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A Wounded Name
by Charles King
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As early as 9.30 Senora Valdez had gone below, following her lovely nieces, and warning Pancha to come at once. It was too dark, too damp to remain there longer, but Loring begged, and the Idaho lurched and rolled sympathetically at the moment and the duenna found further argument impossible. She had to rush for her room, and later to confide her mandates as to Pancha to the stewardess, who came, peeped, and considered them ill-timed. At six bells Turnbull and a few determined, yet uncomfortable souls were consuming cognac and playing vingt et un in the cabin, while the lookouts were doubled on the deck and every ship's officer stood to his post. The sound of the muffled tinkle of the bell roused Pancha from the silence that had fallen on the pair.

"I must go," she murmured for perhaps the twentieth time, and yet she could not.

Once more, mournful, moaning, the deep-toned whistle poured forth its warning on the night, and before the long blast had died away, up from the depths of the dense fog bank ahead arose an echo, accentuated with sharp, staccato shrieks. Then came a sudden, startling cry at the bow; then deep down in the bowels of the ship the clang of the engine gong; then, shouts, and rushings to and fro at the hidden forecastle; and Loring started to his feet only to be hurled headlong to the deck, for, with fearful shock, some mammoth monster struck and pierced and heeled to port the stanch little coaster, and then, withdrawing from the fearful rent in her quarter, came crushing and grinding down the side, sweeping away every boat that hung at the starboard davits, ripping through the shrouds like pack-thread, and rolling and wallowing off astern amid a pandemonium of shouts for aid, and frantic screams of startled women. In one minute the great steamer had vanished as suddenly as she came, and the Idaho was settling by the bows. A signal rocket tore aloft to tell the tale of desperate peril.

"Stand by us, Santiago! Don't you see you've cut us down?" bellowed the captain through his trumpet. Again the steam-pipe roared and the mournful whistle crooned the death song. No answering signal came to cheer their hearts with hope of rescue. The great Pacific mailer was lost in the fog full half a mile away. The crew came rushing up on deck, reporting everything under water below. There was a mad dash of fear-crazed men for the boats, discipline and duty both forgotten.

Over the first officer's prostrate form they sprang at the "falls" of the sternmost—the longboat, a huge, bearded seaman in the lead. The captain, with fury in his eye, leaped in the way, shouting blasphemy and orders to go back, and was knocked flat with a single blow. The brawny hand had seized the swaying tackle and three seamen were already scrambling into the swinging craft when a revolver cracked; the big leader threw up his hands with a yell of agony and toppled headlong upon the deck. Then a lithe figure vaulted over the longboat's gunwale. One after another three seamen came tumbling out abashed and overawed. The captain regained his feet and senses. The boat was lowered by cooler hands until it danced in safety on the waves, and one after another the women were carefully passed down to the care of him whose stern, clear-headed sense and instant action had proved their sole salvation—a landsman, Loring of the Engineers.



CHAPTER XIV.

That was a woeful night on the fog-shrouded Pacific. In less than ten minutes from the moment of the crash the Idaho's stern was lifted high, then down she dove for her final berth, untold fathoms underneath—her steadfast captain standing to his post till the last soul left the doomed and deserted wreck. It was God's mercy that limited the passenger list to a mere dozen in the first cabin and less than twenty in the second. The boat, with all the women, was pushed off from the side, the first officer taking charge. Through the fog they could dimly see the others lowered, then manned and laden. Discipline had been restored. Water and bread and blankets had been hastily passed to the longboat. The purser had found time to dive into his safe, and to load up with some, at least, of the valuable contents. There was even a faint cheer when the steamer took the final plunge. Huddled together, many of the women were weeping, all were pale with dread, but Loring and the ship's officer bade them be of good cheer. Even if they were not found by the Santiago they were but a few miles from shore. The sea, though rolling heavily, was not dangerous. They were sure of making land by morning. But there were women who could not be comforted. Their husbands or brothers were in the two smaller boats, perhaps paddling about in the darkness in vain search for the steamer that cut them down. For awhile there were answering shouts across the heaving waters. Then for half an hour the boat with the second officer, crammed with male passengers and members of the crew, kept close alongside—too close, for some of the former scrambled into the bigger craft and others tried to follow; so close that its young commander could mutter to his mate: "The captain's boat is even fuller than mine. Can't you take off half a dozen?"

But the first officer shook his head: "If the worst comes, they've got life preservers and can swim," said he. "These women would be helpless except for what we can do for 'em."

For a time they shouted in hopes of being heard aboard the Santiago, but only those who have tried it know that it is a matter of merest luck when a steamer rounding to in a fog succeeds in finding or even coming anywhere near the spot where she was in collision not ten minutes before. The Santiago's captain swore stoutly that, though badly damaged and compelled to put back to San Francisco, for three mortal hours they cruised about the scene, setting off rockets, firing guns, sounding the whistle, listening intently with lowered boats, but never heard a sound from the wreck, never until two days after knew the fate of the vessel they had cut down. At last the first officer, fearful for his precious freight, bade his four oarsmen to pull for shore, his little pocket compass pointing the way. At dawn they heard the signals of a steamer through the dripping mist, and raised their voices in prolonged shout. An hour more and they were lifted, numb and wearied, but, oh, so thankful, to the deck of a coaster creeping up from Wilmington and Santa Barbara, and were comforted with chocolate and coffee, while for long, long hours the steamer cruised up and down, to and fro, seeking for their companions and never desisting until again the pall of night spread over the leaden sea. Late the following morning the fog rolled back before the waking breeze and the Broderick steamed hopefully on for the Golden Gate, and by nightfall was moored at her accustomed dock, there to be met by the tidings that, while the second officer managed to beach his boat in safety, the captain's overloaded craft was swamped in the breakers off Point Pinos, and that brave old Turnbull had lost his life, dragged under by drowning men. At Monterey the people thought the longboat too must have overturned, and that all the women had perished. The Santiago, nearly sinking, had only just reached port. The beach above Point Pinos was thronged with people searching in the surf for the bodies of the victims, and the captain of the Idaho was broken hearted, if not well-nigh crazed. The news of the safety of the women flew from street to street, fast as the papers could speed their extras. Loving friends came pouring down to meet and care for the survivors on the Broderick. The owners of the Idaho hastened to congratulate and commend their first officer and praise his seamanship and wisdom. The women were conveyed in carriages to the homes of friends or cared for by the company, and after a brief handclasp and parting word with Pancha, whose pathetic eyes haunted him for days, Mr. Loring took a cab and drove alone to headquarters. Evidently the story of the panic and its prompt suppression had not yet been told.

And then for at least five days the papers teemed with details of that marine disaster, and public-spirited citizens started a subscription for a presentation to the first officer, through whose heroism and determination was checked what promised to be a mad scene of disorder and dismay, such as ensued when the Arctic went down and that "stern, brave mate, Gourlay, whom the sailors were wont to obey" was not there to check the undisciplined rush to the boats. For forty-eight hours and thereafter the first officer modestly declared he had merely done his duty, sir, and no good seaman would have done less. The public dinner to be given in his honor, however, languished as a project on the later arrival of survivors from Monterey, and then inquiries began to be made for Lieutenant Loring and new stories to appear in papers that had not already committed themselves to other versions of the affair, and then it transpired that something had gone amiss at Department Headquarters. Lieutenant Loring, after an interview with the commanding general, had hastened to Monterey in search of the captain and purser. The former he found there prostrate and actually flighty, so much so that he could give no coherent answer to questions propounded to him. In the marine hospital, suffering from a gunshot wound, was the huge sailor who had felled the commander to the deck in the rush for the remaining boats, a rush in which he was ringleader, and a piteous tale he told—that he had been shot by a passenger whom he was trying to prevent from getting into the boat they were holding for the women. The gallant little second officer had gone to his wife and children in the southern part of the State, and was not there to tell the truth. The captain was almost delirious. The first officer in San Francisco had been tacitly posing as a marine lion, and could not well be expected to volunteer information that might rob him of his laurels. The survivors among the passengers were scattered by this time, and the purser, whose testimony might be of great value, had disappeared. "Must be in 'Frisco," said the agent who had been sent down to see that every man was furnished with clothing and money at the company's expense, and sent on his way measurably comforted. "Traynor had a desperate squeak for life," said the agent. "He was in the captain's boat when she sunk and was weighed down with his money packages, belted about him underneath his coat, and was hauled ashore more dead than alive, and some of his valuables were lost—he couldn't tell how much."

And this was the man Mr. Loring most needed to see. There had come to Department Headquarters a person representing himself as the San Francisco agent of the Escalante brothers, presenting a written order for a valuable package which had been given the purser for safe keeping—had been locked by him in his safe, and which now could be found nowhere. Mr. Traynor had declared to the owners that after getting the women aboard the boat he had taken all the money from the safe and such packages as it was possible to carry, and tossed three or four to Loring as he stood balancing himself on a thwart and clinging to the fall, and that he was sure one of them was that of the Senorita Pancha, for she was at the moment clasping Loring's knees and imploring him to sit down. The boat was alternately lifting high and sinking deep as the great waves rolled by, and Traynor, while admitting haste and excitement, declared that he could almost swear that Loring received three packages and one of them must have been that now demanded by the Escalante's agent. Hence the visit of that somber person to headquarters and his importunate appeals to Loring, who told him the whole story was absurd.

But then this agent had appealed to the general, and that officer, whose manner the day of Loring's return to duty had been marked by odd constraint, sent for the Engineer and required of him a statement as to the truth or falsity of these allegations, and when Loring, startled and indignant, answered "False, of course, sir," and demanded what further accusation there was, the chief tossed aside the paper folder he was nervously fingering, sprang up and began to pace the floor, a favorite method, said those who long had known him, of working off steam when he was much excited.

"I can't—discuss this painful matter, Mr. Loring," said he, testily. "You'll have to see Colonel Strain, the adjutant-general. This deplorable loss of Colonel Turnbull has upset everybody."

So Loring went to Colonel Strain, a man to whom he was but slightly known, and then it was developed that a young lady wearing mourning, a very lovely girl, so every one described her, had called no less than three times to inquire if Mr. Loring were not returned. Once only had the general seen her, but Strain was three times her listener, and a patient one he proved, and a most assiduous friend and sympathizer for several days, until, as it subsequently transpired, in some way matters reached the ears of Mrs. Strain. The colonel very pointedly told the engineer lieutenant that the lady claimed to have received letters proving that he was still in possession of the Nevins jewels while sojourning at Fort Yuma, had endeavored to compromise the matter by the tender of a check for two hundred dollars, which in her destitute condition her sister had felt compelled to accept until she could have legal advice, "and this," said Colonel Strain, "followed now by the claim of this Mexican agent, has created such a scandal in the general's eyes that you cannot too speedily take steps to assure him of your innocence, which of course you should have no difficulty in doing unless—unless—" and the colonel coughed dubiously.

For a moment Loring stood there like one in a daze. Good God! Geraldine Allyn his accuser! The girl who had wronged him so bitterly before! The girl whom he had sought to aid when he found her well-nigh destitute! Gradually the whole force of the situation dawned upon him. With Turnbull dead, the captain daft and Traynor telling the strange story of his (Loring's) eagerness to examine the Escalante packet early on the voyage, and now declaring that he had given it into Loring's keeping! Who in the name of Heaven was left to speak for him? Loring had come a stranger to this distant station. He had chosen to be sent at once to duty in a desert land. He was personally as little known to his superiors here at San Francisco as though they had never met. Even as the men began about the steamship offices and on the streets and in the hotels whither the Idaho's few passengers had told the tale, to speak of Walter Loring as the man who really quelled the panic, if not a mutiny, and saved the lives of a score of helpless men and women, that officer stood accused before his comrades of the army of breach of trust, of mean embezzlement, of low-down theft and trickery, and not a man could he name to help to prove him innocent. Blake, to be sure, was at Yuma, but what could he establish save that the stage had been attacked, Loring left alone, and when the cavalry returned there lay the Engineer apparently unconscious, the empty saddle-bag beside him. Blake had seen no robbers. Blake suspected Sancho of every villainy, but could convict him of none. Traynor, the purser, whether he believed or disbelieved his own story that he had passed that packet down to Loring, could truthfully declare that Loring had displayed most mysterious and unaccountable interest in it. One talk with Pancha, it seems, had banished Loring's intention of confiding his suspicion and the whole story, in fact, to Mr. Traynor. And so there was no friend to whom he could turn. Five days after his arrival in San Francisco Loring found himself facing charges of the gravest nature, for Traynor, being sent for, told his story to the general in person, and Loring stood alone.



CHAPTER XV.

April had gone, and May and June was well-nigh half over. The old semaphore of Telegraph Hill would have worn itself out signaling sidewheel steamers had it still been in operation. The transcontinental railway was stretching out up the valley of the Platte toward the center of the continent, but Wells-Fargo, and the pony express charging a dollar a letter, were the only transcontinental rapid transit of the day. People still went to and from the distant East by way of Aspinwall and Panama, and the big boats of the Pacific mail were crowded, going or coming; and one bright June day two women in mourning were escorted aboard the Sonora and shown to their little stateroom, one a decidedly pretty girl, the other a sad-faced, careworn, delicate looking widow, ten or twelve years apparently the senior. They sailed with only one friend to see them off, an aide-de-camp of the commanding general, yet not without much curiosity on part of the younger woman as to the composition of the passenger list. Even before they were beyond the rocky scarp of Alcatraz, for few things are impossible to a pretty woman, she had been able to secure a copy and to say, with bated breath, to the languid invalid: "At least he's not going on this ship. It might be better if he were." For Miss Geraldine Allyn had not lost faith in her power to charm.

And one reason why the "he" referred to was not going on this ship was that the sisters Nevins and Allyn had "booked" their passage nearly two weeks before, it being useless to remain longer on the Pacific coast in hopes of finding the fugitive husband, for the consul at Guaymas was authorized to report the death at Hermosillo, "through wounds and exposure, of the gallant but unfortunate captain, whose mind must have given way under his accumulation of troubles." A seal ring that Nevins used to wear and some letters were all he had to leave, and these had been duly forwarded to the address of his wife, whose pathetic inquiries for further particulars elicited nothing more reliable than that Nevins was dead and buried, and that was the end of him. The quartermaster got "transportation" for them to New Orleans. A sum sufficient for their immediate needs was placed in their hands. Another sum, which did not receive immediate acknowledgment, was also sent to the disconsolate widow, and now they were going, and that was all. Going, too, was Loring, though not on that trip, shaking, so to speak, the dust of California from his feet, a silent but much-disgusted man. For nearly five weeks he had lived a life that would have tried the endurance of the patriarch of Holy Writ and wrecked the sunny nature of a Tapley. Hounded day after day by the so-called agent of the Escalantes with insolent demands for property that was never in Loring's possession; threatened with arrest if he did not make restitution or propose an equivalent; sent practically to Coventry by officials at headquarters, to whom he was too proud or too sensitive to dilate upon his wrongs or to tell more than once the straight story of his innocence; saved from military arrest only by the "stalwart" letter written by the Yuma surgeon in response to his urgent appeals; comforted measurably by Blake's eloquent, but emphatically insubordinate, outburst at the expense of department headquarters; unable to bring to bear for nearly five weeks the mass of testimony as to character forthcoming from the superintendent and officers at West Point, and the letters of classmates and comrades who knew him and felt that the charges must be false, our Engineer passed through an ordeal the like of which few men have had to encounter. Then the unexpected happened. The captain of the Idaho slowly recovered his mind and strength, and with convalescence came keen recollection of all that had occurred. He too made full report to the owners of Loring's coolness and determination the night of the wreck, and was amazed to be told of the charges against that officer.

"Who says so? Who makes such accusations?" he demanded angrily, and was informed that his friend and shipmate, Purser Traynor, was the person; whereat the big skipper gave a long, long whistle, looked dazed again, smote his thigh with a heavy fist, and presently said, "Just you wait a little;" wherewith he took himself off. Traynor and the first officer had been very "thick" for a fortnight or so, though that dinner had never come off. Traynor and the first officer had both been promised excellent berths the moment the new steamer arrived that was to take the place of the Idaho. But the captain went cruising out beyond Sacramento, where the purser had a little nest and brood, and came back later with a tale he poured into the ears of the company, the result of which was that Traynor was informed he would be wise to seek other employment; there would be no place for him on the new Montana; and Traynor took first boat for the Columbia, and got far away from San Francisco. No specific charges had been laid at his door, said the owners, when questioned. Nothing had been proved, nothing probably would be, that they knew of; but the captain had sailed with Traynor several years, and had views of his own as to that gentleman's integrity, which when communicated to Mr. Traynor did not seem to surprise him, and remained uncontradicted.

Then came the captain to department headquarters. The British sailor has scant reverence for soldiers of his own land and less for those of any other, no matter what the rank, and this particular son of the sea was more Briton than Yankee despite the fact that he had "sailed the California trade" long years of his life and had taken out his papers in the early statehood of that wonderful land. Ever since the days of Stockton and Kearny he had fed fat the ancient grudge he bore the army and steered as clear of soldier association as was possible for a man whose ship was dependent in great measure on army patronage. Days before his unheralded coming to general headquarters the rumors of Loring's bravery and coolness the night of the wreck had been floating about the building. But the Engineer had drawn into his shell. He came and went to and from the office assigned to him, working apparently over field reports and maps, and never entered another room in the building unless sent for. It was believed that he had written urgently to the Chief of Engineers, requesting to be relieved from further duty at San Francisco. He was neither cleared nor convicted of the allegations at his expense. There seemed no way of bringing about either result in the absence or silence of witnesses. But, meantime, he had bitterly resented the apparent readiness of certain of the officials to look upon him with suspicion, and had withdrawn from all except most formal and distant association. No wonder he desired to be relieved from further service with or near them. Mrs. Nevins had insisted on removing to a cheap lodging in Sacramento as soon as able to move at all, and had taken her dependent sister with her, sorely against that young woman's wish, as she had made an impression, a decided impression upon an unmarried aide-de-camp who was reported to be wealthy, but whose attentions fell short of the matrimonial point, as the poverty of the sisters became revealed to him. There was, therefore, no longer to Loring the possible embarrassment of meeting or seeing the girl who had so wronged him, yet there was constant evidence of the seeds that she had sown. Some man, he felt sure, must have kept alive the rumors to his discredit, and the extreme constraint of manner, the avoidance, shown by this very gentleman, stamped him as in all probability the person at fault. Loring was only waiting now for proofs.

It so happened the very day the stanch old salt came searching through the building in quest of his friend that the General with two aides and others of the staff, had assembled in the office of Colonel Strain. Several of them had known and sailed with the Idaho's master and liked her captain well, despite his frequent flings at soldiers. His appearance at the doorway, therefore, was the signal for quite a cordial welcome. The General himself came forward to take him by the hand and say how sorry he was at the loss of his ship, and how he hoped soon to see him on the decks of a bigger and better one. But the bluff captain thought as little of land generals as of lubbers of lower grade, and was not as grateful as he should perhaps have been, and was evidently looking for somebody beyond the sympathetic group, and presently said so.

"I've come to see Mr. Loring, by George! I haven't laid eyes on him since the night he backed me up in restoring order and discipline on my ship. That man ought to have been a sailor! Where'll I find him?" he concluded abruptly, staring round at the circle of somewhat embarrassed faces.

"We heard some rumor about this, captain," said the General. "Suppose you come into my office and tell me the whole story?"

"Why not right here where they can all hear?" was the instant answer. "I'm told that more'n one man has been at work trying to rob him of the credit, and as for Mr. Jennings, who was our first officer, I gave the company a piece of my mind the moment I heard it, and I've got a tongue-lashing in store for him. 'Taint the first I've had to give him, either, and it won't be the last if he ever runs foul of me again. They tell me, what's more, that Escalante's agent has had the impudence to come here a dozen times threatening Mr. Loring. Next time he comes you have him kicked out and charge it to me. That man's a thief, and so is one of the Escalantes—if not more than one. As for Loring, he's head and shoulders above any of the young fellows that have sailed with me, and when I was flattened out by the rush of that cowardly gang, he stood up to 'em like a man. That one shot of his brought 'em up with a jerk and put an end to the trouble."

He broke off short and glanced about him to note the effect of his words. It was an awkward moment. Three of the group had had their doubts as to the possibility of Loring's being culpable, but so disturbed and partially convinced had been the General and his chief-of-staff, so active had been the aide-de-camp referred to in his collection and dissemination of scandal at Loring's expense that no one felt able to say anything until the General himself had spoken. The Chief evidently felt his dignity assailed, and his commanding attitude imperiled. No further revelations ought to be allowed except such as should be filtered through him or his accredited staff officer.

"Come into my den, captain," he exclaimed, therefore. "You interest me greatly, and I want to hear all about it."

"I'll come quick enough," said the captain briefly, "after I've seen Loring. I want to shake hands with him, I say, before I do anything else. Where'll I find him?" And with most depressing disregard of the General's greatness, the sailor would have turned his back on the entire party in order to find his injured friend, but the Chief was a strategist.

"Ah—go to Mr. Loring, captain," said he, to a ready staff officer, "and say to him that I desire he should come to my room a moment." And the aide-de-camp was off like a shot, so the seaman could only wait. The General led the way into his comfortable room and signaled to one or two to follow, and presently back came his messenger, and a moment after him, grave, composed, but freezingly formal, there at the door stood the Engineer. His eyes brightened up the instant he laid them on the Idaho's sturdy commander, but etiquette demanded that he should first address the General.

"You sent for me, sir?"

"I did, Mr. Loring. Our good friend, Captain Moreland, has been telling us of your most—er—praiseworthy conduct the night of the disaster. We all, I wish to assure you, are—er—gratified to hear of this. And now it has occurred to me that Captain Moreland might be able to throw some light on the very—unpleasant matter which we had to bring to your attention a few weeks since. Surely he must know something of these—er—people who were your accusers."

The General was seated at his big desk. He was flanked by the adjutant-general and backed by a brace of aides. Moreland, the mariner, was standing at the table and started forward as Loring entered as though to grasp his hand. The General still considered it essential to observe a certain air of formality in speaking. It was as though he had begun to believe Loring an injured man, and therefore he himself must be an aggrieved one, for surely the lieutenant should have spared the General the mortification of being placed in the wrong.

But to this tentative remark Mr. Loring made no reply. He stood calmly before the department commander, looked straight into his face, but did not open his lips.

"I say," repeated the General, in louder tone, "the captain appears to know and may be able to tell us something about the people who were your accusers."

"Possibly, sir," said Loring, finding that he was expected to say something, but with an indifference of manner most culpable in one so far inferior in rank.

"I was in hopes, Mr. Loring," said the General, evidently nettled, "that you would appreciate the evident desire of myself and my confidential officers to see you relieved of these—er—aspersions. For that reason I urged Captain Moreland to make his statement public."

And still looking straight at the department commander, whose florid face was turning purple, Loring was silent. Perhaps after a month of accusation, real or implied, on part of the General and the "confidential officers," he found it difficult to account for the sudden manifestation of desire to acquit. He was thinking, too, of a tear-stained little letter that had come to him only a few days earlier—the last from Pancha, before the child was formally entered at the school of the good gray sisters. He was wondering if she at sixteen were really more alone in her little world than he in the broad and liberal sphere of soldier life. Then the sight of Moreland's weather-beaten face, perturbed and aggrieved, gave him a sense of sympathy that through all the weeks of his virtual ostracism had been lacking. He had other letters, too, worth far more than a dollar apiece, which was what their carriage cost him, bidding him have no fear, documents of weight were coming that would teach the authorities of the Pacific coast the error of their views and ways, but of these he did not care to speak. He chose to await the coming of the documents themselves. The silence, however, was oppressive, and the sailor spoke.

"If the only accusers this gentleman has are Escalantes, or associates of the Escalantes, you'd better beg his pardon and have done with it," said he, "and thereby put the matter in its most luckless way."

Angrily the General turned to the aide-de-camp fidgeting on his left.

"Do you know whether the Escalantes are the sole accusers, captain?" said he deliberately.

"I regret to say that they are not," was the answer. "And Mr. Loring has shown strange reluctance, to put it mildly, to meet the—others."

"I have answered, once and for all, every charge brought to my ears," said Loring, turning on the speaker, with eyes that blazed, and Moreland, who had seen him cool and composed in the face of panic, marveled now to note the intensity of his emotion, for Loring was white and trembling, though his gaze was steady as the hand that held back the terror-stricken crew that wild night on the waters.

"Perhaps you are unaware of the more recent developments—and the source of information," said the aide uneasily.

"I am; and I demand the right to know or to meet both without delay. Captain Moreland," and here he turned on the wondering sailor, "can you be here to-morrow?"

"Certainly I can, and will," was the prompt answer.

"That wouldn't help," said the aide-de-camp, on whom all eyes were fixed again. "My informant couldn't be here."

"Very good. We'll go to your informant, then," answered Loring.

Another silence. It was not Loring now who seemed hesitant or reluctant. It was the aide.

There came a knock at the door. An orderly appeared with several telegraphic dispatches. Colonel Strain stepped forward, took them, shut the door in the orderly's face, handed them to the General, and resumed his seat. Glad of a diversion, the commander glanced at the superscription. "Here is one for you, sir," said he to the Engineer, who received it, but did not open it. He was again facing the embarrassed aide, who finally found words.

"Mr. Loring, my informant was here a whole month and said you refused to appear. Now—they are beyond recall, unless—it should come to trial."

The answer came like a flash:

"Your informant, sir—and there was but one—would never appear in the event of trial. That informant sailed three days ago on the Sonora, and you know it." Then, as a sudden thought struck him, he tore open his dispatch and read, then turned again to his faltering opponent: "So long as that informant could be confronted you kept me ignorant of any new allegations, if there were any. Now come out with your story, and by the next steamer I'll run it down."



CHAPTER XVI.

The worst of having a man of Moreland's views present on such an occasion is that the whole thing is sure to be noised abroad with scant reference to military propriety. Moreland told the owners of the steamer line, the Chamber of Commerce, the easily-gathered audience on Rush and Montgomery streets, the usual customers at Barry & Patton's, the loungers in the lobbies of the hotels, everybody who would listen—and who would not?—how that brave fellow Loring, who ought to have been a sailor, faced down that quartette of "blue-bellied lobsters" up at headquarters. The General was not a popular character. His principal claim to distinction during the great war seemed to be that of being able to criticise every other general's battles and to win none of his own. "He never went into a fight that he didn't get licked," declared the exultant Moreland, "and now he's bowled over by his youngest lieutenant." The story of that interview went over the bay like wildfire and stirred up the fellows at the Presidio and Angel Island, while the islanders of Alcatraz came bustling to town to learn the facts as retailed at the Occidental, and to hear something more about that queer, silent fellow Loring. Among the junior subalterns in the artillery were one or two who knew him at the Point, and they scouted the story of his having ever having stolen a cent's worth, or the idea of extracting anything about the matter from his lips. The latest yarn in circulation was that after the now famous interview Loring had "laid for" Captain Petty, the aide-de-camp referred to, a young Gothamite of good family who had got into the regulars early in the war and out of company duty from that time to this, and, having met the aide-de-camp, Loring had thereupon calmly pulled the gentleman's aquiline nose for him. Petty could not be found, had gone to Fort Yuma on important business for the department commander, was the explanation. The General properly refused to be interviewed by reporters of the papers and couldn't be approached by anybody else on the subject. Only two things were positively known. Lieutenant Loring had received telegraphic notification from the Chief of Engineers of his relief from duty in the department and his assignment to similar work in the Department of the Platte, and it was rumored, though it could not be confirmed, that the General had been directed by telegraph to designate a staff officer to receipt to Lieutenant Loring at once for the public property for which he was accountable, in order that the latter officer might take an early steamer for the Isthmus, as his services were urgently needed at his new station. It was an open secret that the General considered himself aggrieved by the action of the authorities at Washington and said so. He had made no charge against Lieutenant Loring. He had merely called that gentleman's attention to the very serious allegations laid at his door, and this was true. On the other hand, people who had been permitted to know anything about the matter, notably certain senior officers of the Engineer Corps not under the General's orders, and one or two staff department officers who, unhappily for themselves, were under his orders and subject to his semi-occasional rebuke, now openly said that not one allegation against Loring came from a reliable or respectable source, and that it was an outrage to have held him even to inferential account on the statement of such a cad as Escalante's agent, who hadn't been near the office since the recovery of Captain Moreland, the insinuations of Mr. Purser Traynor, now totally vanished, and the rumored aspersions of a fair incognita, known only to Captain Petty, a man who had few associates in the "line" or outside the limited circle of the General's personal staff, and who was not too well liked even there.

And, as the revulsion of feeling set in, Petty set out for Yuma. "Where there is so damned much smoke," said he, as it later transpired, "there must be some fire," and the General had bidden him to go to Yuma, to Gila Bend, to Guaymas, to the devil, if need be, and find out all the facts. But the linesmen at Presidio and the jovial blades at Moreland's elbow were loud in their laughing statement that if Petty were looking for fire he could have found it here in abundance. Loring could have given him more than he wanted.

Then came the order in the case of Captain Nevins, dismissing that worthy from the service on charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and awarding a year's imprisonment at such penitentiary, etc., as the reviewing authority should direct, and by the same post the official order transferring Lieutenant Loring of the Engineers to duty in the Department of the Platte, and then what did the steamship company do but issue invitations for a dinner to be given in honor of that distinguished young officer, and great was the noise thereof until it was known that the gentleman had gratefully, but firmly declined. Then the papers said "it was rumored" that the General had forbidden his acceptance, despite the fact that the General had expressed publicly his gratification that the company had at last done something in recognition of its indebtedness to the army—which was most adroit, and equally impersonal. And all the while Loring himself was having anything but an enviable time of it. A man so reticent and retiring could not but be annoyed by the persistent calls and cross-questions of all manner of people in whom he had but small personal interest. He wished to have nothing whatever to say upon the subject, denied himself to reporters and relapsed into impenetrable reserve when importuned by brother officers whom he but slightly knew. One or two with whom he would gladly have held counsel were far removed, one at least forever, from his circle. The stalwart old inspector, Turnbull, lay sleeping his last sleep in the cemetery at Monterey. The veteran who served as president of the Nevins' court was in far Arizona, and Blake, sound of heart, if not of head, was under a cloud at Yuma. His forceful expressions concerning the imbecility of department officials led to his being confined very closely to company work and minor, yet exacting, duties at the post, all because of his abandonment of Lieutenant Loring at a critical moment, said the few defenders of the department's letter to the post commander on that subject. "All because of his too vehement defense of Loring," said everybody else.

With feverish eagerness, Loring awaited the sailing of the next steamer. Every item for which he stood accountable was then at his office, invoices and receipts made out in full. Nothing was needed but the officer designated to relieve him. The Columbia was to leave on Saturday, and up to Thursday evening no relief had appeared. Friday morning the adjutant-general received a written communication, most respectful yet urgent in terms, requesting that the officer might be designated without further delay, and as no answer was received up to noon, Loring followed it with a personal call upon the chief of staff, who said the General had the matter under advisement.

"My luggage goes aboard the Columbia to-night, sir, and I should be aboard by ten o'clock to-morrow," said Loring. Colonel Strain coughed dubiously.

"It might be impracticable to relieve you from duty so soon. The General is in communication with the War Department upon the subject, and possibly if—you—had had the courtesy to call upon the General or upon me, his chief-of-staff, and to explain your wishes, the thing might have been arranged."

Loring flushed. He saw through the motive at a glance, and could have found it easy to express his opinion in very few words. There are times when a man is so goaded that an outburst is the only natural relief, but it is none the less fatal. There might even be method in the colonel's manner, and Loring curbed, with long-practiced hand, both tongue and temper. It would have been warrantable to say that the manner of both the General and his chief-of-staff had been too repellent to to invite calls, but he knew that, whatever the merits of the case, superior officers, like inferior papers, always have the last word. He might be only inviting reprimand. Without a word, therefore, he faced about, went straight to the telegraph office down the avenue and wired to Washington. "Steamer sails noon Saturday. Not yet relieved. What instructions?"

By that hour there would be no one in the office of the Chief of Engineers at Washington, but Loring addressed it direct to the home of the assistant, upon whose interest in the case he had reason to rely, and then returned at once to his desk. Were he not to be there it would place it in the power of a would-be oppressor to say the officer designated to receive the property had called during office hours and could not find Mr. Loring. And then, with such patience as he could command, Loring received the visitors who kept dropping in, among them the boisterous Moreland, whose Bay of Biscay voice had become almost as trying to his host as to the other occupants of the building, and during the long afternoon awaited the action of the General upon his morning's letter and that of the War Department upon his telegram.

Four o'clock came at last. Office hours were over. Neither relief nor reply had reached him. He heard the halls resounding to the footsteps of officers and clerks as they closed their doors and left the building. Bidding his assistant remain a moment he strode to the further end of the long passage. The General was at the moment issuing from his private office, conversing with two of his staff. The adjutant-general, a bundle of papers in his hand, was hastily crossing the hall toward his own office. Loring raised his hat in grave salutation to his commander, who bowed with dignified reserve in return, and moment later the Engineer was facing the colonel at his desk.

"Colonel Strain," said he, "I have much to do. Will you name the hour at which I am to meet my relief?"

"Mr. Loring," said the official tartly, "when we are ready to relieve you the order will be issued—and not before."

"Colonel Strain," answered Loring, "I shall be at my office all evening, ready to receive that order." And wheeling about he met the General at the door. An open telegram was in the latter's hand, a queer look on his flushed and angry face. Relieving his impatient clerk, Loring seated himself to answer a letter, and there fell from the package he drew from his pocket a little note, and with a sudden pang of shame and sorrow he stooped and picked it up. It was only a tiny missive, only a few sad, almost pleading, words. Did he mean to go without a word of good-by to Pancha? His heart reproached him as he remembered that this had reached him two days before.

He was writing a note to the Lady Superior, telling her of his expectation of sailing on the morrow, and asking if he might be permitted to call to say adieu to his little friend of the shipwreck, when an orderly entered.

"Colonel Strain's compliments and desires to see the lieutenant at once." It was not customary for officers to be so summarily summoned after office hours, but Loring went. With a hand that trembled visibly, but with every effort to control his voice, the chief-of-staff held forth a telegram and said:

"The General desires to know, sir, whether you have sent any telegram to Washington which can account for this?"

Loring took and slowly read it. Divested of address and signature it read as follows:

"The Secretary of War is informed that Lieutenant Loring has not been relieved as directed. Report reason by telegraph."

Loring deliberately finished reading, and then as deliberately looked up.

"I have, sir."

"Then it is the General's order, sir," said the chief-of-staff, "that you go at once to your quarters in close arrest."



CHAPTER XVII.

There was the mischief to pay in and about department headquarters for something like twenty-four hours. Colonel Strain, as chief-of-staff, had a sleepless night of it. Mr. Loring, reticent as ever, had gone straight to his rooms, which were far from the office and not very far from the convent of the good gray sisters. He had no thought of insubordination in wiring as he did to Washington. He considered it was his paramount duty to make every effort in his power to sail by the first steamer. Letters of instruction that had reached him informed him that a new post was to be built along the Big Horn range in Wyoming, and that the moment he arrived a board of officers, of which he would serve as junior, would be sent out to select the site. There was urgent need of his services, therefore, and no time to be lost. He felt that this sudden and summary arrest was a wrong to him personally and professionally, but the lessons of obedience and discipline taught in the four long years at West Point were fresh in his mind, and whatever should be the result of his detention the responsibility now lay with the department commander. Arrived at his quarters, Loring calmly wrote a dispatch to the assistant in the office of the Chief of Engineers at Washington, saying so many words: "Placed in close arrest because of previous telegrams. Cannot sail to-morrow." This and a note to the Lady Superior at the convent saying he would be unable to come to say good-by to Pancha, and would probably be detained, he sent by his servant, bidding the man go first to the telegraph office and then to stop at headquarters for certain books, and then to deliver the note at the convent on his homeward way. Dennis was a retired dragoon who had found such employment with the officers on duty in San Francisco for several years past, and was endowed with the Irishman's almost pathetic sense of fealty to his "commander," as he insisted on speaking of his employer. Master was a word he could not tolerate because of its implication of servitude. But even while rebelling at the term, he yielded to the fact a degree of devotion to Loring's interests far exceeding that usually accorded by the body servant of tradition, and this calm, deliberate, methodical, silent young soldier was, in spite of himself and the proverb, "a hero in the eyes of his valet de chambre." Dennis had packed his boxes with blinking eyes and a saddened heart. "He had wurrked," he said, "for twinty gintlemin, most av thim foine men, but the looten'nt was the best av all." Dennis had his wife and brood in a little shanty near the sand lots, and could not follow Loring to the East. He would have howled with delight to hear the order countermanded that was to take the lieutenant away, but when he heard at headquarters, from his fellow-countrymen, the janitor and the guard, that such a countermand had been issued in the shape of an arrest, he swore with wrath. A good Catholic was Dennis, and many a job had been given to him and his lusty helpmate at the gray sisters, and a warm friend had they in the lady superior, to whom he presently bore the note and the tale of his hero's unjustifiable treatment. Then went he on his way, and came in upon Loring just in time to hear the closing words of what had been probably a brief and frigid conversation between the Engineer and the General's assiduous aide-de-camp, Captain Petty. Frigid as it sounded the captain looked hot enough as he took his leave, and collided with Dennis at the door, damned him for being there; then whirled about for a parting shot. "I'll report your exact language to the General, sir," said he, with anger in his tone.

"Try to, at least," said Loring pointedly.

"I didn't come here to be insulted, sir!" said Petty fiercely.

"No, sir. You came here to insult," was the cool reply.

The aid went down the stairs with thundering heels and raging heart. Such contemptuous sang froid on part of an officer four years his junior in service was something unheard of, something not to be tolerated, and as Loring refused to budge from his position of calm superiority, the only thing left for Petty was to leave. So far from going to Yuma, he had progressed only to Monterey, and there spent two or three days poking about the resorts around the plaza in search of gossip that was rumored to be in circulation at Loring's expense. He found the gossipers easily enough, but had greater difficulty in reaching their authorities. It proved disheartening work, for the further he went the less he learned—each tale bearer having apparently added to the pile of his informant, as Petty should have had sense enough to know would be the case. But at last he "lit" on something tangible: The hardy giant who led the rush the night of the wreck was now well enough to be hobbling about town and breathing his tale of woe and wrong to all listening ears, and, the officers being gone and no one present to contradict, he had so frequently repeated his version of the wreck of the Idaho as to make a sinner of his memory and "credit his own lie." The burden of his latest song was that Loring had been to see him at hospital and had promised him, on condition of being guaranteed against action or prosecution because of the shooting of a wronged and inoffensive man, that he (Loring) would pay him handsomely—would send him ten dollars a week, and gave him twenty-five dollars then and there. "But now, for more than a month," said he, "not a cent had come, and he heard that Mr. Loring was trying to get away East." The man told his story reluctantly and with some palpable "breaks" when he found he was being questioned by an officer; but Petty posted back to 'Frisco without delay, convinced that here was something with which to confront and confound that cool, supercilious snob. Then he could take a fresh start for Yuma and get more. One can always get something when the object of the story is away, and, like the seaman's story of his interview with Loring, Petty's version of the seaman's interview with him waxed as he hastened to his General, and had assumed the proportions of a magnificent scandal by the time he told it to that much ruffled brigadier. Even Strain, had he heard the account, would have riddled it—Captain Moreland's evidence was conclusive on that point—and while Loring, in pity and compassion, might have left money with the man for comfort in his convalescence, it was incredible that he should have tendered payment as a bribe for silence. Strain's exaggerated self-esteem was deeply wounded by the Engineer's evident lack of appreciation of his greatness, and he would be glad indeed to bring him to heel, and convince him he would be wise in future to do homage instead of slight. And what made Loring's indifference so exasperating was that Strain himself was forced to see that Loring was not only no fool, as he admitted, but a man of brains, courage and ability, which he would not concede aloud. Strain, sent for at eight o'clock by the department commander to listen to the aid's wrathful account of the interview with Loring, fumed and fidgetted and strove to ask some questions to make matters clear, but Petty was already on the defensive and did not mean to be questioned, and the General kept interposing. "Let him tell his tale his own way, Colonel. Let him give you the whole story, Monterey and all," and Strain, who had hoped to spend the evening with his cronies at the club and whist, was compelled to sit till long after nine and hear the details of Petty's asininity.

Stripped of unnecessary explanation, it seems that the General and Strain had decided that their dignity and prerogative had been invaded by the summary orders from Washington, which were at once a criticism of their action in not relieving Loring, and a demand for an immediate explanation as well as an implied threat that unless that report was entirely satisfactory Loring must be allowed to proceed. They had spent an hour or more in the preparation of the telegram which finally caught the wires at six o'clock, presented their view of the case, represented that if Loring left it would be under a cloud, and that he should not now be allowed to leave, because of the fact that his having resorted to forbidden and insubordinate means to procure his release was in itself a virtual admission that he feared to stay and face the constantly recurring accusations. It was very adroitly and impressively worded, but still the General and chief-of-staff felt nervous and ill at ease. Down in their hearts both realized that nothing had been proved against Loring, and that the chances were ten to one that nothing ever could or would be. What was more, both were beginning to realize that Loring had been badly and shabbily treated. Yet this conviction only made them the more ready to listen to any story, grasp at any straw, that lent an atom of weight to the case against him. Dinner had brought no comfort to either, and Petty's preposterous story, swallowed whole by the chief while still bristling with the nervous strain of the concoction of that telegram of explanation, had further upset his digestive powers. The aide had been sent forthwith to notify Mr. Loring of the new story at his expense, and to demand his version thereof. Petty was at no time a diplomatic man, and at this time did not mean to be. Both in language and manner he contrived to make his mission as offensive as he dared, for Loring had braved him so exasperatingly on every previous occasion that, now that he had him safe in arrest, he meant to taunt—and did it, but his sneering slings broke harmless on the polished armor of the Engineer's placid disdain. The madder Petty got the cooler was Loring, and when Dennis dropped in just at the close of the interview a worse whipped man was never seen than the aid, who rattled back to his general, thinking of what he ought to have said, his wits, like his brevet to the double bar, coming to him long after the war was over.

"He treated me and the General's orders with perfect contempt," said Petty finally, and the General looked into the face of his senior staff officer hopeful that Strain would seem properly impressed. But Strain did not. It was one thing for Loring to ignore him, but quite different when that officer failed to stand and deliver at the demand of Petty. Strain treated him with scant respect himself when the General wasn't around, and had been heard to say that generals who allowed their wealthy relatives to dictate who should be their aids were foisting heavy loads upon the service. It was nearly ten o'clock; his evening was spoiled. He was crabbed, therefore, and he spoke accordingly:

"Mr. Petty—I—mean Captain Petty." (Strain, who didn't get one, said a March '67 brevet was of no earthly account, and he for one proposed to ignore them). "May I ask what were your words when you—you have given us Mr. Loring's—were communicating the General's message to him? Were they, for example, carefully chosen? Did you observe courtesy of manner, avoiding all that could irritate, or——"

"Of course I did. You never saw a man so contemptuously, insultingly cool in your life. He just——"

But Strain held up his hand. "I should like to know just what you said. The General has told me the message you were to give. Now-w, how did you give it?"

But that was something Colonel Strain was destined not to know for many a year, if indeed, he ever heard. There came a knock at the door. A servant entered with a card. "The lady, sir, begs to see the General at once, if only for five minutes."

The General frowned as he took the card. What lady would be calling at ten o'clock at night and demanding interviews when he was so much occupied. But his face changed as he read, then glanced up at his chief-of-staff.

"This is remarkable, Strain. The lady superior of the gray sister's convent. Alone?" he asked, turning to the servant.

"No, sir. Young lady with her, sir."

"You'll have to excuse me a moment, gentlemen," said he. "I'll rejoin you here."

Strain was about to return to the subject when the butler spoke. "A messenger from headquarters is at the door, sir. Says he has a dispatch to deliver in person. Shall I send him up?"

It was the General's library, and Strain was wondering what was going on in the General's parlor. He knew of the lady superior. He knew the story of little Pancha, her brave, uncomplaining conduct the night of the wreck, and of her being placed in the convent of the gray sisters. He decided to go to the hall door himself, and was astonished to hear the sound of sobbing as he passed the parlor. Mechanically he took and receipted for the dispatch. Slowly, absently he retraced his steps, listening to the strange sounds, a pleading, choking, girlish voice, soothing words in the gentle, loving woman's sweet tones, the occasional gruff monosyllables from the General himself. Strain reached the library again in something like a dream, finding Petty stalking up and down, tugging at his slim mustache, and nervously expectant of further question, but none came. They were startled by the quick, hurried footsteps of the General, as he waddled back to join them, and burst in, red-faced, ruffled, apoplectic.

"Strain—Petty, this thing has got to be settled somehow at once! That young woman—Ugh! damn the gout! Here, Strain—Don't you go, Petty; you won't do—Hold on! Yes, you'll have to, by Jove! There's no time to be lost. Go and say to Mr. Loring, with my compliments, I desire to see him a moment in the morning before he sails, and-d—He's—he's released from arrest—It's all—it's all—well, not all of it, but—damnation! I can't explain now. Go Petty—go! Tell him he's released—relieved, and Strain, you issue the order relieving him at once, and directing him to proceed without delay to his new station. I want to get the order out before those damned fellows at Washington can order it themselves. What's that you've got?"

"It's the order from those damned fellows at Washington," said Strain.



CHAPTER XVIII.

Once upon a time a very level-headed old soldier was commandant of cadets at West Point, and one day one of his assistants, an energetic young officer, came hastily in to say that he had just happened upon a cadet duel at Fort Clinton, had captured one of the participants and placed him under arrest, but the principals, seconds and most of those present had managed to escape. The veteran listened grimly a moment and then said:

"Were they actually fighting when you got wind of it?"

"Yes, sir," was the earnest reply. "Anybody could have heard them."

"Um," said the colonel, reflectively. "Then I think you—erred in interfering. Couldn't you have got there just a little later?"

"But the regulations prohibit fighting, sir!" said the junior, aggrieved.

"Certainly, and your course promotes it. You see they were already at it. Five minutes more would have settled the thing one way or another, and that would have been the end of it. They would have shaken hands and been good friends. Now, neither of them has had enough. Each believes he can whip the other, and those youngsters will neither be able to sleep nor study till they've fought it out. Always prevent a quarrel when you can, but once they get going, never stop a square fight, never see or hear it—until you know it's over."

In like manner a wiser head than that which dictated the telegraphic instructions to the department commander that night, would have seen that it was far better for all parties in the mix at San Francisco if Mr. Loring had been detained there long enough to have the matter investigated from start to finish, and so to "fix the responsibility." It was not of vital importance that he should sail by first steamer, but there had been friction between this particular General and the Engineers, between him and the adjutant-general, between him and the secretary of war, between him and the division commander, then temporarily absent, and a general who differs with so many eminent and astute authorities as these enumerated must occasionally err in judgment. Had Loring stayed and been accorded a complete investigation, the chances are that he and the General would have shaken hands and parted friends, for both had sterling qualities. But orders given in compliance with orders from superiors are sometimes given only grudgingly. The General had heard in that brief interview with his late-at-night callers enough to convince him that the harshest charges laid at Loring's door belonged elsewhere. But there were things Loring had been too proud to explain. There was his insubordinate—so the General regarded it—appeal over his commander's head to the bureau in Washington. There was his defiance of his envoy and representative, Captain Petty. There were lots of little things that ruffled the dignity of the veteran autocrat, especially the somewhat peremptory tone of the dispatch from the War Department, and the General felt himself wronged by his superiors. Strain, too, suffered in his own estimate, and Petty was fuming with pent-up wrath and hate against that cool, supercilious, contemptuous upstart of an Engineer. Who in blazes was he anyhow? What was his family? What his social status? demanded Petty to himself, even though he knew that these were matters whereof our democratic military system took no thought whatever. It is the proud boast of the American Army that neither wealth nor name nor ancestry can count in the long race for the stars. In these glad days of peace and national prosperity, the officer is speedily taught that promotion is the result of only one of two things, patient waiting or political influence.

And so it resulted that when Walter Loring steamed away southward on the long run for the States, he left behind an unsettled fight, three or four aggrieved officials—aggrieved because of him or his affairs and their mismanagement of both—and one inveterate enemy. He had plenty of time to think it all over after he was fairly at sea, but none before. He and Dennis needed every moment to get his belongings aboard and his business closed. He called upon the General as directed and stood in respectful silence while that choleric warrior paced up and down the room and explained his position. He wished Mr. Loring to understand that while he felt that the young officer had behaved with disrespect, at least with disregard of his commanding general, the latter was too magnanimous to stand in his way, and had therefore determined the evening previous to release him from arrest and from further duty that he might lose no time in "joining" his new station, even went so far as to say he had found much—very much to commend in the young gentleman and his performance of duty in Arizona, and, but for the unfortunate entanglements that had resulted, would have taken pleasure in making public announcement of the fact. He could not but deprecate the conduct of Mr. Loring's friends in Washington, and might find it necessary to appeal to the President for justice. Meantime, however, he desired Mr. Loring to know that no personal consideration had actuated his conduct. He had done what he believed to be his duty, and then, like the orator, the General paused for reply.

Mr. Loring stood in civilian dress and soldier attitude, hat in hand, an attentive listener, never interposing a word or hazarding a remark. When the General stopped the lieutenant remained silent and standing. The General looked perturbed, halted and glared, as much as to say, "Why the devil don't you speak?" a thing Loring never did when he had nothing to say. The chief found it necessary to begin anew, but broke off presently. "You understand, do you not?"

"Yes, sir," said Loring.

"Then I suppose—you're very busy—have many things to do?"

"Only one, sir."

"Well, I won't detain you. I—I wish you well, Mr. Loring, and—and—bon voyage!" and the General strove to smile.

"Thank you, General. Anything else, sir?"

The General stood and could think of nothing. "I believe not," he replied, "unless—however, never mind, I won't detain you."

"Good-day, sir," said Loring, and marched quickly away to the room of the aide-de-camp. Petty was not there. An embarrassed lieutenant arose and smiled vaguely.

"Petty isn't about anywhere this morning. He was out late last night—I expect him every moment."

"You needn't. He won't come. Tell him I waited until 11:30." Then Loring shut the door and left. He had many an hour later in which to think over his final interview with the aide. A most unwelcome duty was that second call to Petty. He would rather be kicked than go to Loring and say he was released from arrest and free to go; perhaps he thought the kick forthcoming if he went. But Loring treated him with the same contemptuous coolness as he had earlier in the night. Nor did Loring seem either elated or surprised.

"Damn the man!" said Petty. "I'd give a month's pay to tell him something that would stir him!" Petty could easily have done that had he seen fit to mention that the General had received a visit from the Lady Superior with a young girl from the convent of the good Gray Sisters. But that was a mysterious affair that even the General had seen fit to say nothing further about, even to Loring, who was most concerned. It was a matter that gentle and gracious woman herself never referred to when the Engineer at ten the next morning presented his card and was ushered into her presence. She was most courteous. There was peace and loving kindness ineffable in her placid face. There was infinite sympathy in her manner when she presently met and led in to him a pallid little maid, who put a long slim hand in Loring's as he smiled upon her downcast, red-rimmed eyes. Struggle as she might for composure and strength, Pancha had evidently been sorely disturbed over something through the long watches of the night. Loring's heart reproached him as he realized how selfishly he had been engrossed for weeks, how little he had thought for her, of her who must be so lonely and homesick in her new sphere. He was almost shocked now at the pallor of her face, the droop and languor of the slender figure that was so buoyant and elastic those bright days aboard ship just preceding the catastrophe. What friends and chums they had become! How famously he was getting on with his Spanish! What a charming teacher she was, with her lovely shining eyes, her laughing lips, her glistening white teeth! She seemed happy as a queen then, and now—what had come over the child?

"They are going to let me write to you, Pancha," he had told her, "and I shall write every month, but you will write to me long letters, won't you?"

"Si," and the dusky little head bowed lower, and Pancha was withdrawing her hand.

"You know I have no little sister," he went on.

She did. She had learned all this and much more aboard ship, and remembered every word he had told her, very much more than he remembered. She knew far more about him than did he about her, but he looked far more interested now. The good gray sister was more than good; she was very busy at something away across the room, and Loring had drawn his little friend to the window.

"How I wish I had known you there at—at the Gila, Pancha," he managed to say in slow, stumbling Spanish. "Do you know we made a great mistake, Mr. Blake and I?"

She did not wish to know. Two little hands went up imploringly, the dark head drooped lower still, the slender, girlish form was surely trembling. What ailed the child? It was time to go, yet he lingered. He felt a longing to take her hands again—clasped in each other now, and hanging listless as she leaned against the window casing. He meant to bend and kiss her good-by, just as he would have kissed a younger sister, he said to himself, not as he had kissed Geraldine Allyn. But somehow he faltered, and that was something unusual to Walter Loring. Even at risk of being abrupt, he felt it time to go, but after the manner of weaker men, took out his watch.

"Yes, I must go, Pancha. We won't say good-by, will we? It is until to-morrow—hasta la manana. You know we always come again to California. You'll be quite a woman, then, though." He who was so brief and reticent with men, found himself prattling with this child, unable to break off. At last, with sudden effort, he seized both her hands in his, where they lay limp and passive.

"Adios, little one! Dear little friend!" he said, bent swiftly, and his curling brown mustache was crushed one instant against the top of her dusky head. Then he hurried to the lady superior and took his leave, Pancha standing silent at the window until the door had closed behind him.

Another day, and he was looking back along the sparkling wake of the crowded steamer, thinking how beautiful the ocean seemed to him only a few weeks earlier. Another week and he was at the Isthmus, homeward bound, yet clinging with strange interest to the scenes of so much trial. Another month and he was spinning along old, familiar shores, en route for the distant field of new and stirring duty. Without a day's delay he was hurried on the trail of a party of officials, designated to select the site for the new post far up in the heart of the Sioux hunting grounds. For associates he found a veteran quartermaster with a keen eye for business, and an aide-de-camp of his new general commanding, and recent experiences with such combined to render him more reticent than ever. Major Burleigh confided to Captain Stone that if that was a specimen of West Point brains and brilliancy, it only confirmed his previous notions. The site for the new post was decided upon after brief but pointed argument, and a vote of two to one, the Engineer being accorded the privilege of a minority report if he saw fit to make it. Commanding their escort was a young officer whom Loring had known when as cadets they had together worn the gray, and though there had been no intimacy there was respect, and the two subalterns, Engineer and dragoon, agreed that the board might better have stayed at home and left the selection to the Indians, but Lieutenant Dean had no vote and Loring no further responsibility. He could make his remonstrance when he got to Omaha, which would probably be too late. On that homeward way he saw enough of Burleigh to convince him he was a coward, for the major collapsed under the seat of the ambulance at the first sign of the Sioux. Then there came an episode that filled Loring with sudden interest in this new, yet undesirable acquaintance. Men get to know each other better in a week in the Indian country than in a decade in town. They had reached the little cantonment and supply station on the dry fork of the Powder, stiff and weary with their long journey by ambulance, and glad of a chance to stretch their legs and rest. The camp commander was doing his best to be hospitable. Burleigh had been shown into the major's hut, where a lot of mail was awaiting him. A bronzed subaltern had taken charge of Mr. Aide-de-camp Stone, and another of Loring. The latter had just emerged from a tub, dripping and refreshed, and was rubbing himself dry, when across the canvas screen he heard the voice of the commander hailing his host.

"Mr. Post Quartermaster," said he, "I wish every other kind of quartermaster but you was in——. That old rip Burleigh is utterly upset by some letter he's got. He's limp as a wet rag, shaking like a man with a fit. Took four fingers of my best rye to bring him around. Says he must have your best team and ambulance at once. Got to push on for Frayne."

And indeed Burleigh's face when he came forth to start for the Platte was a gruesome sight. "He looked," said the unfeeling linesman, after he'd gone, "as though he'd seen more Indians."

An hour later a soldier servant handed the major an envelope. "Picked it up under the table, sir. There's still something in it."

The major glanced curiously at the superscription.

"That's the envelope, at least," said he, handing it to Loring, "of the letter that stampeded the old man."

And Loring looked at it first with but scant interest. Then took and held and studied the writing with eyes that kindled wonderfully.

"Why, do you think you know that hand?" asked the major curiously.

Loring handed it back, hesitated a moment, nodded, but said no word.



CHAPTER XIX.

A pleasant welcome awaited Mr. Walter Loring, of the Engineers, when he opened his office and got settled down to work at his new station. Here was a commanding general who knew something of his past, whose nephew was with him at the Point, and one at least of whose aides had found reason to respect him highly, even though they had differed as to the site for the new post, and the Engineer had seemed to take far more kindly to the companionship of an unheard-of sub in the cavalry than he did to the society of two men so distinguished in the department as Major Burleigh, depot quartermaster at Gate City, and Brevet-Captain "Omaha" Stone, the aide in question. Burleigh had surprised the aide by a display of great interest in and an impatience to meet the newcomer, who had hurried out from Omaha with not a day's delay, and who overtook them at Fort Frayne, after riding by night through the mountainous region of the Medicine Bow, with only a single trooper as attendant and escort. Burleigh had been oddly inquisitive, thought Stone, and had plied the taciturn Engineer with question after question about officers whom he knew and matters he seemed to know along the Pacific slope. Mr. Loring was evidently a bit surprised, yet replied courteously, though very briefly. Burleigh did all the talking the first day's drive in the big ambulance over the rolling open prairies north of the Platte, giving Stone no chance at all. He enlivened the occasion and relieved the tedium of the journey with anecdotes of the General whose command Loring had recently left, and Strain, his chief-of-staff, and Petty—"that damned fool Petty," he called him, and Burleigh had nothing good to tell of any of them, and much that was derisive, if not detrimental, of all. Loring listened with neither assent nor dissent, as a rule, though when appealed to he said he had no opportunity to study the characteristics as described by Burleigh, as he had spent most of his short service there surveying in Arizona and saw little and knew less of the officials in San Francisco. One man of whom Burleigh spoke with regard and regret was stanch old Turnbull, whose sad death by drowning in the surf off Pinos, the quartermaster referred to several times. He seemed familiar, too, with the story of Loring's conduct the night of the collision at sea and the sinking of the Idaho, and referred to that more than once in terms of commendation. They stopped for luncheon and to bait the mules and to give the cavalry escort a brief respite, and it was after this that Burleigh, as though suddenly reminded of something, began—

"I don't know what made me think of it unless it was Stone's speaking of New Orleans a moment ago, but did you meet a long-legged fellow named Blake in Arizona? I knew the girl that drove him out there. One winter she was in New Orleans while her father was commanding the monitors moored at Algiers—Miss Torrence. Saw her afterwards in New York. She married old Granger, you know." Granger was about Burleigh's age, but Burleigh was a widower and desirous of being considered young. And Stone wondered why Loring should look disquieted if not embarrassed.

"I met Blake, yes," was, however, his prompt reply.

"How's he standing it? He was a good deal cut up at first. They were to have been married last summer. He was regularly engaged to her, and never knew she'd thrown him over until he met Granger in St. Louis."

Then Loring did a thing they both noted was unlike him. Ordinarily he listened courteously until the question was finished. This time he broke in:

"Blake is in his element doing cavalry duty. We had a lively chase together after an officer who was deserting to Mexico."

"So you did," said Burleigh, with interest. "I remember hearing of it. You were on his court, weren't you? Why! what was the fellow's name? I remember having met him in New Orleans, too, when I read the order to the court. Let's see, you were judge advocate, weren't you?"

"Yes. And his name was Nevins."

"Ah, yes. Dismissed, I believe. What ever became of him? There was a rumor that he had died."

"So the consul at Guaymas reported," was Loring's brief reply.

"Well, was it never settled? Wasn't it proved in some way? I heard a story that his wife had followed him out there. She was a damned sight better lot than he was. I met her more than once in New Orleans. She came of good family, but she was stranded down there by the war. They say she had a younger sister who bled her to death, a girl she was educating. I remember Nevins told me something about her. That fellow had some good points, do you know, Loring? He behaved first rate during the fever epidemic; nursed more'n one fellow through. He said that that sister was a beauty and selfish to the core, and he wished to God she'd marry some rich man and let them alone. Didn't you—didn't I hear that they were out there, and that he made some dramatic scene before the court, and sent his wife his valuables, or something of that kind?"

Loring was slowly reddening. He more than half believed that Burleigh had heard the story set afloat by the gossips in San Francisco, and was trying to draw him out. His tone, therefore, was cold and his answer brief.

"They were there, but I never saw them. Pardon me, major, your rifle is slipping," and leaning forward the Engineer straightened up the endangered weapon and braced it with his foot. "A dreary landscape this," he added, glancing out at the barren stretches of rolling prairie extending to the horizon.

"Very. All like this till you get over towards the mountains, then it's fine. But, isn't it really believed out there that Nevins is dead? What became of his wife?"

"She went back to New Orleans, I was told. If Nevins isn't dead, he at least hadn't been heard of up to the time I left."

And several times again that long afternoon did Burleigh return to the charge and speak of Nevins, and more than once during the busy days that followed, but by the time they started on their return he had probably concluded that Loring really knew no more about him, and once or twice when Blake and his love affairs were mentioned Loring seemed unwilling to hear. Stone pondered over it not a little before they got to Reno on the back track, and there it was that Burleigh had demanded to be sent right on to Frayne, despite fatigue, for something had come to him in this mail that filled him with dismay, as the major commanding told them a dozen times over. Moreover, Mr. Omaha Stone became gradually convinced that Loring was in partial possession of the secret of Burleigh's stampede. Unless Stone was utterly in error, Loring had seen somewhere before the handwriting of the superscription of the envelope Burleigh had dropped in his nerveless collapse. But Stone might as well have cross-questioned the sphinx. Loring would admit nothing.

Yet it was of this very matter the Engineer was thinking one soft still evening soon after his return to department headquarters. His boxes had just arrived. He had found a fairly comfortable room away from the turbulent section of the new and bustling town, and equally distant from the domicile of Stone and his particular set. Loring never gambled and took little interest in cards. He was still "taking his rations" at the hotel, but much disliked it, and was seriously thinking of seeking board in some private family. The barracks were too far out, and the roads deep in mud, or he would have lived and "messed" out there. The few boarding houses were crowded, and with an uncongenial lot as a rule. Private families that took two or three table boarders were very few, but some one suggested his going to see the rector of the new parish, himself a recent arrival.

The sun had gone down behind the high bluffs at the back of the straggling frontier town. The plank sidewalks were thronged in the neighborhood of the hotel with picturesque loungers as the young officer made his way westward, and soon reached the outlying, unpaved, deep-rutted cross streets. He readily found the rector, a kindly, gentle-mannered widower he proved to be, whose sister had come to keep house for him, and never before had either of them lived in a community so utterly primitive, if not uncouth. It was plain to be seen that he was a Southerner, and in the joy of a few minutes' conversation with a young man whose language and manners bespoke the gentleman, Mr. Lambert speedily made known to him that his health had suffered in New Orleans and his physicians had insisted on total change of climate, and the great Northwest was a new, untrodden field for the sons of the cross, of his sect at least. He had read with admiration of the missionary work accomplished among the savage Indians by the church of Rome, but there were heathen rather more intractable than they, said he, with a sigh. Mr. Loring was sympathetic, but already informed on that point. What he wished to learn was, did the rector know of any family among his parishioners at whose table he could find his daily bread for a reasonable consideration. Loring, as has been seen, was a man to whom the converse of his fellow-men, as found upon our frontier, was neither edifying nor improving. He preferred the society of his own thoughts. The rector, the General (Colonel Newcome, it will be remembered, always accorded the head of column to the church), the adjutant-general of the new department and one solitary subaltern of cavalry were the only men he had met since reporting at Omaha whom he found really congenial. But then it must be remembered that it was the early summer, and the troops were all afield.

The rector brought the tips of his fingers together and bowed his gray head, his characteristic attitude in reflection and repose. Yes, he knew of one, a woman widowed but a year ago, who was striving to keep her home by taking boarders, and who perhaps could find room for him at her table. Already she had given shelter to a most estimable woman, a widow like herself, a woman of many sorrows, whom he had well known during the troublous days in New Orleans, a gentlewoman, he might say, whose birth and breeding were apparent to the most casual observer, a Mrs. Fletcher, who had come to him for advice, and who, through his recommendation gladly given, had recently gone to a good position—a lucrative position—and a home at Gate City. Loring was politely interested, but could the rector direct him to the house? He would call at once and make inquiries. The rector could, of course, but he was aging, and he loved a listener. He hated to let a hearer go. Might he ask if Mr. Loring was any connection of the General of that name so conspicuous in the service of the South in the defense of their beloved old Creole city before the hapless days of Butler, though he must concede to General Butler that his vigorous administration of municipal affairs had cleansed and quarantined the city as they had never seen it done before. The similarity of name had suggested the—

"None whatever that I know of," said Loring, finding it necessary to interpose; "and where is Mrs. Fletcher's?"

"Ah, to be sure. Mrs. Fletcher is the name of the lady who boarded there awhile, but she has gone to Gate City. Mrs. Burton it is—a worthy soul. Perhaps, indeed I think, a breath of air will do me good. I might walk around there with you."

So despite the remonstrance in his sister's eyes and Loring's respectful protest, the rector got his hat and linked his arm in that of the young athlete on his left, and led forth into the gloaming, prattling all the way. Soon they reached the cross street that led northward, parallel with the bluff line at the west, and against the twilight of the northern sky, the scattered houses, the few straggling saplings hopefully planted along the gutter, even the silhouetted figure of a long-legged dog, trotting across the road, were outlined sharp and, clear, black against a lemon horizon that shaded away imperceptibly into a faint violet. Long years after Loring could see the picture, and how, right in the midst of it, there rose slowly into view two black dots, the heads, evidently, of two pedestrians like themselves, ascending from the north, with the whole wide Missouri valley at their backs, the pathway he and his genially chatting conductor were threading from the south, with only this gentle rise between them, perhaps fifty yards away. It was interesting to the Engineer to watch the gradual development of the shadows against the sky, coming slowly into view as the fairies rise to sweet, thrilling melody, from underneath the stage in the transformation scene of the last act of the pantomime and spectacular drama beloved of our youth. Courteously inclining his ear to the monologue at his right, he kept his keen eyes fixed upon those coming figures. Slowly they rose, one that of a slender, dapper man, the other that of a slender, graceful girl, and the long arms of the former as they swung in sight were in energetic motion, in emphatic gesture. Little by little the murmur at Loring's right dulled over his senses. Little by little the slowly approaching figures sharpened and fixed themselves upon his sight, until when the pair could not have been more than fifty feet away, the rector looked suddenly up in alarm, as Loring halted short.

"My dear young friend, how thoughtless I am! Are you not well? What is wrong?"

A big wooden house, in whose windows the lights were feebly shining, stood just a few paces back of the fence, back of the gate where now the pair was standing, in low whispered talk, eager and impetuous on part of the man, doubtful and reluctant on part of the girl. Then the former became suddenly aware that two men were standing only a short distance away, observing:

"Then, good-night," he said. "You think it over;" and, without raising his hat, turned sharply and went striding back the way they came.

Only one glance did Loring give that receding figure, but his eyes followed that of the girl, who skimmed lightly up the steps and into the house, banging the door behind her.

The rector was clinging to his arm and looking into his face with much concern when Loring pulled himself together.

"This is Mrs. Burton's," said he. "Let us enter. Surely you need a glass of wine, or—water," he added vaguely.

"Thank you, Mr. Lambert, not—there. Let us turn about."



CHAPTER XX.

Within the fortnight that followed came a climax in the life of Loring, and astrologers who could have heard would have made much of such a combination of strange influences. Having told the General that it was his desire to find a quiet place in the northwestern section of the new city, Loring had moved back to the hotel. Having told the rector he desired to obtain table board at Mrs. Burton's, it of course resulted that the worthy ecclesiastic should speak to her at first opportunity, and that she should speedily come in search of Mr. Loring to inquire why he had failed to carry out his plan, and further, to intimate that on the strength of the rector's representations she had ordered a much nicer set of china, and laid in a stock of provisions that just then were to be had at lower rates, which, except that she expected him, she could not have thought of doing. Indeed, Mrs. Burton not only called once at his office, but followed it up by a visit to his lodging, where she shed tears in the presence of the person from whom he rented his rooms, and, this still proving ineffectual, she came again to department headquarters with the manifest object of taking the General and his staff into her confidence, to the equally manifest dismay of the chief and the disgust of his adjutant-general, neither of whom could check the volume of the good lady's words of woe. Loring found his soldierly commander grinning whimsically when he dropped in to say good-morning. The General was that rare combination—a devout churchman and a stalwart fighter. Time and money had he devoted to the building up of this little church in the wilderness, and the communion service was his gift. More than once had he knelt to receive the sacred elements from the trembling hands of the worthy rector and listen to Mrs. Burton's effusive "Amen!" on his left ere she parted with the cup that was then passed to his bearded lips. At the chancel rail all good Christians knelt in common and meekly bowed their heads, but when Mrs. Burton came up to headquarters with a rail of her own, the General couldn't stand it, and said so to worthy Lambert, who remonstrated with the widow.

"Then the least he can do as a gentleman, after deceiving me so, is to help pay for them things I bought on the strength of his promise to board with me," was that pragmatical person's reply, and this view of the case the energetic lady ventilated to her six boarders, and they to the flock. There was one boarder, a temporary sojourner only, who listened and said naught. But that was only another of her aristocratic, stuck-up ways, said they. She was "a lovely young lady," as all admitted on her first timid appearance, and the three women who sat at table with her were eager to take her into close fellowship and confidence, and the two young men, clerking in the new stores, no doubt, were as eager. But it became apparent within twenty-four hours that she held herself above, and desired to hold herself aloof from them, which led to a dissection of her personal charms on part of the women, and of her mental gifts on part of the men. Mr. Lambert had commended her to the care of Mrs. Burton. Her board was paid in advance and no questions asked. She went to church and sang softly, but in a voice so exquisitely sweet and penetrating that it tempered the strident melodies of the devout Omahannas, and caused many a head to turn. She spent the first few days at the rector's, or in her room. Then came a roomer with the rumor that she had a follower, and for two evenings she was seen with a strange young man, pacing slowly up and down the walk, but never going into town. Within ten days after Loring settled in Omaha Mrs. Burton's boarders were engrossed in just two topics—the young lady in the second-story front, and the story of the young officer who first would and then wouldn't be one of their number. No exception to this statement as to Mrs. Burton's boarders is made in the case of the damsel herself.

Loring frankly told his story as to Mrs. Burton to the General. He had merely asked Mr. Lambert if he could tell him of a place to board. Lambert had led him to Mrs. Burton's. He found it too far out and otherwise unsuitable, and had abandoned the idea. He had never seen Mrs. Burton or authorized any one to speak to her for him. The General laughed and said he understood it all, was perfectly satisfied and never thought of questioning him; and satisfied he was for several days. Then suddenly it was announced that Loring had decided not only to return to the hotel for table board, but was actually rooming there, and the landlord of whom he had rented his rooms turned up with a grievance, at least his wife did, and when a woman has a grievance, nine times out of ten the world gets the benefit of it. Mrs. Landlord came round to the chief quartermaster with her complaint.

It was a lovely summer morning. Lieutenant Loring had walked down to the office and raised his hat to the General as that genial officer was driven by behind his sturdy old team, and waving his hand cordially to the grave young gentleman who walked so erect with such measured stride, and with never a glance into the windows of the shops or bars. Loungers had no use for Loring. He never stopped to pass the time of day or suggest a toddy, and Loring had less use for them. Ten minutes later the lieutenant found the office in commotion, clerks and orderlies hastening about with grave faces, Stone and Stanton with the General in his room; the general himself, pallid and mopping his wet forehead.

"This is horribly sudden," he said, as he thrust an open dispatch into Loring's hand. It was the brief announcement that the General commanding the department of California, the chief Loring had so recently left, had dropped dead at his desk the night before. Little as he had liked him, the Engineer was shocked and grieved.

"It may make grave changes," said the adjutant-general a little later. "It may send our kind and thoughtful chief to the Pacific coast and give us—whom?"

"It will make one, at least," said Stone impetuously. "It'll send that galoot Petty back to his regiment right here in Nebraska and give him a taste of service he will little like."

"Why do you say back, Stone? Where did Petty ever serve with it except when it was in the garrison of Washington?" asked the adjutant-general. "You know him, I believe, Loring?"

"I know him—yes."

"Think he'd pan out well in an Indian fight?"

"He might."

"You're an optimist, Loring," said Stone, who was ever seeking yet never succeeding in the effort to penetrate the armor of Loring's reserve. "I believe you think even Burleigh would fight at a pinch."

"I'm sure he would!" said Loring, as he walked thoughtfully away.

"That's the dash, dashest man I ever met," said Stone, in terms he never knowingly used in the hearing of his commander. "What he'd say to a man I can only guess from a letter Skinny wrote from Alcantraz after that row they had at 'Frisco. Of a man you can't get him to speak."

"We may have to," said the adjutant-general to himself, as he turned back to his desk and to a packet of papers and dispatches from Gate City.

It was a day of perturbation. Not ten minutes later the Engineer was called to conference with the department commander and found him closeted with his chief of staff.

"You were not favorably impressed with Major Burleigh," said he, after a moment of silent study of the young officer's face. "Will you tell me why?"

Loring stood and colored. He had spoken no word of Burleigh, except in answer to direct question. Stone must have seen his aversion, and had possibly told of it.

"You dislike to, I see," said the General kindly. "Let me remove your scruples. Major Burleigh has been absent from his post without leave at a time when his services were urgently needed. His affairs are in a good deal of a tangle. It is believed that he has been making use of government funds. I tell you this in strict confidence. Do you know what caused his panic there at Reno and made him insist on being taken right on to Fort Frayne?"

Loring thought a moment, then "No, sir."

"Mr. Loring," said the General, "Major Burleigh has been an object of distrust for over a month. While he was away on this trip to Warrior Gap matters were brought to my attention that were of a grave nature. Investigations have been made. Major Bruce at Reno says you seemed struck by the superscription on the envelope of the letter he received there that threw him into such a panic. Would you know the handwriting, do you think?"

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