer hastened to place his household goods—such "C. and G.E." as did not belong to the hospital—at the general's disposal. The Stannards sent three riveted, cane-bottomed, dining-room chairs and their spare room outfit complete. Captain Turner, whose fair-complected partner had not yet ventured to these destructive suns, sent bedstead and bureau, the latter without knobs, but you could pry the drawers open with the point of a sabre. The post trader drove up from the store with a lot of odds and ends. Even the bachelors were keen to do something. All of which Mrs. Archer most gratefully and smilingly accepted and made mental note of for future return in kind. But, in spite of the Stannards' contribution, the general stood firmly to his prerogative and sat close on his throne—"The finest dining chair in all Arizona, sir," as he often declared. "Sawed out from a standard oak whiskey barrel at Old Port Buford in '58, according to my own ideas and lines, and sound as a dollar to-day, sir, and it's only been covered three times in all. Look at it!" And here, with a flourish, he would whip off the seat. "Combination chair and butler's pantry, sir. Used to keep my whiskey and tobacco there when the redskins had the run of the post and thought nothing of searching our quarters. And now Doyle's used it as the doctor prescribed, and then gone and forgotten it! Haw, haw, haw! By Jove, but that's capital sherry! Cool almost as if it had been iced! Harris, my boy, you don't drink!"
There was a moment's silence. Then the young officer answered, simply, yet almost apologetically:
"Why—I never have, sir."
It happened at a moment when Willett, seated at the right of "the lady of the house," with Lilian at his dexter side, had caught the eye of his hostess, and, after the manner of the day, had raised his brimming sherry glass and, bowing low, was drinking to her health, a feat the general had thrice performed already. "If I'd only known of this, gentlemen," said their host, but a moment earlier, with resultant access of cordiality, "and could have found a drop of Angostura about the post, we'd have had a 'pick-me-up' before dinner, but d'you know I—I seldom have bitters about me. I've no use for cocktails. I never touch a drop of stingo before twelve at noon or after twelve at night. I agree with old Bluegrass. Bluegrass was post surgeon at the Presidio when the Second Artillery came out in '65, right on the heels of the war, and he did his best to welcome them—especially Breck, their adjutant, also a Kentuckian. Then he was ordered East, and he left Breck his blessing, his liquor case, and this admonition—Breck told it himself. 'Young man,' said he, 'I observe you drink cocktails. Now, take my advice and don't do it. You drink the bitters and they go to your nose and make it red. You drink the sugar and it goes to your brain and makes it wopsy, and so—you lose all the good effects of the whiskey'! Haw, haw, haw!" It was a story the genial old soldier much rejoiced in, one that Stannard had bet he would tell before dinner was half over, and it came with Doyle and the chickens. The kindly, wrinkled, beaming face, red with the fire of Arizona's suns, redder by contrast with the white mustache and imperial, was growing scarlet with the flame of Bentley's cherished wine, when in sudden surprise he noted that the junior officer present, seated alone at his right (there was no other girl in all Camp Almy to bid to the little feast, and Mrs. Stannard, in mourning for a brother, could not accept), had turned down the little sherry glass. Thirty years ago such a thing was as uncommon in the army as fifty years ago it was unheard of in civil life. For one instant after the young officer's embarrassed answer the veteran sat almost as though he had heard a rebuke. It was Mrs. Archer who came to the relief of an awkward situation. "Mr. Harris believes in keeping in training," she ventured lightly. "He could not excel in mountain scouting without it. The general's scouting days are over and we indulge him." Indeed, it wasn't long before it began to look as though the general were indulging himself. Claret presently succeeded the sherry, but not until Bentley's health had been drunk again and the orderly summoned from the front porch to go, with the general's compliments, and tell him so. "This claret," he then declared, "is some I saved from the dozen Barry & Patton put aboard the Montana when I came round to Yuma last year. It's older than Lilian," this with a fond and playful pinch at the rosy cheek beside him, "and almost as good. No diluting this, Mr. Willett," for he saw that young officer glancing from the empurpled glass to the single carafe that adorned the table, its mate having met dissolution when the general's chest was prematurely unloaded in Dead Man's Canon en route to the post. "Dilute your California crudities all you like, but not the red juice from the sunny vines of France. No, sir! Moreover, this and old Burgundy are the wines you must drink at blood heat. No Sauturnes or Hocks or champagnes for us fire worshippers in Arizona! Lilian here and my blessed wife yonder don't like these red wines for that reason. They want something to cool their dainty palates, but men, sir, and soldiers—— What's this, Bella, Bellisima? Salad—French dressing—and cool, too! Bravissima, my dear! How did you manage it? The olla? Why, of course! Cool anything. Cool my old head, if need be. Hey, Willett?"
And all this time, when not chatting with the debonair officer at her side or saying a word to his bronzed, sun-dried, silently observant comrade opposite, Lilian's fond eyes forever sought her father's rubicund face, love and admiration in every glance. All this time, even while in cordial talk with her guests, Mrs. Archer never seemed to lose a look or word from her soldier liege; never once did her winsome smile or joyous laugh fail to reward his sallies; never once came there shade of anxiety upon her beaming face. "The General" was the head of that house, and they were his loyal subjects. They even sipped at the outermost ripple of the thimbleful of claret each had permitted Doyle to pour. Even when a loud "cloop" in the dark passageway to the kitchen told that another bottle was being opened as the omelet came in, borne aloft by white-robed Suey, crowned with red poppies and blue blazes, and set triumphantly before the mistress of the feast, Harris could detect no flutter of disapprobation. Even when, later still, the general's eager hand, stretching forth for the dusky flagon (it was sacrilege to sweep away those insignia of age and respectability), managed to capsize the candelabrum and sent the fluid "adamantine" spattering a treasured table-cloth (how quick the dash of the young trooper's hand upon the flame—and its extinction!), a gentle smile was the sole rebuke, followed by a "Thank you, Mr. Harris. I hope you didn't burn your hand! That's all my fault." The general declared it foolish to put candles on the table when we could have sconces by the dozen on the walls.
Indeed, there must have been a dozen candles, not to mention the big lamps of forbidden kerosene upon shelf and sideboard, each backed by its reflector of glistening tin. "We were vain, you see," continued Mrs. Archer, "of our two old-fashioned heirlooms. Those quaint three-socket sticks were brought by the general's grandfather from England in Colonial days." It was so with everything they had, though they had so little. The massive silver forks, the worn old spoons, the squat little sugar bowl and creamer that came in later, all bore a crest and a single word. All had been "The General's" before ever that well-descended veteran had bent the knee in wooing. All had been stored in San Francisco until their coming to cheer his exile, but now were duly paraded in honor of their first guests at Almy, the young scout leader from the southern border, and his classmate, the new aide-de-camp of the commanding general; both, as was understood, to leave them on the morrow.
And all this time, too, though the windows, Arizona fashion, were blanketed to exclude all heatful light throughout the day (those of the dining-room being hidden behind Navajo fabrics in black and white, and blue and crimson), the hallways were wide open that no breath of air might be lost. The hounds clustered whimpering and wondering at the doorways, front and rear, resentful of the vigilance with which the orderlies on duty withstood their dashes, they who long weeks and months had had the run of the house. Darkness had settled down upon the sandy parade. The lights gleamed along the opposite front, the long barracks of the soldiery, and the stars were glinting bright above the beetling pine crests beyond the murmuring stream. Over at the mess the surgeon, the adjutant, quartermaster, Captain Bonner of the infantry, with his subaltern, and solemn Captain Turner, sat on the veranda, smoked their pipes, and even while keeping up a semblance of talk, had an eye and an ear on the bungalow—the "Old Man's" quarters not three hundred feet away. The boom of his jovial laughter still rang out upon the air, and presently the tinkle of guitar, the swish of feminine garments, the rasp of chairs and the merry mingling of voices told that the little dinner party, the first the camp had ever known—for what is a dinner party without women—had quit the table and gathered on the porch. By this time, too, an unclouded moon had sailed aloft from behind the screen of eastward heights, and its beams were pouring slantwise upon the group, that portion of it, at least, that now was seated near the southern end. They who watched were not slow to see that Lilian had taken a chair within a few feet of the edge, with Willett still in close attendance. The red heart of the general's cigar was visible midway between the window and the central doorway, but the jovial host was wrapped in shade. The light from the doorway fell upon the white gown of Mrs. Archer and the trim, slender, undersized figure of Lieutenant Harris, standing before her. They heard the general's voice, cordial and resonant, uplifted presently in protest: "No, don't go yet, boy. Let 'Tonio take care of himself to-night. I want you both to hear Lilian sing. Here, orderly, you go find 'Tonio and give him my compliments—No! you just tell 'Tonio I want to see him."
The orderly with Archer, as with many another post commander, was the final resort, the cure-all, the infallible means of settlement of all matters in dispute. The orderly went and stood not on the order of his going. He knew not 'Tonio, nor where to find him, but he knew better than to say so—to say anything. He went straightway to the sergeant of the guard, than whom no man is supposed to know more what is going on about the post. That Harris might have the pleasure of hearing the promised song (he surely could not think of going now) the mess devoutly hoped, and were in nowise too content when the sound of moving, of people getting to their feet, and of Archer's jocund welcome, told that callers had come to join the recent revellers, and that meant, of course, the Stannards, for there was really no one else. And then it was remembered that Stannard had said that Mrs. Archer had asked that they should come over after dinner, since they could not well attend it. Lilian's singing was something all save these two young soldiers had already heard, enjoyed and longed to hear again, and the mess could not but wish that old Stannard had not been so exact in his interpretation, and punctual in his acceptance of that invitation. There followed a few minutes of general talk and laughter, and then Archer's voice was again dominant. Nothing would do but that the Stannards both come in and taste that famous claret (which neither desired after dinner, however much it might then have been enjoyed). Then all went trooping in-doors again, all save Lilian and Lieutenant Harris, for presently these two came sauntering into the moonlight at the southward end of the veranda. The girl resumed her seat and guitar; the young officer the chair lately occupied by Willett, and here full ten minutes were they in conversation when the orderly came stalking back from the guard-house; the quintette came flocking forth from the hallway, and Willett, coming to resume his seat and chat, found his classmate in possession. It was the first opportunity that had fallen to Harris, and if Willett hoped or expected that he would rise and surrender in his favor he was doomed to disappointment. Harris never so much as turned his head.
They were an odd contrast, these two young graduates of the nation's soldier school, as they looked to Captain Stannard that November night. He spoke of it to his wife and thought of it long after, for he, too, had come toward the little group a bit impatient, it must be owned, of the general's mellow monologue, and wearying of a conversation in which he had no part. But here again Stannard found scant opportunity. Miss Archer, bending slightly forward, was, with much animation describing to Mr. Harris the brilliant ball given by the artillery at the Presidio just before they were hurried off to that fatal Modoc war. Harris, caring little for the affair, and possibly hearing little of what she was saying, sat as though drinking in every word, and gazing enthralled upon the beauty of her sweet young face. He, too, was bending forward, his lithe, slender, supple frame clad in the trim undress uniform of the day, his clear-cut face, with its thin, almost hollow cheeks, tanned brown by the blazing suns of the southern desert, his hair cropped close to his shapely head, his gray-blue eyes, large, full and steady, fixed unswerving upon her. Leaning on his elbow, one lean brown hand was toying with the sun-bleached ends of his mustache, the other, with the class ring gleaming in the moonlight, lay idly on his knee. Lacking stature, size or weight, the physical attributes that make a man impressive, he looked the picture of the young athlete, firm and fit and trained for speed and staying power, yet cold in his steel-like strength and quality.
Overtopping him, standing where he, too, could hear and gaze, elegant in form, graceful in pose, and precise in dress, the picture of chivalric officer and gentleman, Hal Willett had the advantage of nearly six more inches in height, a presence that was at once commanding and assured, and a face as strikingly handsome as that of Harris was severely plain. Willett's eyes and hair were of a deep, lustrous brown, his eyebrows thick and heavily arched, his mouth soft, sensitive, with lips that were beautifully curved and teeth that were white and well-nigh perfect. His mustache, though long and curling, was carefully trained away so as to hide none of the charms that lurked beneath. He looked at once the knight of the ballroom and the battlefield, a man to make his mark in either contest, love or war, and make it he had. Life had been full of gifts to Harold Willett. He came from old border stock. His name was first of the presidential ten the year he entered the Point, first on the list of cadet corporals in the yearling June and first among the first sergeants the following year. An uncontradicted rumor had it that he could have been sergeant-major, but that he told the commandant his ambition lay in the senior captaincy, and first captain he had been named his first class summer, only to lose it late in August, the penalty of a rash and forbidden exploit for the sake of a smile, and possibly a caress, and lose it to the man who, starting at the foot of the list of his chevroned fellows two years before, had risen only to "late sergeant" of a centre company when they came from furlough, but, standing foremost in "Tactics," well up in every subject but French and drawing, and impeccable in conduct, won a captaincy in spite of his lack of inches. Graduating a dozen files ahead of his brilliant comrade, Harris had sought and won commission in the cavalry, was sent to duty in New Mexico and then in Arizona, ever roughing it in the deserts or the mountains until in physique he was hard as hickory, and in spirit wellnigh as elastic. Never until this recent experience in the Apache Mohave country had he shown symptom of discouragement. Now it was the more noticeable because coupled, it would seem, with distrust—distrust of him who had been for two years past an inseparable guide and even comrade, 'Tonio, "gran capitan" of Indian scouts.
And even as he sat there absorbed in the sweet vision in the moonlight before him, studying the play of her sensitive lips, forgetful for the moment of all else about him, there fell across the glistening boarding at her feet the shadow of a turbaned head, at sight of which she started, with faint, half-suppressed cry of fright; then, as though ashamed, broke into a nervous little laugh. Harris was in an instant on his feet, and whirling, confronted 'Tonio, tall, gaunt, silent, impassive.
"Que quiere?" he demanded, in the blunt vernacular of the service. It annoyed him that subordinate of his should thus appear unseen, unheard, unsummoned, and to her affright. He forgot the noiseless sand, the soft-soled moccasins, the native stealth; forgot at the moment the general's mandate and the orderly's mission. It flashed upon him at 'Tonio's quiet answer, grave, unresentful, and in the Apache tongue.
"My chief called me."
"Pardon me just one moment, Miss Archer. I'll come back at once," said Harris, bending over the still trembling girl. Then, turning sharply and bidding 'Tonio follow, his eyes met those of Willett, smiling affably.
"I'll keep it while you're gone, Hefty," said he, with laughing ease of manner, sliding promptly into the vacated seat. "Now, Miss Archer, if you'll be so good as to go right on where you left off, I'll be all gratitude and attention."
Without answer, Harris stepped lightly over to where the general and Stannard were now deep in one-sided argument over the merits of a war-time leader, known well to men of the Union Army east or west; the general declaiming, the junior listening, unconvinced. It was one point on which they differed widely, one on which the general was apt to dilate when warmed by wine. He had had only moderate aid from Willett in disposing of two bottles of sound old claret, and one was enough to set the garrulous tongue to wagging. He would not cease at sight of Harris, standing silent and respectful before him. Stannard had to interpose and say, "You sent for 'Tonio, sir, as I happened to hear," as indeed they all did, far and near, whereat the veteran turned.
"Bless my soul, boy, so I did! What for, I wonder?"
"To save my going over with night orders for the scouts, I think, sir," said Harris promptly, "and, unless you wish to see him personally, I'll tell him now."
"Must you make so early a start, Harris? It's only thirty miles to the canon."
"I know, sir, but I need to be at Bennett's before sunrise. Their scouts would see us if we started later. We go on to the canon after I have examined that neighborhood."
"All right, then. Buckets will issue rations at once. Start when you think best. But now, Stannard, see here; if he was such a stayer and so energetic in Virginia, how do you account for——"
But Harris had saluted and turned away, 'Tonio at his heels. As they passed the end of the veranda, where sat Lilian and her listener, Harris noted that the latter had drawn his chair much closer than he had dared, and was bending forward until the handsome dark head was almost over the fair hand toying with the guitar that lay idly in her lap. The modern vernacular for the successful squire of dames was then unknown. The girl, who had been leaning forward, all chat and animation when Harris sat there, now lay dreamily back in the rude but easy chair, her eyelids drooping, her long lashes sweeping the soft cheek, listening, drinking in the murmurous flow of Willett's almost inaudible words, and the stern young face of his classmate hardened in the moonlight, for Harris had seen and heard before. Briefly he gave his instructions to the silent Apache and closed with the sign, "I have spoken. That is all."
But 'Tonio did not stir. Something, possibly, in Willett's devotional attitude vaguely troubled the girl, and, edging back in her chair, she had lifted a little slippered foot from the floor. The general at the moment was talking loud enough to drown other sounds about him. The aide-de-camp, his dark eyes glowing and riveted on those of the fair face so near him, seemed deaf to everything but his own eloquence. But the Indian had placed one hand on his young officer's wrist, and with the other stood pointing at some object coiled underneath Lilian's chair, not half an arm's length from the little foot that dangled in its silken stocking but a hand's-breadth from the floor. At that moment Willett bent impressively, still nearer, and instinctively Lilian moved a hand as though about to edge farther away. It was at this very instant that Harris spoke, his voice, absolutely calm, even to the semblance of a drawl, but every word told clear, distinct, and, in spite of its courtesy, commanding, compelling.
"Miss Archer and—ah—Willett, be good enough to sit perfectly still a moment. Don't—move—a muscle!"
Even the general, for a wonder, had ceased—for breath, perhaps—and sat speechless and startled, for noiseless and stealthy as a cat, with long strides, 'Tonio had skirted the edge of the veranda, and with agile spring was at the back of Lilian's chair. There he swooped instantly. There was sound of strident, rasping sk-r-r-r-rr: then a lightning snap, as of a whip. Something black and writhing went flying into the sand, and then squirming blindly away, and 'Tonio straightened to his full height, and without a word strode from the veranda.
"In God's name, what was that?" cried the general, springing from his chair and hastening to his daughter's side.
"Nothing but a snake, sir," said Harris quietly, strolling toward them. "That one's done for, anyhow!"
An hour later the lights were out among the barracks, and the silence of the summerlike winter's night had settled on the garrison. Over at the Mess and office buildings all was darkness. Along the log and adobe facade of the officers' quarters, from occasional open doorways the gleam of lantern was thrown across the wooden verandas. The moonbeams flooded the sandy parade and the rough-hewn roofs and walls with tender, silvery radiance that put to shame the twinkling lights, down at the store on the lower flats, and the bleary eye of the big, triangular, glass-faced, iron-bound cresset at the log guard-house, perched at the edge of the mesa. Afar off, through dim vistas of the valley, the silver ribbon of the stream wound and twisted among the willows, but the heights, as a rule, were wrapped in the shadows of their own pines. A game of goodly proportion was going on down at the card room, a brace of ranchmen and prospectors, a venturesome "sub" and the "contract doctor" making up the party, but the general, his household and near neighbors had retired or were retiring for the night. Only the guard and the "owls" were "on deck." Army folk in those days and regions had a way of turning out at dawn for the cool of the morning, turning in at taps for the needed six hours' beauty sleep, lunching lightly at noon, snoozing drowsily an hour or two, then after tub and fresh linen, venturing forth, those who had to, for the afternoon duties. All social enjoyment, as a rule, began when the sun could not see, but had dropped back of the screen of the mountains.
But there was still faint stir at the camp of the scouts, out beyond the corrals. Rations had been drawn at tattoo, and a limited portion issued to the lithe, swarthy fellows, squatted in semicircle in front of their chief, patiently awaiting their share, no man of their number opening so much as the end of a package, either of cartridge or cracker, until the last had his dole and all were served. It was known that before dawn they were again to set forth, whither, not even 'Tonio had been told, and 'Tonio had noted and felt it. Hitherto there had been counsel between his young commander and himself. This night there had been none. Instead, only half an hour after the exciting episode at the commanding officer's and the despatching of the intruding rattler, 'Tonio had been summoned to the adjutant's office and then questioned by Lieutenant Willett, with cargador Munoz, not Lieutenant Harris, serving as interpreter. Hitherto 'Tonio had conducted his conference with the Great Father's captains with Lieutenant Harris translating. It was significant both to that officer and to 'Tonio that this time a pack train employe had been selected, his name having been suggested at head-quarters at Prescott, and an orderly sent for him early by way of caution, for Munoz loved monte and mescal. Another significant thing was that Harris had declined an invitation to be present at 'Tonio's examination. "If Mr. Willett has any question to ask me," he said, "he'll find me at Dr. Bentley's," whither, indeed, he had repaired, as it were, awaiting summons.
Moreover, it was patent to Stannard and Turner and Dr. Bentley, too, that Harris took it much amiss that Willett should at last disclose the fact that he was there to "investigate." He had said nothing of it the night before. He had put up at the adjutant's, after quite a long session at the Mess, an affair attended by Harris only an hour or so, and even then only as an absorbed listener, with other fellow-soldiers, to Willett's brilliant description of the recent campaign in the lava beds, culminating as it had in the brutal massacre by the Modocs of their would-be best friends, the peace commissioners, and General Canby. After taps, however, despite his long and dusty buckboard ride, Willett saw fit to "sit in" to the game almost always in progress down at the trader's store. Whereupon Stannard, Turner and Harris, non-participants ever, took themselves off to bed. It was not much of a game, said Strong, who was there, only Willett, Craney, Watson, Briggs and himself, and was remarkable for only one fact, that Case, the bookkeeper, who never before had seemed to care to play, had happened in late, looked curiously on a moment, and then, without having been presented to Willett, seemed desirous of taking a hand. Craney wondered if Case had been drinking again, but Willett took no notice. Willett was feeling very jolly, said Strong, and it was quite late when they finally quit.
Harris was up with the sun looking over his pack train and observing 'Tonio and his fellows. Willett did not turn out until office hours, when he had a conference with General Archer, ending in his expressing a wish to "look about" him for the day. He had asked no questions of Harris; had met him heartily, as classmates should, but with just a suspicion of superiority of manner that Harris could not like, and without a word of appreciation of the capital soldier work Harris had been doing.
There was another reason why Harris resented Willett's investigating his scout that second evening. A total abstainer himself from boyhood, reared by a careful mother and aware for many a year that his father's occasional lapses were her perennial dread, Harris had set his canon against the practice from the day he doffed the gray at West Point, and never swerved from his creed after donning the blue. Not so with Willett. Not so with nine-tenths of his associates. Harris had seen, without remark, that Willett enjoyed the occasional beverages mixed for him at the Mess in the late afternoon, and again had noted that his comrade did quite his share this second evening toward finishing the doctor's sherry, though it was the "Old Man," after all, who "got away with" most of the Bordeaux. Twice after dinner Archer had ushered his guests within doors, once to try what was left of the claret, and later, after the snake episode, when some nerves might be in need of bracing, to sample some phenomenal Monongahela. Then when Harris was through, after saying good-night, he was presently followed by Willett, flushed in face and abrupt in manner. Miss Archer had been spirited off by her mother, and presumably gone to bed. She'd get used to snakes if she stayed long in Arizona, said Willett. What was the sense in scaring her, anyway? Why hadn't Harris quietly given him the tip? He could have snapped Mr. Rattler's head off without anybody being the wiser, and Harris saw that the night-caps, taken on top of all that preceded, had tangled Willett's ideas, despite which fact Willett now announced that he had summoned the interpreter and desired Harris to send 'Tonio to the office for investigation at once.
And Willett represented the commanding general, who knew nothing of what was going on, and Harris could only obey.
It was a dramatic scene as it opened. Willett had not failed to hand a copy of his instructions to the post commander and had left entirely to his judgment the question as to whether the officers should be present. Archer had decided against it. 'Tonio might be alarmed. It were better, he said, that no one except the post adjutant, the interpreter, and Lieutenants Willett and Harris appear, and then Harris, whose letter from the field announcing the ill success of the scout was the original cause of the investigation, said he preferred to be excused. Harris did not wish to appear to 'Tonio in the light of an accuser, and Willett was secretly better content that his classmate should stay away.
Down in the bottom of his heart Willett felt that four years of such experiences as Harris had encountered made him a far better judge of Apache methods and motives than he, Willett, could expect to be. Moreover, he knew well that, were he in Harris's place, he should resent it that an officer no higher in grade, and inferior in Arizona craft, should be sent to inquire into the conduct of his scout. It was just one of those things a tactless chief of staff would sometimes do; but, even though Willett appreciated, none the less did he welcome the order. It put him at once in position of ascendency over a classmate of whose record and success he was both jealous and afraid. If he had felt this earlier in the day the feeling was intensified now, for though he had seemed to some of the officers, to Archer and his family, especially to Lilian, far the more accomplished and attractive of the two, the entrance of that disturbing rattler on the scene had destroyed the equilibrium of affairs. Willett had had no experience with the venomous little reptile, Harris had had much, and Harris's utter sang froid, and cool, commanding words had averted what might have been a tragedy. One start, one sudden move of the girl at that critical moment might well have been fatal. The snake, alarmed and angered by previous stir and by Willett's approaches, was actually coiled for the spring. The tiny fangs would have fastened in a flash on that slender, unprotected ankle, and the rest could only be conjectured.
And so, it was in no judicial mood that Willett began his questioning. Accustomed as he was to the hang-dog, dissolute specimens of degenerate red men he had seen in the Columbia country and the lava beds, he hardly knew what to make of 'Tonio, this ascetic of the mountains, clear eyed, trained to a fineness almost unhuman, all wire and sinew, an Indian withal who looked him straight and fearless in the eye, and held himself as proudly as ever did chieftain of the Aztecs or the Sioux. Summoned from the camp fire to this unsought council, finding himself confronted by strangers, missing his own friend and commander, and instinctively scenting accusation, 'Tonio stood and faced his judges without so much as a tremor.
For a moment Willett sat and studied him. "Siwashes" of Puget's Sound, Klickatats of the Columbia, and scowling, beetle-browed Modocs of upper Nevada he had often met, and their shifting eyes dropped before the keen gaze of the dominant soldier, but this son of the Sierras never so much as suffered the twitch of a muscle, the droop of an eyelash. In the language of the "greaser" cargador, whose border vernacular had suffered through long contact with that of the gringo, "'Tonio didn't scare worth a damn, even when the lieutenant tried bulldozing," but that may merely have been the expression of civilian jealousy of military methods. Being in the pay and under the protection of the United States, 'Tonio could be called on for explanation at any time, only—there were two ways of calling.
"Tell him," said Willett, "the chief-of-chiefs believes the Apache Mohaves are hiding in the Mogollon,—many of them—bucks, squaws and children, and he was sent to find them and to bring them to the reservation. Why did he fail?"
Munoz, as nearly as he could, put the question, but none too confidently.
"Because my people were driven beyond sound of 'Tonio's voice," was the calm reply, the eyes for the officer, the words for the man, and Munoz again translated.
"How so? Was not word sent them by Arahawa?"
"Arahawa said the white brother would come with food and presents to lead them home. What they saw was guns and scouts and soldiers. Therefore, they were afraid and fled. Soldiers with guns catch no Mohaves who fear. Therefore was it useless, and I tired."
"Could you have caught them and persuaded them had you gone alone?" And Willett asked as he had been instructed at headquarters.
"Caught? Yes! Persuaded? No! They say white soldiers killed Comes Flying, brother to Chief Lone Pine."
"How does he know Comes Flying was killed? We heard it only the night I reached Prescott. No one has told it—here." And now the officer's eyes were glittering. The adjutant shifted uneasily in his chair. This was news to him. Comes Flying stood second only to Lone Pine in the tribe, yet Camp Almy had not heard it. 'Tonio had told it not even to Harris.
"The mountain eagle is 'Tonio's friend; the bear, the lynx, the birds are his brothers."
"Then you knew the Apache Mohaves were in the Verde Valley—and in Dead Man's Canon as late as last week—that they had raided Stoner's Ranch?"
"They were not there, nor did they raid Stoner's Ranch! My people stayed not even on the East Fork. They fled deep in the Mogollon."
Willett gave vent to impatient "Pish!" The Indians he had known all lied, of course, but looked it. This man looked him full in the face, even as he lied, and looked the truth.
"I'll show you why we know you lie," said he impulsively, but the adjutant held up a warning hand, saying, "Listen!"
Through the open doorway, barred against unauthorized intruder by the single soldier, standing beyond earshot upon the level of the parade, there came the prolonged cry of a sentry at the upper end of the garrison. Number Three had repeated, but Number Four was impatient, imperative, and the yell came again: "Corporal of the Guard, Number Four!"
"That means something," said the adjutant, springing to his feet. "I'll be back in a minute if it doesn't," and away he went, swift-speeding under the flagstaff, and Munoz followed straight to the base of the staff, where the trumpeter of the guard and three or four men from the barracks were already gathered, their own surreptitious, blanket-shrouded game for the moment forgotten. They were staring through the moonlight straight away to the northeastward chain of heights, rocky and precipitous, that spanned the valley in that direction, and suddenly two of them gave tongue:
"There it is again! Didn't I tell you?"
Far away among the pines at the crest a tiny blaze shot into the skies, brilliant even in the moonshine. "Signal fire, sure!" said three voices at once. "Signal fire, sure!" echoed other voices, as more men came running forth from the barracks to join the watchers on the parade. "Signal fire, sure, and right up over the Bennett Ranch—where the general was to-day!"
"My God, I wonder have they jumped it! Yonder comes the corporal—back—running!"
Back, indeed, and running and straight for the doctor's, where he could be heard banging at the open door. So away went the trumpeter, full tilt for tidings, and others, impatient, followed. Instead of coming back the trumpeter kept on, running still harder toward the brow of the hill and the post of Number Four. It was the corporal who called to his halting and anxious fellows:
"It's Bennett's Ranch! His dago's in with the news—mos' dead down there on Number Four; says they've killed the whole family—'Patchie Mohaves!"
There was awed silence one moment. Then a deep voice broke it, and all eyes turned on the speaker. 'Tonio.
"Apache Mohave? No! No!!"
Bennett's "dago," when halted by Number Four, was as limp a specimen of humanity as that drowsy young trooper had seen in all his soldier days. Bennett's dago was no stranger to the post, having occasionally come thither on errands for his employer, and semi-occasionally appeared without such semblance of authority, but, whether his mission was for master or man, it had never hitherto failed to lead to the store and monte. Small as was the garrison, and few as were the neighboring ranches, there was generally business enough to support two card rooms, one for officers and the "gente fino"—the trader, his partner, the chief packer, forage master, and an occasional rancher or prospector; the other, a big one, and often a riotous, for the soldiery, scouts, packers and riffraff of the frontier, and for this establishment Bennett's dago had an indescribable fascination. Here he had met and differed with Munoz, the two coming to a knife duel, promptly suppressed by the gun butts of the guard. None the less was Munoz called into requisition as interpreter, for between peril, exhaustion and defective English the "dago" could only splutter an unintelligible jargon that might have been Sicilian, Maltese, or Calabrian, but could not be Spanish. Bennett, it seems, had picked him up for dead on the Verde road, early in the spring of the year, and Mrs. Bennett had nursed the poor devil back to life. Then it turned out that he knew how to cook. Later it transpired that he had been with a Mexican "outfit," prospecting for gold; had taken mountain fever, become a burden to them, and was left to look out for himself at a tank in Dead Man's Canon. He paid for his keep in cooking and chores, said Bennett, and picked up enough English to enable him to get along about the ranch. He presently showed desire to care for the horses and mules and to ride them, and one day he disappeared with Bennett's best saddle mule and was gone forty-eight hours, and on his return gravely tendered Bennett a five-dollar gold piece in payment for his time and mule while away. He said he won it at monte, and it was proved that he had found his way to the card room, as a mule does to water, and, without knowledge of English, displayed consummate skill in the game; had played only two hours, had won twenty dollars and departed at dusk. But his winnings were in greenbacks and silver. Whence had come the gold? The trader's people said he stabled his mule; introduced himself as "Bennett's mozo—me," and "sat into" the game then in progress as though long accustomed; showing silver, mainly Mexican, the only credentials the players required. At sunset he quit, easy winner, and went without taking so much as a "snifter." Once having found the way, and the means, the dago came again and yet again, neither giving nor having trouble until he ran foul of Munoz, the Mexican, whom he seemed to hate at sight. Whatever his lingo, or that employed by the polyglot Mexican, they understood each other, and the misunderstanding that followed was purely personal.
Now, in spite of his craze for gambling the dago had points that appealed to Bennett. He found him valuable in many a way. He was almost doglike in his devotion to Bennett's wife and children. He was a "bang-up" cook, barring a heavy hand at first with chile and onions. He patched up an old guitar of Mrs. Bennett's and strummed delightfully all manner of strange Mexican and Mediterranean melodies, and, encouraged by her, had even been betrayed into song. He was kind to the stock, and the mules took to him from the very start, which the two horses did not do. The dogs tolerated at first and then "tied" to him. So, too, the cat adored him. He got along smoothly with the one negro and two Maricopa Indian boys Bennett had brought with him from the Gila. He did not drink even when at the post, and in the course of six months had come to be a feature, almost a fixture of the ranch, yet "Dago" was the only name by which he was known, even among his benefactors. Bennett said he believed he had forgotten he ever had another.
That very morning, showing all his white teeth, he had whipped off a battered old hat of Mexican straw at sight of the general and his fair daughter, had taken the basket while the orderly led the horses to the corral, had followed them about the little garden patch while Mrs. Bennett delightedly showed her lettuce and spinach and the gorgeous bed of poppies. Then he had brewed delicious chocolate, though condensed milk was poor substitute for whipped cream, and had prepared such an appetizing little luncheon, and had made himself so useful, that the general was moved to say to Bennett that any time the dago tired of his job he could find one at the fort. "I wonder he stays," said Bennett. "I only give him five dollars a month, even now, and he could get twenty, and unlimited monte, at the store; besides, he is mortal 'fraid of these 'Patchie Mohaves; hell knows why, and hides when he sees 'em coming."
"Do they never bother you stealing or—some way?" asked the general, with an anxious glance at the two sturdy little ranchers, five and three-year-old Bennetts, rolling and wrestling in the sand, showing off for the benefit of the visitors.
"'Patchie Mohaves?" asked Bennett, looking up in surprise. "Never have! You know I drove mule team to the agency two years ago, and sort of grew to them. Why, Minnie, now, thinks as much of them, or most, as she does of the boys at the post. They're a sort of police, sir. The Tontos don't dare come down so long as the Mohaves are about here."
"I know," said the general reflectively. "Yet some few bucks drifted off to the Tontos, and the agent's been raising a row because so many of them roost down here instead of staying on the reservation, bringing in game. Did you know that two bands were out—women and all—without permits, and that was one thing that brought Lieutenant Harris and his scouts up here?"
"Well, that accounts for our having seen none of them for over two weeks. They must have gone clean out to the Mesa. General," he continued anxiously, "they don't like their agent, or that agency. They're herded in there with Apache Yumas and sick Tontos and Sierra Blancas—fellows that get better treatment because they're bigger devils and raise merry hell. I know 'em and the agent don't. I'd move in to the post if they were out, but we're safe with the 'Patchie Mohaves."
That was what poor Bennett was saying not twelve hours earlier, and now the homelike ranch had gone up in flames, and Bennett, wailed the dago, lay butchered among the ruins. So, too, the negro. The Maricopa boys had fled only, probably, to be run down and killed, but what had become of the poor, helpless little wife and mother, with her bonny, blue-eyed boys, God alone knew.
By this time half the enlisted strength of the post was up and out and flocking to hear the tidings. Bentley, the surgeon, had shuffled over in his slippered feet and was giving Dago first aid to the demoralized in the shape of aguardiente Americano, that made him sputter and sneeze, but speedily braced him. The adjutant hurried over to call the commanding officer, passing Harris on the way, and Harris, already in campaign dress, was hastening to the camp of his scouts. Turner, silent and sombre, as was his wont, had elbowed his way through the throng and stood glowering at Dago and the beetled-browed Munoz, as though weighing them in mental balance, and finding both wanting. Mrs. Stannard, through the blinds, had hailed the adjutant as he went bounding by to say the captain would be out in a moment. Already Wettstein had told them the fearful news. The adjutant stepped inside the open hallway at the general's and banged on the swinging door of the little front room, answered almost instantly by the subdued and gentle voice of Mrs. Archer from the head of the stairs. The general was sound asleep. Was it necessary to wake him?
Strong expected as much. Not once a month did that genial veteran permit himself an over-indulgence, but, when he did, the quicker he slept it off the better. He had taken his night-cap and turned in betimes, so as to be up at reveille. But Strong knew what the "Old Man" would say to him later if he failed to rouse him now. "It's immediate, Mrs. Archer," said he. "We have bad news from Bennett's Ranch."
A pale, frightened, white little face had come peering over the motherly shoulder at the moment, even whiter in the flickering light of Mrs. Archer's candle, and at sound of the name there went up a low cry of distress.
"Oh, Mr. Strong, is it Mrs. Bennett—or the boys?"
"We don't—know—yet, Miss Archer. The dago's here, scared to death; galloped all the way with a story of an Indian raid. I'm hoping it isn't as bad as he thinks. God forgive me the lie," he added under his breath.
"But they haven't hurt her? They surely would not hurt her!" came the piteous wail, as the girl clung to the rude balustrade, while her mother hastened to rouse the sleeping warrior. "Heaven pity her," thought Strong, "unless they have killed her outright and not carried her away."
Then came a step in the hall behind him, and Willett was there, alert and resourceful. "Pray don't be troubled yet, Miss Archer," he called reassuringly, and barely noticing Strong. "The messenger's been stampeded before this, the men tell me. He's too badly scared to know the truth. It may be there's been a fire. I think there has, for the light could be seen, and so he imagined Indians and never stopped to see. I'm going right up there and will send back word. Please don't worry yet!"
How thoughtful he was for her, and for dear mamma! How kind! Strong knew full well that the light they had seen was the glare of no burning ranch, but a beacon far up in the hills—a signal fire, of course. The ranch lay in a deep valley ten miles to the north-east, with high ridges intervening. In the brilliant moonlight a glare that might otherwise have been seen on the sky would pass unnoted. Strong knew, deep down in his heart, that whatever the fate of the family, the ranch was a thing of the past, but Willett's words were soothing. It was better to let them go unquestioned.
Then out came the general on the landing above, his towzled gray poll poking over the rail. "What is it, Strong? I'll be down quick as I can half dress." Indeed, he was losing no instant of time, though it cost him some items of toilet. With his feet in "flip-flaps," his legs in loose linen trousers, and buttoning a sack coat over his nightgown, the veteran was already shuffling downstairs. "Run back to your room, dear," he said, as he passed his little girl. "You shall know everything presently," and then in a moment was out in the free air of heaven, the two young officers with him.
Briefly, cautiously, the adjutant murmured the dago's story, adding his fear as to its truth. Blankly Archer looked at them an instant, aghast, appalled, as well he might be, and for the moment unable or unwilling to trust himself to speak. There had been no time, he said, to souse his head in the big basin of cool water his wife would have given him. He was still heated, flushed, suddenly roused from heavy slumber, and by no means at his best. Strong knew just how to act in the premises and would have given him time to recover, but there was Willett, alert and insistent,—Willett who represented the commanding general, and whose words carried weight—Willett who was quick to seize the opportunity and to say:
"This is just in line with what we thought at headquarters, sir, and the quicker I can get to the spot the better. With your consent, general, I'll push out at once with the scouts, and we'll get back word to you before daylight."
And even Strong, loyal soul, had to admit later that the general's answer was practically "Yes, yes, by all means, Willett, and I'll send a troop in support," whereupon Willett darted away to the adjutant's quarters to doff his natty uniform and don something older and more suitable. Twenty minutes thereafter he had swung a leg over one of Stannard's troop horses and spurred away down to the north-eastward slope, toward the upper ford of the stream, where dimly in the distance another horseman could be seen, with a dozen shadowy, ghost-like forms gliding along in tireless jog trot in line with him—Harris and his mountain hounds, the Apache scouts, already en route for the scene of disaster. Bentley, Stannard and Turner, standing at the edge of the bluff, with fourscore soldiers clustered about them, while others had gone with Dago to hear again his tale, gazed thoughtfully after the disappearing shadows and then at each other.
"Humph!" said Stannard, in words meant for his fellows, but in tones that went farther. "There'll be conflict of authority now or I'm a duffer!"
Ten minutes they stood and watched; then came the orderly with the general's compliments, and he'd be glad to see Captain Stannard at once.