HotFreeBooks.com
Under Fire
by Charles King
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

UNDER FIRE.

BY

CAPT. CHARLES KING, U.S.A.,

AUTHOR OF "THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER," "MARION'S FAITH," "CAPTAIN BLAKE," ETC.

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS

BY C. B. COX.

"A bad dhrill, a wake voice, an' a limp leg—thim three things are the signs av a bad man."—PRIVATE MULVANEY.

PHILADELPHIA: J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY. 1895.

COPYRIGHT, 1894, BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.

ELECTROTYPED AND PRINTED BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY, PHILADELPHIA, U.S.A.

TO

GENERAL WESLEY MERRITT, U.S. ARMY,

OUR HONORED COLONEL IN THE OLD DAYS AND A VALUED

FRIEND THROUGH ALL THESE LATER

YEARS, THIS STORY

IS

Inscribed.

Trancriber's note: Minor typos have been corrected, and ads moved to the end of the book.



PREFACE.

It is ten years since "The Colonel's Daughter" ventured before the public and found so many friends that "Marion's Faith" and later "Captain Blake" set forth in reinforcement, and even then there came the call for more. Pelham's old regiment was not the only one to contain either odd, laughable, or lovable characters, so now the curtain is raised on the Eleventh Horse,—a command as apocryphal as the —th, yet equally distinguished in the eyes of those who trod the war-path twenty years ago.

C. K.

October, 1894.



UNDER FIRE.



CHAPTER I.

It was the last day of Captain Wilbur Cranston's leave of absence. For three blissful months he had been visiting his old home in a bustling Western city, happy in the happiness of his charming wife in this her first long restoration to civilization since their marriage ten years before; happy in the pride and joy of his father and mother in having once more under their roof the soldier son who had won an honored name in his profession, and in their delight in the exuberant health and antics of two sturdy, plains-bred little Cranstons. The visit proved one continuous round of home pleasures and social gayeties, for Margaret Cranston had been a stanch favorite in the days of her girl- and bellehood, and all her old friends, married and single, rose en masse to welcome her return. Parties, dances, dinners, concerts, theatre and opera, lectures, pictures, parks, drives and rides,—all the endless resources of the metropolitan world had been laid at the feet of the girl who, leaving them to follow her soldier lover to his exile and wanderings, had returned in the fulness of time, in the flush of womanhood, a proud wife and proud and happy mother. People could not understand her choice at the time of her marriage: "Cranston's all right, but the idea of going to live in a tent or dug-out," was the popular way of putting it, and people were still unable to understand how she could have ever found anything to enjoy in that wild life or to make her wish to see it again. It was, therefore, incomprehensible to society that she and her two bouncing boys were utterly overwhelmed with distress at having to remain in so charming a circle, so happy a home, when it came time for the captain to return. Society even resented it a little. Juvenile society—feminine—took it amiss that the Cranston boys should so scorn the arts of peace, and persist furthermore in saying the buffalo and bear and wolves in the municipal "Zoo" were frauds as compared with what they had seen "any day" all around them out on the plains. Tremendous stories did these little Nimrods tell of the big game on which they had tired of dining, but some of their tales were true, and that's what made it so hard for junior society masculine, in which there wasn't a boy who did not honestly and justly hate these young frontiersmen, even while envying with all his civilized heart. Loud was the merriment at school over the Cranstons' blunders in spelling and arithmetic, but what—what was that as offset to their prowess on pony-back, their skill with the bow and sling-shot, their store of Indian trinkets, trophies, ay, even to the surreptitiously shown Indian scalp? What was that to the tales of tremendous adventure in the land of the Sioux and Apache,—the home of the bear and the buffalo? What city-bred boy could "hold a candle" to the glaring halo about the head of two who could claim personal acquaintance with the great war chiefs Red Cloud and Spotted Tail?—who had actually been to ride and hunt with that then just dawning demigod of American boyhood,—Buffalo Bill? Sneer and scoff and cavil as did their little rivals for a time, calumny was crushed and scoffers blighted that wonderful March morning when, before the whole assembled school, there suddenly appeared that paragon of plainsmen, that idol of all well-bred young Westerners, he whom only on flaring posters or in the glare of the footlights had they been permitted to see, and smiling, superbly handsome, king of scouts and Indian-fighters, Buffalo Bill himself stepped into their midst and clasped the little Cranstons, madly rejoicing, in his arms, while their father, the cavalry captain, and even the dreaded teacher looked approvingly on. It was after that episode of no avail for even the sturdiest of their schoolmates to seek to belittle the Cranston fame. Louis, the elder, could not invent a whopper so big as to tax the credulity of the school. Buffalo Bill was "starring it" with his theatrical company through the States that spring, playing some blood-curdling, scalp-taking; hair-raising border drama which all boys eager strove to see, and when his old chum and comrade, the captain, went to call on him at his hotel, the great chief of scouts would not rest until together they had gone to see his friends "the boys." That other parents should have been pestered half to death as a result of this visitation any one who knows boys has not to be told, and many were the queries and complaints addressed to the laughing cavalryman upon that score. Parents, as a rule, had no proper conception of the honest merit and deserved fame of this transplanted hero, Bill,—were amazed to learn from Cranston that he was no fraud at all, but a man whom he and his regimental comrades swore by. A total change had come over the spirit of the school-boys' dreams. Nothing but Indian raids, buffalo-hunts, or terrific combats diversified the hour of recess. The little girls chose romantic prairie names, were either Indian maidens or ever-ready-to-be-rescued damsels in distress. The boys became redoubtable chiefs or rival imitation scouts, but Louis Cranston alone was permitted to play the role of Buffalo Bill; in his presence no other boy dare attempt it.

It was a revolutionized society long before that budding May morning on which the captain had to take train for the far West, leaving wife and little ones to his father's care until the long threatened and now imminent campaign should be over. Then, should God spare his life through what proved to be the fiercest and most fatal of ten fierce and fatal summers, they should rejoin him at some distant frontier fort, and the boys' triumphant reign at school be ended. Loudly did they clamor to be taken with him. Stoutly did Louis maintain that his pony could keep up with the swiftest racer in the regiment, and indirectly did he give it to be understood at school that just as soon as the war really began he'd be out with "C" troop as he had been in the past. The war had begun and some savage fighting had already taken place, when the orders were launched for the Eleventh Cavalry to concentrate for field service. Cranston wired that he would give up the last ten days of his leave, and Mrs. Cranston, brave, submissive, but weeping sore at times, set to packing her soldier's trunk. It was their last evening together for many a long month, and their friends knew it, and therefore, even if they called to leave a sympathetic word with the grandparents, they did not expect to see the captain and his wife. Once or twice the gray-haired mother had come to twine her arms about her big boy's neck, or to say that Mr. and Mrs. Somebody had just called, but wouldn't intrude. It was, therefore, a surprise when towards nine o'clock she came to announce a caller below,—a caller who begged not to be denied,—Mrs. Barnard.

"Mrs. Barnard!" exclaimed the army wife, in that tone in which incredulity mingled with surprise tells to the observant ear that no welcome awaits the announced one.

"Who is Mrs. Barnard?" asked the trooper, looking up from the depths of his big trunk.

"Oh, her husband owns about half the tenth ward," said Mrs. Cranston the elder, city bred, "and," hesitatingly, "you've often seen her in church."

"At church—yes," answered her daughter-in-law, "but no one ever sees her anywhere else. She has never called on me, has she?"

"No," said the elder lady. "They are old residents, though, and years ago when the city was new your father and hers—indeed, her husband and mine—were well acquainted, but we drifted apart as the city grew. She was Almira Prendergast."

"I'm sure I never heard of her when I was a girl, though, of course, I was away at school a good deal. Every one knows her by sight now because she's the most conspicuous woman in church. She dresses magnificently," said Mrs. Cranston the younger. "I couldn't help noticing her diamonds last Sunday."

"They must have been big, Meg," put in the captain, reflectively, as he was getting himself out of his smoking-jacket. "Let's see,—ours is a hundred-dollar pew down near the foot of the side aisle, and hers a thousand-dollar box-stall just in front of the centre. Could they flash all that distance? They'd be useful for signalling——"

"Wilbur! I do wish you wouldn't mingle church and cavalry slang. It's downright irreverent, and at the bottom of your heart you're anything but an irreverent man."

"I won't," said the captain, solemnly; "at least I'll try to separate the ideas—they are a trifle incongruous—if you'll tell me how at that distance you could mingle your devotions with appraisal of Mrs. Barnard's diamonds."

"I didn't. If you'd gone to church yourself you'd understand these things. I couldn't help it. I simply happened to be next to her afterwards—at communion."

"Oh, I see," said Cranston, giving a jab at his thinning hair with the thickest and stiffest of brushes. "That does bring us to close quarters, doesn't it?" Then with provoking deliberation he rearranged his necktie and began pulling on his coat. "Hum, let's see," he went on, his eyes twinkling and his lips twitching ominously, "anything wrong about Mrs. B., mother mine, or with the millionaire husband? No? I see: just some of those people one meets at the Lord's table and nobody else's."

"Wilbur!" exclaimed Mrs. Cranston, in tones of horror. "Indeed, indeed, mamma, he isn't a bit like that out on the frontier. It's only when he gets into civilized church circles that he says these outrageous things. If you could hear him read the burial service over some of our poor fellows as I have heard him, you'd know he lacked no reverence at all. He's queer,—he always has been about these social distinctions. You know and I know they are inevitable."

But leaving wife and mother to deplore his conduct and comfort each other with the assurance that he really knew better and wasn't as bad as he painted himself, which was occasionally in lurid colors, as must be admitted, Captain Cranston went down-stairs with a certain stiffness of gait which his intimates were well aware was attributable entirely to a war reminiscence of Pickett's parapet at Five Forks, but which nine out of ten, uninitiated, ascribed to military hauteur. He was still smiling his whimsical, teasing smile, for, though a devoted son, husband, and father, Wilbur Cranston was at times a trial to his feminine connections, and entertained on matters of church and state some views that were incompatible with those of high society. With opportunities second to none other when he joined the pioneer circle in the early days, Mr. Cranston, senior, had but moderately prospered from a worldly point of view. Eminent in his profession, he was destitute of any instinct of accumulation. He was a man the whole county honored,—whose word was his bond, whose purse-strings had never known a knot,—who had made large moneys in the law and spent them in charity, until now, occupying a social position at the top of the ladder, he lived but modestly in the house that was once the envy of all his neighbors, many of whom once, and more than once, the beneficiaries of his charity, now looked down upon him from the colossal heights of their wheat elevators or sixteen-story office blocks. "The Cranstons were among our oldest and best people," said Society; "it is too bad they are so poor." For there had been a time when the old lawyer's health failed and practice was forbidden, and when Wilbur, once the recipient of a liberal allowance, felt called upon not only to resign that, but often to help from a captain's pay. Better times had come, and the soldier son had been able to make investments for himself and for his father in far Western mining property that yielded good return; but even when known as one of the few well-to-do men in his regiment, Cranston had persisted in a certain simplicity of living that some people could not understand. There were officers who had married wealthy women,—women whose gowns were superb, whose parlors and tables were richly furnished, whose household establishments put to shame those of three-fourths of their companions; whereas Cranston, even when he was able to dress his family fashionably and furnish his quarters elaborately, would not do it. "Every year," said he, "some of our most promising young officers are going to the devil because they or their wives try to dress or to entertain as do their wealthy neighbors. It's all wrong, and I won't set the example. It's getting to be the curse of our army, Meg, and if I had my way I'd introduce a law the reverse of that in force in foreign armies. Over there no officer can marry unless he and his bride-elect can show that they will have over a certain income to live upon. In a republican army like ours no man ought to be commissioned unless he will agree to live on less than a fixed amount for each successive grade." They called him "Crank Cranston" in the Eleventh for quite a while, but without affecting in the faintest degree his sturdy stand. Margaret's gowns continued simple and inexpensive, and their mode of living modest as any subaltern's, and many women spoke of them as "close" and "mean," but many men wished openly they had Cranston's moral courage. At home, too, better times had come. There was the old homestead, and Mr. Cranston as counsel of certain big corporations had his easy salary and little work. There was no anxiety, but there should be, said he, no extravagance.

On the other hand, neighbor Barnard, who in by-gone days, tin dinner-pail in hand, tramped cheerily by the lawyer's rose-trellised home long hours before the household was awake, and who in his early struggles to maintain his little lot and roof had often availed himself of his neighbor's known liberality, had been surely and steadily climbing to wealth and honors, was now among the ranking capitalists of the great and growing city, and a few years back had been united in marriage to the admiration of his early school days,—Almira Prendergast, who, disdaining him in the early 50's and wedding the youth of her choice, was overwhelmed with joy to find in the days of want and widowhood, fifteen years later, that Barnard had been faithful to his ideal, had remained single for her sake, and so at last had she consented to accept him and the control of his household. A pew in the "First Presbyterian" had been for years his habitual resort on the Sabbath, but as time wore on and wealth accumulated and the lady of his love assumed more and more the leadership in all matters, spiritual and domestic, he saw his establishment blossoming into unaccustomed splendor, he met new people, later comers from the distant East, and dropped the old, the friends of his boy days. He never meant to. He was engrossed in his affairs. He let Mrs. Barnard "run the machine," as he used to phrase it, knowing nothing of that sort of thing himself, and Almira's buxom beauty, attired now in splendor hitherto undreamed of, was rapidly rising into prominence in the new and growing circle wherein the old families revolved but seldom, but the errant orbits of Eastern stars were quick entangled; and some few years after their marriage a new and gorgeous edifice having been erected by the congregation of St. Jude's, and a daughter having been born to Barnard, the man of money heard without surprise and with little resistance his wife's change of faith in revealed religion. St. Jude's, a parochial offspring of old and established St. Paul's down-town, had become an ecclesiastical necessity in the growing north side. The Cranstons transferred their pew, as did others, to follow a favorite rector and his gospel closer to home. Mrs. Barnard experienced a long projected change of heart because the acknowledged leaders of the social circle herded thither, and Barnard followed as his wife might lead. The great memorial window in the south transept, through whose hallowed purpling the noon-day sunshine streamed rich and mellow on the gray head in that prominent central pew, was the devout offering of Thomas Barnard and Almira, his wife, in testimony of their abandonment of the faith of their fathers and the adoption of that which in school days they had held to be idolatrous. Wilbur Cranston well recalled how in his school days Tom Barnard's honest, sturdy form went trudging by at nightfall from the long day's labor with the railway gang of which he was "boss," but Tom was a division superintendent when the lawyer's boy came home from West Point on furlough just as the war dogs began their growling along the border States. And now Tom Barnard owned all the tenth ward and most of the railroad, did he? And it was Tom Barnard's wife, a fair, fat penitent in sealskin and sables, who drove by in such a magnificent sleigh and style to humble herself at the altar by the side of such as we, whose social shoes she was as yet held unworthy to unlatch? Wilbur remembered how once, some years before, when his father's affairs were straitened and his own were cramped, when Meg and the baby actually and sorely needed change, but she sturdily refused to leave him and go East because of the expense, he had bethought him of Tom Barnard, the rising railway man, and wrote him a personal note explaining the situation and asking through his influence if such a thing as a pass for himself and wife could be obtained over certain roads east of the Missouri, and the answer came, written by a secretary, brief and to the point. Mr. Barnard enclosed pass over the Q. R. & X. for Mr. Cranston and wife, but did not feel in a position to ask favors of any other road. And now Tom Barnard's wife had come almost at the last moment of his stay and begged that he would not refuse to see her. What on earth could she want?

A boy with a telegram had just entered and was at the open door as the captain reached the hall. Under the gas lamp without Cranston saw the carriage standing by the curb—a livery team, not the beautiful roans that had caught his trooper eye the first Sunday of his leave when he went to church with mother and Meg. The message was sharp and clear enough in all conscience:

"We march at once. You can catch us at Fetterman.

GRAY, Adjutant."

"So old Winthrop goes in command and Bob Gray as adjutant," he mused. "Then I've no minute to waste."

His step was quicker, his bearing unconsciously more erect and soldierly, as he entered the parlor and found himself facing the lady.

"I ask your pardon for keeping you waiting, Mrs. Barnard. I was in the midst of packing when you came, as I must go West at once."

She had not risen from the easy-chair,—a comfortable old family relic which stood opposite the old-fashioned piano. She leaned forward, however, so that the sealskin mantle, which the warmth of the room and the length of her wait had prompted her to throw back, settled down from her shoulders in rich and luxurious folds. She gave him, half extended, a hand, which he lifted and lowered once after the fashion of the day and then released. He remembered her now perfectly,—the Almira Prendergast the big boys used to say was by long odds the prettiest girl in the days when half a dozen big brick ward schools were all the town afforded, but he did not say so, nor did she care to have him.

"Perhaps I ought to begin by apologizing for taking up your time," she said, as though not knowing how to begin; and then he saw that heavy lines of grief and anxiety had eaten their way underneath her dark and luminous eyes,—ravages that no tinsel could cover or wealth dislodge. "Was it the driver you spoke to at the door? I heard you say wait. I had already told him; but it isn't my carriage," she went on deprecatingly. "Our horses cannot stand night work, the coachman says, and there's always something the matter with them when they are most needed."

She was looking at him appealingly, as though she hoped he might suggest some way of helping her to say what had brought her thither—besides a livery carriage; but Cranston had taken a seat and was waiting, the telegram crushed in his hand. At last she spoke again.

"You—went to West Point, didn't you?"

"I? Yes."

"Well, then, you could tell me, couldn't you, how to get my boy there?"

"You mean by-and-by when he is old enough?"

"No. I mean now,—at once,—this week in fact."

"W—ell. That is hardly possible, Mrs. Barnard. Cadets are admitted only in June or September, and only then when there's a vacancy in their congressional district. But, pardon me. How old is your boy?"

"He is twenty-one,—my eldest,—my first husband's."

"And you wanted to make a soldier of him?" asked Cranston, smilingly.

"Indeed, no! It's the last thing on earth I'd have chosen, nor would he, I am sure, if he were in his right mind."

"Oh, well, then I shouldn't worry about it, Mrs. Barnard. In this country, you know, no one has to be a soldier unless he very much wants to, and very often then he can't. And no boy who isn't in his right mind could get into the Point even if given a cadetship. What made you think of it?"

"Why, it seemed—at least I was told—it was the only way out of the trouble he is in. He—is already in the army, but I'm told it isn't so bad if one is an officer."

Cranston kept his face with admirable gravity.

"Then I assume that he has enlisted. If he is only just twenty-one and enlisted without your consent before his birthday, you can still have him out."

"Oh, we've tried that," said Mrs. Barnard, gravely, "but he had tried twice before he was twenty-one, and they refused him until he brought papers to prove his age. Then when he did enlist and we attempted to have it annulled, they confronted us with these. They refused to believe our lawyer."

"Well, pardon me, which was right, the papers or the lawyer?"

"The paper. It was my own letter; but I didn't suppose they had it when—when we sought to have him released as not of legal age."

Cranston smiled. "Was it Mr. Barnard's proposition or the lawyer's?"

"Well, the lawyer said at first there was no other way that he knew of, we'd have to do that. Of course you understand I wouldn't ordinarily authorize an untruth, but—consider the degradation."

"The degradation of—having to—authorize the untruth?"

"No; of his enlisting,—becoming a soldier. I thought I'd had to suffer a good deal, but I never looked for that."

And then Cranston saw her eyes were full of tears.

She had tried lawyers. She had used money. She had invoked the influence of powerful friends. Each and everyone consulted assured her that the case could be settled in a twinkling. They would get the boy discharged at once. Then one after another all had failed, and then some one suggested to see him, Cranston; he was a regular, perhaps he could help. It was hard to think of her son as a soldier, but, said she, if he had to be, for a time at least, why not get him out of where he was and put him at West Point? She had come, she said, to tell Cranston the whole story, and then he could have kicked himself for the momentary amusement she had caused him.

Ah, what an old, time-worn story of mother love, mother spoiling, mother sorrow! Her bonny boy, her first-born, wild, impulsive, self-indulgent, overindulged as was his father before him, he had gone the pace from early youth; had been sent to and sent from one school after another; had filled and forfeited half a dozen clerkships; tampered with cards and drink and bad company. Mr. Barnard had been willing to do anything—everything for him, but he had dishonored every effort, broken every compact, failed in every trial, forfeited every trust. At last there had been hot and furious words, expulsion from the house and home, a life of recklessness, gambling and drinking on moneys wrung from her until her patience and supplies both had given out. Then some darker shadow,—arrest and incarceration, one more appeal to mother, one more, on her knees, from mother to husband, a compromised case, a quashed indictment, temporary residence at a resort for cure of inebriates—the one condition exacted by Barnard—and prompt relapse, when discharged, into his former habits,—disgraceful arrest because of some trouble into which he had been led while drinking. This, all this she had borne, but never dreamed, said she, that worse still could follow,—that he could sink so low as to become a soldier.

What Captain Cranston would have said to a man who had come to him with such a tale, and with such unflattering conception of the profession he was proud of, need not here be recorded. It was a mother, helpless, sorrowing, and honest at least in her impression of the step taken by her recreant boy. She had come craving help and counsel, not instruction in the injustice of her estimates. Quivering, trembling, weeping, the heart-sick woman in her magnificent robes had opened the flood-gates of her soul and poured out to this comparative stranger the story of her son's depravity. Aloft, two women listened awe-stricken to her sobs. Cranston brought her water, made her drink a little wine, and bade her take comfort, and amazed her by saying that at last her boy had shown a gleam of manhood, a promise of redemption. She looked up through her tears in sudden amaze. How was that possible? He must have been drunk when he did it, and couldn't have been anything but drunk ever since. Cranston patiently explained that so far from being drunk, the boy must have been perfectly sober or they couldn't have taken him. He had been frequently to the recruiting office, according to her account, and must have been sober at such times, or they would have discouraged his coming again. He couldn't have been drinking to any extent since enlistment or he could not be where she said he was, and knew he was, on daily duty as clerk in the office of the adjutant at the barracks. So far from its indicating downfall, degradation, it was the one ray of hope of better days. She looked at him, joy and incredulity mingling in her swimming eyes. "Then why does everybody I've consulted, even our rector, urge me to leave no stone unturned to get him out of it, even if we have to buy him a place at West Point?" was her query. And again Cranston found it hard to control his muscles—and his temper. Had it come to this?—that here in his old home the accepted idea of the regular soldier was that of something lower than the refuse of the prisons and reformatories? He could only tell her that it was because they knew no better. Up to the time of her boy's determination to enter the army had there been one single moment in the last five years when he had been free from his habits of drinking? asked Cranston. No, not one. And yet that step was her conception of final degradation. What had occurred, he asked, to make her feel renewed anxiety, to cause her to seek a cadetship for him? Because the boy had written that recruits were soon to be sent to cavalry regiments out on the plains, and he had asked to go. The thought was terror. And Mrs. Barnard had learned that a congressman from the interior of the State had a cadetship to dispose of, but he lived at Urbana, the very place where poor Harry had spent his two months in the retreat, and then had disbehaved so afterwards. And Mr. Goss, the congressman, wanted references,—wanted him to pass examination, which he could not do, because he's only been a little while at school. Harry wrote a beautiful hand, and had read everything—everything, but he hated anything like arithmetic as a study, and Cranston had to smile and tell her that that in itself put West Point out of the question. But, said he, if he has ambition and ability, why not encourage him to persevere where he is and win commission from the ranks as many another boy had done? Bless the mother heart! That, too, had occurred to her, but they had told her it would take two years at least, whereas Harry was a born leader, a born commander. That boy could step right out now and command an army if need be, she said, and no doubt believed it; but when she wrote to Mr. Cooper about it (and Mr. Cooper it seems was Colonel Cooper, the boy's commanding officer), that gentleman replied that while the young soldier had certainly conducted himself in a most exemplary way and had given promise of being an ornament to the service,—"He used those very words," said she, producing the colonel's letter. "See, 'an ornament to the service,'"—still, the colonel could hardly promise that the boy could rise above the grade of sergeant inside of two years.

Cranston recognized the handwriting, and took the letter. "I know Colonel Cooper," he said, "and he means just exactly what he writes. Mrs. Barnard, I am glad you came. I am glad to take a weight off your mind. I wish your friends and advisers were here that I might say this in their presence, especially our good rector, but I say to you with all my heart, I congratulate you on the step your boy has taken. I honestly believe he has done better for himself than you could do for him, and I advise you to let him go and learn campaigning on the frontier. It will make a man of him if anything will," and he added under his breath, "or kill him."

"And if you meet my boy, you'll help him? You'll be a friend to him?" she smiled through her tears. "God bless you for so helping me."

"I'll help him every way I know how," said Cranston.

And so they parted. She infinitely comforted, he oddly impressed. But Mrs. Barnard felt that fate was still against her and her boy when, four weeks later, flashed the news of savage battle with the Sioux, of Captain Cranston shot through the body and fearfully wounded in the fierce encounter.



CHAPTER II.

Fifty seats in the parquette had been reserved for the members of the class graduated from West Point on the beautiful morning of the 12th of June. The brilliant auditorium was thronged with friends of the young fellows. Officers of the Academy were seated in the boxes, interested no more in the play than in the enjoyment of "the boys" just released from their four years of hard study and rigid discipline. Two of the chairs were vacant almost until the close of the first act, then their owners came in.

"You fellows have missed a heap of fun," whispered a classmate. Then a burst of laughter and applause drowned his words. "All the same we didn't miss the train," was the reply as soon as the new-comer could make himself heard, after the lowering of the curtain. "Poor old Dad! It wasn't easy to let him go."

"What took him off in such a devil of a hurry? We counted on his being with us at the last supper."

"Oh, the Parson don't take much stock in last suppers—of this kind," answered the other in no irreverence of spirit, for the young fellow spoke in genuine earnestness; "still, he couldn't have gone back on us if it hadn't been for bad news from home."

"What, his mother?"

"No—o. It's a girl. He said he had to go."

"Ah, yes, we knew all along he was engaged, though he never said anything about it. Parson never struck me as being one of the spoony kind."

"No, he wasn't a bit. He wrote to her every week, but her letters kept coming all the time—regular continued stories; but he wouldn't stand chaffing about them and didn't fancy remarks, so I quit."

"Know anything about her? Ever see her picture?"

"Once, by accident,—a mighty pretty girl, too,—but he never talked about her; it wasn't his way. We lived together the last two years, and I reckon there isn't anything I didn't tell him. I remember how you all laughed at the idea of my taking up with 'Parson' Davies, but he's pure gold."

"There's no discount on that, Jimmy; but what a time it took to find it out! If it weren't for the riding-hall we never would have known how much there was to him. There may be some prettier riders than Parson, but he's all round the best horseman in the class. What on earth did he choose the infantry for?"

"Something about that girl, I reckon. Looks to me as though he were going to get married before he joined the regiment."

"Sacrificing himself and his profession for the sake of a spoons, is it? Well, thank God, I'm not in love, and I wish he weren't."

Meantime the subject of this cadet chat, a tall, slender, serious-faced young fellow, was sitting in one of the crowded cars of the night express whistling away up the shores of the Hudson, shadowy yet familiar, fifty miles to the hour. His new civilian dress—donned that morning for the first time—bore something of the cadet about it in its trim adjustment to the lines of his erect, even gaunt figure. He sat very straight, looking silently across the aisle out on the starlit river to his left, and holding on his knees the new dark-blue cape and an old travelling-bag. A lone woman in search of a seat had entered the car at Harlem and passed by a dozen unsympathetic travellers, who made no move to share the seat over which they sprawled aggressively. The first to lift his satchel and make way for her was the tall, thin-faced young man in the straw hat and pepper-and-salt suit. He rose and offered her the inner half, which she accepted gratefully, then thanked him in broken English for stowing her various bundles in the rack above.

The conductor looked oddly at him as he unrolled his ticket.

"Going through? Don't you want a sleeper?"

"How much is a single berth to Chicago?"

"Five dollars."

"No. I'll get along here."

Not until they reached Albany, after midnight, had he a seat to himself. Meantime, finding his companion overcome by drowsiness and her poor old head bobbing helplessly, he rolled his new cloak cape into a sort of pillow, wedged it between her and the window seat, and bade her use it. As they came in view of the brightly-lighted station she awoke with a start and made a spring for her belongings. She had slept soundly ever since they left Poughkeepsie, and was again profuse in gratitude. "We stay here several minutes," said Mr. Davies. "Let me help you with your bundles." And, unheeding her protest, he marched off with a bird-cage and a big band-box. A burly German made a rush for the car the moment she appeared upon the platform and lifted her off with vehement osculatory welcome, Davies standing silently and patiently by the while, then surrendering her traps to her legal protector. "He is such a kind young man," said the smiling frau. "He gif me his seat. We have a sohn, yust so old as you," she added, "but he is farder as Chick-ago. He is a soldier, out by Fort Larmie."

"Yes?" said Davies, smiling. "Then perhaps I'll see him some day. I expect to be out there before long."

"And you are a soldier, too! Ach Gott! ein offizier?" she exclaimed, in consternation, born of German associations.

"Not yet, though I suppose I shall be very soon. What is your boy's regiment?"

And, jabbering excitedly now, both at once, the two old people began pouring their tale into his ears; told their boy's name,—"He was a gorboral alretty,"—and they were justly proud, and Davies made them happy by noting the name and company in his book and giving his own, though he explained that he was not yet a lieutenant, only a just-graduated cadet, but that if ever he found the corporal, he said, he should tell him of his pleasant meeting with the old folks, and then, after a cup of coffee at the restaurant counter, he returned to his own thoughts and the car.

Soon they were spinning up along the shining Mohawk, and still his eyelids would not close. In his waistcoat-pocket lay a bulky letter, the last of many in the same superscription—a prim, unformed, school-girlish hand—that had come to him during the last two years of his cadet life. Its predecessors, carefully wrapped and tied, were in the old trunk somewhere ahead among the baggage. In his hand again was the telegram that, reaching him at the moment when he was bidding adieu to the academic shades he had grown so deeply to love, had determined him in the already half-formed resolution to cut loose from his comrades and the class festivities in New York and take the first train for the far West.

"URBANA, June 12.

"Doctor says come quick. Almira worse.

"B."

"B" was Almira's elder sister. Urbana, the home of his boy- and her girlhood, the home where his father lived and died, pastor of the village flock, a man whose devotion and patriotism during the great war had won for himself the friendship of the leaders of the armies of the West and for his only son, years afterwards, the prize of a cadetship at West Point. Deeply religious in every fibre of his soul, the chaplain had labored among the hospitals in the field from first to last, and died not long after the close of the historic struggle, a martyr to the cause. He died poor, too, as such men ever die, laying up no treasures upon earth, where moth and rust and thieves are said to lessen treasure there accumulated, yet where its accumulation seems the chief end of man not spiritually constituted as was Davies, who was imposed upon by every beat and beggar, tramp and drab, within reachable distance of Urbana. Far and wide had spread abroad the words of his personal creed,—that he would rather it were recorded against him that he had been duped a million times than that one human being had left his door hungering. His widow was not only merely penniless, she was helpless but for the strong arms of her son, who slaved for her as the father had slaved for the Union. Those were the days when pensions were few. It was too soon after the war, and facts were fresher in men's minds. Percy did all the farm-work by day and taught school by night until, in his twenty-first year, he was sent to the Military Academy by the President himself, who had known his father from the days of Donelson. It was told of the tall, taciturn young man that he seriously contemplated resigning during his fourth class year when he found that he could not send home the little savings from his cadet pay. If the rule of the sacred commandment could but be made to work both ways, and days would be indeed long in the land the Lord our God had given to him who most honored his father and mother, no life insurance company in all America would have hesitated in Percy Davies's case, had the policy been millions and the premium unity. A gentle woman was Mrs. Davies, but a distressingly helpless and dependent one, and it was an old saying in Urbana that Davies had married poor Salome Percy because if he didn't nobody would; not because he stood in need of her, but because she was much in need of him. And when, not long after his father's death, Percy appealed to a well-to-do citizen on the widow's behalf, he was refused, and the brawny son and heir of the well-to-do citizen told of the incident, and was idiot enough in Percy's presence to repeat this old village saw as the reason of the refusal, it nearly led to tragedy. Seizing the first available weapon, a flail, which he wielded with uncommon skill, in one mad moment the indignant youth smote the other hip and thigh,—the first, and for years the only, time he was ever known to lose control of himself. In ten seconds the battered gossip was sprawled full length, and they who would have rushed to tear his assailant away stood amazed to see him tearfully imploring the pardon of the vanquished.

And then as Percy grew in years and grace, working day and night that he might obey that last sacred whispered injunction, "Take care of poor mother," and Urbana grew in population and importance, one mortgage was lifted by the sale of part of their little farm, and the home made more comfortable for the ailing, querulous woman. She loved young folks, and yet lacked the faculty of attracting them. Striving to interest some of the village maids in her, Percy interested more than one in himself, and among these was a rural beauty, by name Almira Quimby. She was only sixteen, a romantic child with an exquisite complexion, big melting blue eyes, and curling ringlets. She lived, said other village maids, "on Sylvanus Cobb and slate-pencils." She devoured with avidity every bit of sensational trash procurable in the public or post-office libraries, and made eyes at the tall, strong school-master,—the best rider, reaper, thresher in the field, and best reader and declaimer in the winter lyceums. He was intellectually far ahead of his fellows, and his father had labored to teach him. He was "serious," which was our Western way of saying he had strong religious views, and Almira became devoted in her attentions at church, Bible-class, and Sunday-school. Still, he did not become an adorer, and she began visiting the widow in her affliction, and thereby seeing more and more of the widow's son. There were strapping prairie beaux who would have given all they possessed for any one of the soft, shy looks she stole at Percy Davies, and who began to hate him vehemently as her fancy for him increased.

He would have been of utterly unimpressionable material could he have looked unmoved day after day upon her budding beauty, and it was not long before Davies found himself strangely interested, and still he would not speak. It was not until his appointment came, and he was preparing to go to the Academy, that he owned himself vanquished. Almira's red eyes and not entirely concealed emotion had told the mother how the girl was grieving at the prospective loss of her first love, and she with motherly solicitude took Percy to task. If he cared for Almira why didn't he say so? With perfect truth the young man replied that he couldn't help admiring her, but had struggled against it because he was in no position to marry, and did not know when he would be. To this the mother replied that she had grown very fond of Almira, and had learned to depend upon her. She was not only very pretty but, what was much better, a very good girl, and her father was as "well-to-do" as anybody in Urbana, except the hotel-keeper. He could well afford to give her part of the big farm and build them a house near the widow's own roof. She knew, or thought she knew, as do so many of us, just what her neighbor could and should do, but overlooked the fact that old Quimby had two sons and three daughters older than Almira. The fact that most of them were married in no wise detracted from their expectations of material aid from the "old man." The fact that he might care to take unto himself a wife to replace the late incumbent now sleeping placidly in Urbana's leafy cemetery was no more contemplated by them than by the Widow Davies. But there was another widow in Sangamon County who knew better and who wisely said naught. Almira's father was well off, said Mrs. Davies. She had rich relations in the great metropolis of the State. Her Aunt Almira was married to the manager of the Q. R. & X. Railway,—the man who used to send father Davies an annual pass so long as he lived. Mrs. Davies longed, she said, to see her son happily mated, and then she would be glad to go and rest by the father's side under the shadow of the soldier's monument. How it all happened would be too long, too old, and by no means uncommon a story. When Percy Davies went to West Point he left behind him a weeping maid who vowed that she would wait for him a lifetime, if need be. It was really quite a romantic parting, and the young man believed himself very deeply in love, and so did Almira.

And yet he was not easy in his mind. Percy Davies was old for his years. He was going to the Point because of his father's strong predilection for the graduates of that institution. The son had no especial taste for a military life. He was studious. He would far rather have gone to some college or university and pursued a classical course, and then studied for the law or the ministry. He had no means for such an end, however, and accepted what was offered him on his father's account, with no little uneasiness on his own. It was not his desire or purpose to remain in the army. If he could honorably do so he meant to leave the military service within the four years which his letter of appointment stipulated he should serve after graduation. He doubted the propriety of his accepting it under the circumstances, and he—looked upon by his fellow-men and youths as the most enviable of their number—left his home for the new life in no enviable frame of mind.

For some months after his departure Almira fairly lived with the invalid mother, and was faithful both to her and to the absent lover. Not a day passed without her spending hours with the widow and discoursing on the perfections of the absent one. Old Quimby, a hard-fisted, hard-headed old democrat, had made no objection to the engagement, remarking that if 'twan't Davies 'twould be somebody else, and seeing as he was the smartest lad at farming and schooling, and that it would be four years anyhow, why, there was no call for him to worry. Then Urbana built a bigger school-house and got a new teacher, and for two years saw naught of Percy Davies. Property increasing in value, another slice of the homestead lot had been sold, and with economy the widow could be comfortable on her little income; but it was not long before the gossips, dropping in to cheer her up a bit, began to tell of the swains who were making eyes at 'Mira, and then of 'Mira's growing consciousness of her charms and fascinations. The second year of Percy's absence there could be no doubt that three or four bucolical hearts were turned on her account. Had there been just one devotee the absent lover's claims might have been endangered, but there being several she was content in a placid cowlike way in their attentions, and became less devoted to mamma. With the second summer, however, Percy came home on cadet furlough. The slight stoop was gone. An erect, martial carriage and quick, springy step had replaced the somewhat plodding gait of the school and farm. The sprouting beard and whiskers had vanished, and a stiff moustache, which soon began to curl and twist becomingly, adorned his upper lip. The "store clothes" of the Western town long since cast aside, Davies appeared in stylish and trim-fitting civilian dress, but resolutely declined all appeals to wear—except for mother's eyes—the uniform of his famous corps. When he went on sunshiny Sundays to the church that seemed hallowed to his father's memory, the spotless white trousers and natty sack coat of dark-blue flannel were, however, so military in their effect as to create, despite himself, almost the effect of regimentals. Then he had acquired already an air and manner, a polish that distinguished him at once above his fellow-townsmen, and Almira's wavering allegiance gave place to new romance and fervor. The old flame had found too little breath in his earnest, honest letters to keep it alive. As for him, though he had belonged to what was termed the "bachelor gang" at the Point and mingled but little in ladies' society, he was a close observer, and Percy Davies saw at a glance that though more radiant in her rustic beauty than before, more appealing to the senses in the flush of her health and unconscious grace, there was still something besides the fashion of her gown that differed widely from the beauties who thronged the gravelled walks, the shady groves, the tented field of the national military academy. The swains of the winter gone by were less in evidence now, and it pleased her anyhow during the two months of his home stay to forget them one and all and cling only to him. Changes came in the next two years—and trouble. Old Quimby married again. Almira's home-life became unhappy. Quarrels ensued between the new wife and the children. Reproaches fell from the lips of the failing widow because of Almira's tacit acceptance of the devotions of young Mr. Powlett, son of the resident physician of the sanitarium that was now bringing so many patients to Urbana. A handsome, dare-devil sort of boy was Powlett, who speedily cut out all the local beaux at the parties and picnics which filled the summer of '75. A beautiful dancer was he, and taught Almira to waltz and "glide" in a style never before seen in Urbana, and that other couples first derided, then envied, then vainly strove to imitate. That Urbana censors should go to the widow with invidious comment upon Almira's misbehavior was a matter of course, and that the widow should transmit their tales, not entirely without embellishment and reproof, was only to be expected. Almira accepted both with ill grace, was moved to tears and protest. She couldn't help it if people admired her and liked to dance and walk and talk with her. She must either submit to it or shut herself up and mope and not go out at all. She thought Mrs. Davies most unjust, but she did not promise to amend. Then the widow, finding Almira obdurate, was moved to write to Percy advising him that he should caution her, who was only light-hearted and thoughtless, and, to the widow's surprise, Percy refused. He gravely wrote that Almira was but a child when she engaged herself to him. She had seen nothing of the world or of other men, and it was a matter he would not interfere with, and one that he desired his mother to leave alone. This was simply incomprehensible. Urbana was very gay that autumn and early winter. The sanitarium was the means of bringing business to town, and a number of new stores were opened, and new young men came to tend the counter and swell the parties, and still young Powlett held supremacy, and everybody began to say that the cadet was cut out, and Almira Quimby had gone over heart and soul to the new claimant, when there came a cataclysm,—a scandal at the sanitarium, a stir at the Palace Hotel, Urbana's new hostelry, the arrest of a recently discharged patient by the name of Brannan, an afflicted young man with what was described as an unconquerable mania for drink, and the sudden disappearance of young Powlett. There was investigation and more scandal. It transpired that this young Adonis had abused his father's trust to the extent of smuggling liquor to certain patients and of heaven only knew what else. Dr. Powlett resigned, crushed and humiliated. Lawyers came and bailed out the other unfortunate, of whom it soon was rumored that he was Almira Quimby's own cousin, the son of her rich city aunt, and that was the reason the lawyers and not the relatives came. It was presently established that young Brannan was more sinned against than sinning, and the holidays opened, with a fearful gap in Urbana, for Almira's devoted lover, to the comfort of every right-thinking maid and swain in Sangamon society, had fled, no one knew whither.

Two weeks later the Widow Davies lay at death's door. Her son was telegraphed for, and came. His leave was for only one week,—even that a most unusual concession, granted only because of his unimpeachable conduct and his safe though not high standing in scholarship. His coming seemed to give new life to the mother, and Almira vied with him in attention and devotion. Urbana took it much to heart that after her months of monopoly of Mr. Powlett, of whom the most damaging and dreadful things were now told, she should so calmly and complacently resume her apparent sway over this martial and dignified and superior sort of person, the widow's son. Urbana fully meant that his eyes should be opened just so soon as the mother's were closed. But Urbana found that luck was dead against it. The widow began to mend,—the son it was who was suddenly prostrated on the eve of his return to the Point.

Leaving Almira at her father's door one night after seeing her safely home, Davies was found lying in the high-road, senseless, an hour later, and never, said Urbana, knew what hit him. Concussion of the brain was feared, for he had evidently been assaulted in the dark from behind and felled to earth by blows of some heavy, blunt instrument. Robbery was evidently the motive, for his little store of money and the beautiful and costly watch presented to his father at the close of the war were gone. Almira had two patients now, and devotedly she attended them. When in a fortnight Percy declared he must return, and did return to pass his midwinter examination, she wore at last an engagement ring. Urbana did not know that he had offered—and she had refused—freedom. Urbana did not know that she declared she loved him as she never did before, and as she never had another. Urbana resented it that he who was so soon to occupy the exalted station of an officer of the regular army, and the princely salary of something over a thousand dollars a year "with all expenses paid,"—double the sum enjoyed by the head salesman of Miller & Crofts,—should be so utterly deluded as to the frivolous character of his betrothed, and means were taken to enlighten him. Anonymous letters came to Cadet Davies of the graduating class, which that grave and reverend senior committed, not to memory, but to flames. Whatever she had been before his visit and mishap, Almira was all devotion now. In May he wrote to her gravely and affectionately, bidding her remember that he always felt that she had been pledged to him when too young to know her own mind, that his must needs be a life of self-denial, privation, and danger, that he must live with the utmost economy consistent with his position as an officer, because his mother's comfort must be a sacred charge so long as she lived, and that it might be years before he could see his way to asking any woman to come and share his lot. All this he had conscientiously explained to her before, and she had met it with tears and reproaches. She could help him live economically. They could sell the homestead and take mother to live with them. She would welcome the day when she could leave her father's roof, now no longer a home to her. She knew it must be that he was tiring of her,—that he had met some proud lady in the East, and his poor little village maid was forgotten, etc. Now, in answer to this last letter, virtually proffering release if she so desired, her response was vehement. He would kill her with his cruelty and coldness. She had no hope or ambition other than to share his lot, however humble. To be her noble soldier, her hero Percy's bride, would be her heaven, and neither gold nor grandeur nor princely mansion could tempt her from his side, and she would welcome the grave if he proved false to her. It was all the high-flown, emotional, melodramatic trash to be expected of an ill-balanced girl whose pretty head was stuffed with the romance of the country post-office type, and Davies sighed heavily as he read.

He had planned to visit an old friend of his father's and see something of New York harbor and city before turning his back on the East. Never yet had he set foot in Gotham, and as it would be years before opportunity might again be afforded him, he had weighed it all pro and con, and decided that Dr. Iverson's advice and invitation should be accepted. He would go with his classmates, spend the last evening with them, and join the reverend doctor on the morrow. His mother, even in her invalided state, urged that he should do so, but Almira heard the plan with fresh outburst of tears. There was to be a grand picnic of all the beaux and belles of Urbana on the 18th. She had counted on having her soldier lover in attendance on that occasion. She had told him of it, and that was enough. She had declined all other invitations, saying that Mr. Davies was to hasten thither the moment the graduating exercises were over, and now to think of the triumph and malicious delight of the other girls was intolerable. Her lover should fly to her like homing-pigeon the instant he was released from prison. It was tantamount to treason that he should purpose anything else. Almira fretted herself into a fever. She wrote one long letter to the recreant Parson, and her sister Beaytrice, as they called her, followed it up with another still more alarming. Then, as he did not wire instant submission, the telegram was sent. Old Quimby was on the platform at the Urbana station as Davies sprang from the train. "Nothing much," said he, in response to the young man's eager inquiry. "Some dam girl nonsense she and Bee have cooked up between them. When they ain't devilling the life out of their step-mother they're worrying somebody else. Oh, yes!—'course the doctor's been humbugging for a week,—too glad to get a chance of shovin' in a bill."

Davies went gravely up the sunny street to his mother's home,—a meeting that served to chase away the clouds, and then an hour later to Almira's bower. Bee ushered him into a pretty room whose windows were overhung with honeysuckle and pink chintz, and there in a great old-fashioned rocking-chair reclined the lovely invalid, who greeted him with outstretched arms and rapturous cry, and who was sufficiently restored to exhibit him at the Sunday-school picnic as originally planned. So far as she was concerned, all went blithely as a marriage-bell until the morning of July 5, when there came the fearful news of the massacre of General Custer and his troops at the hands of the Sioux. That evening the city papers said all officers on leave were hurrying to their regiments, that reinforcements were being pushed to the front, that recruits were needed at once; and the next day, followed by a mother's prayers and a maiden's unavailing protest, Percy Davies was gone. Just as his father did in '61, leaving all to pursue the path of duty, the young soldier, though not yet commissioned, sped to the nearest army post, and joined the first command en route for the field.



CHAPTER III.

In the hot July sunshine, up the long vista of the street the flags hung drooping, every one, with a single exception, at half staff. Over the building where hearts were heaviest the colors soared highest; the general commanding, until ordered from Washington, being debarred a manifestation of mourning which the sovereign citizen adopts as a matter of course. It was bitter disaster that had befallen the national arms and involved so popular a commander with scores of his gallant men; the stars and stripes that had been saluted all over town in honor of the ever-glorious Fourth were now set at mid-height or draped with black. The crowds that had gathered about the newspaper offices and department head-quarters all the previous day were scattered, in the conviction that little remained to be told, but there was a gathering at the railway station to bid adieu to the battalion of infantry from the neighboring fort, leaving by special train for the seat of war. They had cheered the dusty fatigue uniforms as the cars rolled away, and many a young fellow would gladly have gone with the boys in blue could he have faced the social ban which a misguided public has established against its most loyal servants, holding enlistment in the regular army as virtual admission of general worthlessness. And now the crowds still lingered under the glass roof of the big passenger shed, for word had gone out that another train coming across the bridge was loaded with more troops, and there was a fascination in watching these prospective victims of the stake and scalping-knife. It had been a fierce campaign thus far, and one in which the losses and vicissitudes both (there are no honors to speak of) had been borne principally by the cavalry, but now the "doughboys" with their "long toms" were being pushed to the front. "Wait till Emma Jane gets her eye on ould Squattin' Bull," said an Irish private, patting the butt of his rifle, as with head and shoulders half-way out of the car window he confidentially addressed the crowd. "It'll be the last spache he'll ever ax to hear."

"That'll do there, Moriarty; get that gun inside," said a lieutenant, briefly. And as Moriarty obeyed, with a grin and wink at the throng, the laugh and cheer that went up were evidently for Private Pat and not for his superior. It is the smiling face, not official gravity, that wins the great heart of the people. The band which had headed the column on the march in from the post, but was not to accompany it to the field, was still waiting to give the next comers a fitting "send off." Two or three staff officers in civilian dress stood in earnest talk with the superintendent of the railway, a knot of curious citizens surrounding them, eager to pick up any point with reference to the troops or their transportation. Expectant eyes were cast towards the east where the towers of the great bridge loomed in the shimmer and glare of the hot noontide. "She ought to be here now," said the railway-man with an impatient snap of his watch-case. "What keeps No. 5, Gus?" he asked of an assistant hurrying by.

The man hauled up short and touched his hat. "This just came at the train-despatcher's office, sir," said he, as he handed up a slip of paper, which the superintendent quickly read, a queer look coming into his face as he did so.

"Hu-m-m, gentlemen. This is something you'll have to straighten out. It doesn't seem to be in my line." And he handed the paper to Major Ludlum, chief quartermaster of the department, who in turn read it, his eyes filling with grave concern.

"Recruits on No. 5 broke loose at Bluff Siding,—drunk—raiding the saloon. Can't get 'em on train again. Can guards or police be sent?" It was signed by the conductor.

"Well," said Ludlum, disgustedly, "we might have known that would happen. The idea of sending three car-loads of raw recruits with only one officer, and that one old Muffet. It's tempting Providence."

"Why, I thought he had a lieutenant with him. Somebody said so at the office this morning," said the department engineer officer.

"Not even a lieutenant,—a cadet, if you like; graduated not a month ago,—not yet commissioned. Some young cub just out of school, with about as much idea how to handle drunken recruits as I have of dressing a doll. Home on graduating leave and thought it his duty to volunteer is all I can make out of it."

"Well, bully for him!" spoke up the superintendent. "The boy's got the right stuff in him if that's the case."

"What's his name?" asked the engineer officer. "I knew most of this year's class when I was there on duty."

"Davies," said the quartermaster, consulting a notebook. "Remember him?"

"Why,—yes,—vaguely. He was not in the section I had charge of," said Captain Eustis. "One of the last men to attract attention,—Parson Davies they called him, I believe. He was one of the Bible-class. Don't think anybody knew him outside of the Sunday-school."

"No wonder the recruits jumped the traces with no one but old Muffet and a parson," said the quartermaster, disdainfully. "Now the question is, what's to be done? Somebody's got to go over and pull them out of the hole."

The situation was indeed serious. Many of the commands now suddenly ordered to take the field were so short of men that, after the manner of doing things in the 70's, a detachment of undrilled recruits, one hundred and eighty strong, was hurriedly tumbled aboard the cars at the cavalry depot on the Mississippi, while others were shipped from the far East for the Foot. Only one officer—a semi-invalided old trooper—could be spared from Jefferson Barracks to accompany the batch. There was no time to wait, and just an hour before the detachment started there arrived at the office of the depot commander a tall, slim, solemn young man in brand-new fatigue uniform,—that of the infantry,—who introduced himself as Mr. Davies of the graduating class, who said he was not yet assigned to a regiment, but having read that all officers were hastening to join their commands before they got beyond communication in the Indian country, thought it possible that he might be assigned to some company in the field and didn't wish to be left behind. That night he was seeing his first service. Colonel Cooper, the post commander, shook him by the hand and presented him to old Muffet, who was in a devil of a stew and glad of professional help, and then wired on ahead to the general commanding across the Missouri, or to his representatives at head-quarters,—he being in the field. All went well enough early in the night, but, towards morning, whiskey had been smuggled aboard in sufficient quantity to start the devil of mischief, and finally, at Bluff Siding, just before reaching the Missouri bridge, overpowering the unarmed and perhaps sympathetic sentries at the car doors, and defying the orders of their sergeants, the half-drunken crowd swarmed out and made a swoop upon a saloon across the side-track. In less time than it takes to tell it every cubic foot of space of the bar-room was packed with rioting humanity in grimy blue flannel. The proprietor, who had stood his ground at the instant of initial impact, was now doubled up underneath the counter; his shrieking family—Hibernians all, and somewhat used to war's alarms, though hardly to the sight of raiding boys in blue—had taken refuge in the privacy of their own apartments above and behind the saloon itself, while within the reeking establishment pandemonium had broken loose. Bottles, glasses, and raw liquor were liberally besprinkling the heads and shoulders of the surging throng. A brawny Irishman, mad with the joy of unlimited riot and whiskey, was on top of the counter impartially cracking the heads of all men within reach with the blows of a big wooden bung-starter. Four or five who had found the trapdoor leading presumably to the supplies in the cellar were furiously fighting back the crowd so as to admit of their raising it and forcing a passage down the wooden flight. Poor Muffet, vainly pleading and swearing, was scouting on the outskirts of the crowd about the door-way, occasionally turning and shrieking orders to some bewildered lance sergeant to find the lieutenant and tell him he must get in there and do something, but the lieutenant was nowhere to be seen. At a respectful distance the neighbors were looking curiously on, half a dozen roustabouts from the wharf-boat moored under the bank, a little batch of railway employes, a number of slatternly women, not entirely unsympathetic, and perhaps half a dozen hands from a neighboring saw-mill, but all these, combined with the townsfolk hurrying to the scene, would have been powerless as opposed to the sixscore drink-maddened "toughs." Of the recruits, perhaps a dozen had remained in the cars; of their non-commissioned officers, perhaps half a dozen were trying to do something, but having no directing head or hand, accomplishing little. It looked as though nothing but the bursting asunder of that ramshackle building would liberate its human charge, for even those who, battered, bleeding, and suffocated, would gladly have escaped into outer air, were packed in, sardine-like, and incapable of self-extrication. To the appeal of the conductor that he should regain control of his men and prevent destruction of property, the luckless Muffet plaintively responded, "My God, what can I do? I've done my best, and nobody else has done anything. The only officer I've got has deserted me."

But even as he spoke, accompanied by a jutting and hissing and spraying, by outburst of yells, jeers, maudlin laughter, there came sudden vomiting forth of drenched and dripping forms. Over the heads of the throng within, into the hot faces of the throng without the double door, hurling them back from the battered entrance in sudden panic, a powerful stream of cold water, shooting from unseen nozzle, broke up and demoralized the drunken barrier. Skilfully directed into the heart of the crowd at the door-way, then into the ruck and tumult within, it first cleared a passage, then, torrent-like, swept away into it, tumbling and swearing and cursing, but going, the last able-bodied invader of saloon sanctity, bestowing upon its foul interior the first thorough washing it ever received, driving the despoilers before it with the force of a battering-ram, yet even then, unsatisfied, following up its victory. With perhaps half a dozen soldiers and as many mill-hands hauling on the slack of the hose behind him, through a north window came the tall, slender, serious-faced person of Mr. Davies, a laughing young lance corporal manning the butt with him, and, aiming low and driving discipline and punishment at the rate of a gallon a second, a posteriori, at the now drenched and scattering mob, and shouting, "Back to the train! Back to your seats!" never did they cease their deluge until the last laggard capable of locomotion took shelter within the cars. Muffet, recoiling in time to escape both rush of men and muddy water, stood shouting confirmatory orders from the platform the while. Many a mob will face the shock of charging steel and hissing lead that melts away before ridicule and squirted water. The emeute was ended long before the police arrived, and Muffet had regained some measure of his accustomed presence of mind. "Oh, we simply manned the saw-mill hose," said he, in complacent acknowledgment of the congratulation of the staff officials first to meet him. "It didn't take long to souse them to their sober senses."

Indeed, the three car-loads of dripping and bedraggled humanity, meekly side-tracked under the guarding bayonets of the one company of infantry left at the fort, found not a sympathetic eye among the lookers-on. An ambulance had carted off to the hospital four or five, whose battered skulls bore witness to the hammering powers of big Milligan and his bung-starter. That redoubtable giant himself, weak from the shock of having involuntarily gulped more water in a second than ever before he had swallowed in weeks, was flattened out in a baggage-car. Two more of the arriving reinforcements failed to appear to the public eye at the scene of congratulation, and, as sometimes happens in even so well regulated a family as our little army, these were the two who most deserved any honors that were being bestowed,—Mr. Davies and his assistant pipeman.

Just as the last prostrate victim of that powerful combination—rum and riot—had performed the frog's march to the baggage-car, the raving saloon-keeper had been instructed to send his bill of damages to the chief quartermaster across the bridge, the conductor had signalled "Go ahead," and the young officer, ruefully scanning the wreck of his new fatigue uniform, was clambering on the platform of the sleeper, when he saw that the blood was dripping from the corporal's hand, despite the big handkerchief wrapped about it.

"Come in here, corporal," said he. "Let me look at that. How did it happen?" And he led the way into the men's toilet-room of the sleeper.

"I must have cut it with some of that broken glass at the window," was the answer.

He was paling now, drooping evidently from loss of blood. Quickly Mr. Davies unrolled the bandage, and there, beside a little jagged gash, disclosed a deep cut from which the blood was oozing. "Why, man," said he, "that's as clean as though done with a razor. Did any one try to knife you?"

But the soldier made no answer. He sank limp upon a seat. Two civilian travellers, in prompt sympathy, tendered flasks, and a stiff cup of brandy brought back some vestige of the flitting color. Then a young lady came forward from the interior of the car. "Please let me help you," she said. "My father was a surgeon and I know something about these wounds." Davies gratefully gave way to her, and found himself watching the swift, skilful touch of her slender white hands as she bent over the work. It was finished in a minute, and then with calm decision the girl spoke again. "I will take him back to our section. He needs quiet for a while," said she, standing erect now and addressing herself to Mr. Davies, and rather pointedly ignoring the younger civilian, whose interjected remarks fell upon ears that were dainty but deaf. "I am with Mrs. Cranston," said she, "whose husband is among the wounded. Do you know him?—Captain Cranston?"

"Only by reputation," answered Davies, raising his cap. "You are very good to our men. Go with this young lady, corporal. I'll come as soon as I can wash my hands."

Hardly waiting, however, for his reply, the girl had passed her hand underneath the soldier's arm and led him rearwards as the train slowly rounded the long curve to the bridge embankment. Davies slipped out of his sack coat and plunged his hands in the basin. "Would you mind pumping for me?" he said to the nearest civilian, who with his companion stood gazing admiringly after the girl. "My hands are covered with that poor fellow's blood."

"Certainly," was the prompt answer, as one of them grasped the nickel-plated lever. The other and younger man turned to the ice-water tank, rinsed the tumbler that had just been used to such good purpose, poured out another stiff load of spirits, and with confident kindliness held it out to the young officer.

"Thank you," said Davies, shaking his head, "I never use it."

"You don't?" was the surprised answer. "Why, I thought all army officers drank."

"That seems to be the general idea," was the quiet answer. "Much more general than the practice, I hope. Thank you," he continued, as, drying his hands, he quickly donned his coat and went on through the car. They watched him a moment as he was presented to the elder of the two ladies, one whose face, though still young, bore traces of grief and tears and anxiety. They saw her look up and clasp his proffered hand, evidently glad to meet one of her husband's cloth.

"Now, if I'd only known about her husband's being one of the wounded, I could have rung in there all right," said the younger of the two travellers. "I haven't seen a prettier girl in all my wanderings,—but she stood me off even on a dodge I never knew to fail."

"You were too transparent, so to speak, Willett," said the elder. "She couldn't help seeing you were trying to scrape acquaintance. All young girls don't take to frivolity any more than all officers to whiskey."

Willett, nettled at this palpable hit, spoke resentfully. "Oh, I dare say they'd make a good team,—one's a prude and the other a prig."

"Perhaps not a very bad team, as you put it, my boy," was the answer, as the elder thoughtfully regarded the two now in earnest conversation. "But a girl who won't flirt isn't necessarily a prude, nor a man who won't drink a prig. If I were marrying again, I should be glad of a girl like that for a wife. If I were soldiering again, I'd like that boy for a sub."

And just before leaving the train on its arrival at the Omaha station the speaker went to Davies and held out his hand. "Lieutenant," said he, "my name is Langston. I met and knew a number of West Pointers during the war, and I am glad to have met you. If ever I can be of service to you in my way,—and my duties carry me out here on the frontier very often,—let me know."

Never dreaming how it might be needed, Davies accepted the proffer of services with all that the proffer implied.



CHAPTER IV.

Guarded by a detachment of veteran infantry, the recruits so turbulent at noon were spiritless now in every sense of the word. Turning over his charge, as well as his account of their conduct and of his own, to the commander of the escort, Captain Muffet remained at department head-quarters long enough to impress the officials thereat on duty with his version of the riot at Bluff Siding,—its inciting cause and its incisive cure. Then he went back to the cavalry depot and presumably improved on his initial effort. The story of Muffet's wild ride with the raw recruits and Muffet's method of quelling a mob was often told that summer at the rear long after Lieutenant Davies and the recruits in question had gone to the front and were lost to all communication. The officer who went in command from Omaha was an expert. He established a sergeant's guard in each recruit car, with orders to flatten out the first man who left his seat, rap every head that showed outside a window when the train stopped, and so turned over the one hundred and seventy-two that were turned over to him a sick and subdued lot by the time they reached Fort Sanders the following afternoon. "This is Mr. Davies,—Lieutenant Davies,—just graduated,—who's to go on with 'em," said he to the commanding officer of that old army post, adding for his private ear, "He's a tenderfoot and doesn't know anything but moral suasion." To this conclusion Captain Tibbetts has been impelled by what he had heard as well as by the events of the night. Mr. Davies, of whom he knew nothing except what Muffet had to say, having been told that he needn't bother about the men any more, had nevertheless bothered about them, three or four at least, very much,—Lance Corporal Brannan to begin with, who was slashed in the hand, and a couple of sorely battered penitents in the middle car among them. No surgeon being with the detachment, Davies had begged permission towards evening to fetch these poor fellows back to the sleeper, where their hurts could be cleaned and bandaged. Tibbetts said no, and two hours later yes. Meantime he had met the ladies, one of whom, the elder, exhausted by the sleeplessness and anxiety of forty-eight hours, was comforted by the despatch brought her at Omaha to the effect that her husband was being sent in by easy stages to Fort Fetterman, where she could meet and nurse him, and she was now finally and peacefully sleeping in her berth. The other, a slender, graceful girl, with very soft dark eyes and grave, sweet, mobile face, who sat and fanned Mrs. Cranston during the heat of the afternoon, had next surprised the captain by re-dressing the ugly wound in the young corporal's hand. Tibbetts knew Captain Cranston well by reputation. He was one of the finest troop commanders of the cavalry arm, but Tibbetts had never before met Mrs. Cranston and her companion now consigned to his care.

"You are well taught in first aid to the wounded," he said. "Where did you learn?"

"My father was Dr. Loomis, of the army," she answered, simply. "He taught me when I was quite a child. He died, as I think perhaps you know."

"We all knew him, Miss Loomis," was the instant reply. "Even those who never met him, personally, knew him as I did,—for his devotion to our poor fellows in the fever epidemic. And your mother?"

"Mother has been dead for years. I am alone now, but for my cousin Margaret,—Mrs. Cranston. I am her companion."

And the captain, himself aging in the service, and with daughters who might be left as was this girl,—penniless,—understood, and bowed in silent sympathy. It was the sight of the gash in Brannan's fist that called him back to the business before him.

"How did you get that?" he asked, with professional brevity, little liking it—soldier bred as he was—that one of the new flock should thus be parcelled out from his fellows and transported in a Pullman.

"Climbing through the window of the saloon I—cut it, sir," was the answer.

"Yes—there perhaps," said Tibbetts, indicating the smaller gash, "but this one,—clean cut like a knife. Whose knife?"

Whereat Brannan looked confused and troubled. "I don't know, sir," he finally said.

"I believe you do know, and that you got it in that saloon row. A pretty thing for a man like you to be mixed in."

Whereat Brannan reddened still more, and looked as though he wanted to speak yet feared to say. It was Miss Loomis who promptly took the word.

"Indeed, captain, you don't understand. He was ordered in. He was handling the hose pipe—the very first—with Mr. Davies." And here she turned as though to seek the other pipeman, while Tibbetts effusively—impulsively—began to make amends.

"Well—well—well," said he. "That's a totally different matter. You got your wound in a good cause, sir, and if I could find out who tried to knife you, he'd repent it this night. Are you sure you don't know?"

"I don't think anybody tried to cut me, sir," was the answer, after a pause.

"Didn't you see anybody with a knife?"

But this Brannan wouldn't answer, and the captain, after a moment's thought, went lurching through the grimy, swaying cars, hunted up the two damaged recruits and gruffly bade them follow him. Davies looked up gratefully as they entered the sleeping-car, but the captain did not notice him. "I have reconsidered," said he, "and brought these patients to you, Miss Loomis," then turned abruptly away. It was the subaltern who aided, and then who thanked the skilful, light-handed nurse, for the poor fellows seemed both abashed and humbled. One of them, looking furtively about, had caught sight of Brannan, sitting alone in a section with his bandaged hand. Quick glance of recognition was exchanged. There was an instant of question in the new-comer's eye. It was answered by the corporal, who raised two fingers to his compressed lips one second, then let them fall. But Davies saw,—saw also that when told by the captain they might remain there in the roomier, cooler sleeper for a time, the younger and more intelligent-looking of the two dropped into the seat by Brannan's side. They chatted in low tone together, as the night came on, their lips moving and their ears attent even though their heads were turned apart,—communing as men commune who do not wish to be thought in conversation.

"We shall have supper at Grand Island," said the captain, presently, "and coffee will be sent through the cars for the men. If you will escort Mrs. Cranston and Miss Loomis, Mr. Davies, my sergeants will look after the command." And Mr. Davies being subordinate and just out of four years' training in which no man may hesitate to do just as a superior may bid, obeyed his instructions, not unwilling, even though smarting under vague sense of being given to understand he was of no military use.

Re-entering the car, refreshed after a hearty supper, and seeing his fair charges to their section, Mr. Davies caught sight of his invalids still seated where he had left them, and looking weak and hungry.

"Did they bring you no coffee? Have you had no supper?" he asked. And, as a shake of the head was sole answer, he sallied forth. Appealing to the sergeant in charge of the distribution of the cooked rations, he was favored with the brief reply, "The captain didn't give me no orders." Moreover, there didn't seem to be anything left. The captain was still leisurely finishing his own supper, after having got the coffee started on the train. The huge caldrons used for the purpose were already being lifted off the cars, empty. Every drop had been spilled or swallowed by the hungry and thirsty crowd. With quick decision Davies stepped to the lunch-counter, loaded up with huge frontier sandwiches, doughnuts, and hard-boiled eggs, and bade the manager draw a jug full of coffee and get it, with some cups, milk, and sugar, on the sleeper at once. He came forth laden, the Pullman porter with him, as the conductor was trolling, "All aboard." Down the platform he went with the eyes of half the blue coats on the cars upon him, and soldiers refreshed by food and coffee are in more receptive mood than when dejected by hunger. Some men in the third car who had heard his eager queries of the commissary sergeant knew for whom those supplies were meant, others did not, and of these latter one jocular and untutored Patlander sang out, "Bully for the leftenint; 'tis he that knows how to look out for number wan." Whereat there came furious shouts of "Shame!" "Shut up!" and inelegant and opprobrious epithets, all at the expense of the impetuous son of Erin who had spoken too soon. Some one whacked his empty head with an equally empty canteen and called him a Yap. Some one else, farther back, sang out, "Three cheers for the lieutenant," and stentorian authority in chevrons bellowed "Silence there, fore and aft!" and then, when instant hush and awe rewarded the mandate, followed up the order with the military Milesianism, "Youse fellers wants to keep your mouths shut barrin' you're atin'." The wounded in the Pullman ate and drank gratefully and heartily at the lieutenant's expense, and these are matters the rank and file remember. Lance Corporal Brannan, made comfortable for the night in the sleeper, had a few murmured words with the dark-eyed and more intelligent-looking of the two recruits before they were remanded to their own car for the night, where they went, and, after the manner of their kind, one of them bragged not a little over the bully supper they had had with the lieutenant. "Enjoy it while you can, me bucks," was the caustic comment of a fellow-recruit who had all the ear-marks and none of the credentials of previous service about him. "It's the last of that sort of hobnobbing you'll ever see."

For upwards of an hour during the night, while Mrs. Cranston lay peacefully sleeping, Mr. Davies and Miss Loomis sat in conversation in the opposite section. Tibbetts, who would fain have enjoyed such a privilege, found no opportunity. Somewhere towards ten o'clock he came quickly in. Davies read official matter in the captain's manner as he approached the section, and rising, stood attention, cadet-like, when addressed.

"Mr. Davies, while I think everything will go quietly with those fellows from this on, I wish to take all necessary precautions. I will divide the night with you. After two o'clock I wish you to go through the cars once every two hours and see that the recruits are quiet and the guard alert, also to step outside to the platform when we stop at stations. Better turn in now and get what sleep you can."

But though promptly at two o'clock the young officer aroused the captain, who was dozing in the smoking-room, he himself had had little sleep. The events of the day, the novelty of his position, the desire to see something of the strange, half-settled land so recently the roaming-ground of Indian and buffalo through which they were steadily rolling, and which lay outspread, weird and ghostly, in the summer moonlight,—these and thoughts of home and the rapidly nearing possibilities of frontier warfare, all combined to make him wakeful. He was only getting sleepy when he should have been wide awake. Captain Tibbetts was an old campaigner and awoke from his doze with a start, shook himself together, and said he'd take a turn through the car before undressing for the night. In a moment or two he returned, the first sergeant with him, and this faithful old soldier was rewarded by a long pull from the captain's canteen before returning to the recruit car.

"Do you know anything about that young fellow,—ever meet him before?" said Tibbetts, indicating with a nod the recruit corporal, who, with a pillow under his head and his feet on the opposite seat, was now curled up in slumber.

"No, sir," answered Davies.

"Well, he's a man of good education and family, if I'm not mistaken. I'm told he's been on duty as clerk at the depot, and 'twas he who made out the rolls. It will be long before he can write again. Better leave him at Sanders." As he spoke the captain was holding out the well-filled flask in one hand, the cup in the other. Davies took neither. "Won't you have a nip?" asked the senior. "It'll help you to keep awake."

"Thank you, sir, I never have, and don't care to begin."

Tibbetts began screwing on the cap, looking his man over as he did so.

"I believe you're right," said he, "and if I were to begin over again I'd do the same. But we were all taught the other way fifteen years ago." He paused as though he half wanted to say more, but finally turned away and disappeared in his section.

Obedient to his instructions, Davies made frequent tours through the cars, and scouted the outside of the train at every stop. The night passed, however, in perfect peace. The dawn came hours before the train was due at Sidney, where coffee was again to be served. Only one incident occurred to give him food for new thought. Towards four o'clock he returned to the sleeper after an absence of some ten minutes, just as the train pulled slowly away from one of those little prairie stations, and as he entered the dimly-lighted aisle he saw that Brannan was not in his place. Standing at Mrs. Cranston's section farther on, a little phial and medicine-glass in her hand, her dark hair falling in heavy braids down her back, attired in a loose, warm wrapper, was Miss Loomis, calm, yet evidently anxious. Beyond her hovered Brannan, holding the captain's flask.

"What is it?" asked Davies. "Can I be of assistance?"

"Mrs. Cranston woke up in some pain," was the answer. "I know just what to do for her. Thank you, corporal, I believe we won't need the flask.—He thought I needed it," said she, turning to Davies. And Brannan, going to the captain's section, slipped his prize back into the little russet leather satchel and shoved it underneath the berth. Davies looked at him in some surprise, but made no comment.

"I am sorry I was not here to help you," said he. "Did you have to wake him,—Brannan?"

"He was awake. A soldier was in here speaking with him when I heard Mrs. Cranston, just after we stopped at the last station. We were there several minutes, were we not?"

"Yes, taking on water; but Captain Tibbetts gave orders that no man should leave his car. Who was the man who came in here, corporal?" asked he of Brannan.

"I—I couldn't give his name, sir," was the answer, in evident embarrassment. "He came in just the minute the lieutenant got off at the station. He was only in here a few seconds, sir."

"What did he want?" asked Davies.

"He—wanted something of the captain, sir, but I told him the captain was asleep."

Davies hastened through the passage and across the jolting platform to the next car ahead.

"Sergeant," said he, "what man went through here into the sleeper when we stopped last station?"

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse