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A Wounded Name
by Charles King
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"Yes, General."

Silently the chief-of-staff held forth a note which Loring took and closely examined. It read "Captain Newhall begs to assure the adjutant-general, Department of the Platte, that he meant no discourtesy in failing to register. He was unaware of the rule existing at department headquarters, had come here on personal business connected with certain real estate in which he has an interest, is on two months' leave from his station New Orleans, Louisiana, and will register the moment the office opens in the morning unless he should be compelled to leave for St. Joe to-night."

Loring looked up, puzzled. The handwriting was familiar; so was a form that he had recently seen vanishing in the distance one evening a week before, and something in the voice had a familiar ring, but this name was new.

"To explain all this," said the adjutant-general, "there was a dashing-looking fellow here for two or three days drinking a good deal down about the depot on the flats and around the quartermasters' corrals. He said he was Captain Newhall, of the Thirty-ninth Infantry, and the general finally told me to send an aide to look him up and remind him it was his duty to call at headquarters and account for his presence. Between that night and the next morning he disappeared, and at last accounts was hobnobbing with Burleigh at Gate City. You know of him, I see."

"Possibly."

"Then, General," said the chief-of-staff, with prompt decision, "the quickest way to got at the root of the matter would be to send Loring at once to Gate City."

The General thought for a moment.

"How soon could you go?"

"First train, sir."

It was then too late for the single passenger express that daily went clanking over the prairies toward Cheyenne. But that afternoon was held a long conference at department headquarters, which caused some wonderment among the officers not included, Stone especially, and there were many eyes on Loring's grave face as he finally came forth from the General's room, and without a word of explanation went straight to his own.

"Wonder what he's been doing," said a man from the garrison, who had happened in in search of news.

Stone shrugged his shoulders, offered no explanation, but looked volumes. An aide-de-camp should never reveal what he knows of other officers' affairs—much less that he knows nothing.

The night came on, warm and stifling almost as the day. The window of Loring's room opened on the crude wooden gallery that ran the length of the hotel, and he kept it open from the bottom for such air as could be obtained. A note lay on the mantel shelf when he returned from the office late in the afternoon. This he had taken downstairs, inclosed it, unopened, in one of the coarse hotel envelopes, addressed and sent it by a messenger to Mrs. Burton's. At ten o'clock at night, in his shirt sleeves, he was packing a valise, when at the open window, on the gallery without, there appeared suddenly a slender, graceful, girlish form; a fair face gazed appealingly, imploringly in, and a soft voice pronounced his name.

Starting up, he stepped quickly toward the apparition. One instant the lovely face lighted with hope, joy, triumph, then changed to sudden wrath before the shade, pulled vehemently down, shut it from sight.

Even as she stood there, baffled, "a woman scorned" in the presence and hearing of another, who nevertheless stepped quickly forward to express her opinion of such heartless, soulless conduct despite the interposing shade, there came a sharp, imperative rap on Loring's door, and the summons "Wanted at headquarters at once, sir!"

And, weeping as though bereaved and forsaken, the younger woman threw herself upon the broad and sympathizing bosom of the elder.

"There, there, poor darling! Don't cry. Wait till Mr. Lambert and the General hear how he has treated you," said Mrs. Burton, "and we'll see what'll happen."



CHAPTER XXI.

The day of perturbation had been succeeded by a night of worry at department headquarters. Dispatches full of grave import were coming in from Gate City and Cheyenne. Old John Folsom, long time a trader among the Sioux, and known and trusted by the whole tribe, had given warning weeks before that serious consequences would attend the effort to build another post along the Big Horn. Red Cloud and his hosts of warriors had sworn to sweep it from the face of the earth and every man of its garrison with it. All this had been reported by the General to his superiors at Washington, and all this had been derided by the Indian Bureau. Against the judgment, against the counsel of the department commander, the work went on. A large force of laborers hired by Major Burleigh at Gate City early in the spring had been sent to Warrior Gap under strong escort, and the unseasoned timber and fresh-cut logs were being rapidly dovetailed and mortised, and long wagon trains laden with stores and supplies, purchased by Major Burleigh's agents, were pushing out across the Platte.

"Indians, indeed!" said that experienced officer disdainfully. "They do not presume to interfere!" and long since the whisper had been going the rounds that Major Burleigh's interest in the construction of that new post, involving an expense of some hundreds of thousands of dollars, was something more than official. In vain John Folsom and veteran officers of the fighting force had pointed out that Indians never do interfere when they see huge trains of provisions and supplies coming just where they want them. Orders were orders, and the building went on. John Folsom said that any day the news might come that Red Cloud and his braves had massacred every man and carried off every woman in the new cantonment. Wives and children were there, secure, as they believed, behind the stout hearts and far and fast-shooting new breechloaders, trustful, too, of the Indians whom they had often fed and welcomed at their doors in the larger and less exposed garrison.

"Two of our companies can stand off a thousand Sioux," said one gallant officer, who based his confident report on the fact that with fifty of the new breechloaders, behind a log breastwork, he had whipped a horde of mountain braves armed only with lance and bow and old "smooth-bores" or squirrel rifles.

"We came down through the whole tribe," said Burleigh, with swelling breast. "I had only a small troop of cavalry, and Red Cloud never so much as raised a yelp. He knew who was running that outfit and didn't care to try conclusions."

It all sounded very fine among the barrooms and over the poker-table at Gate City, where Burleigh was a patron and an oracle, but in distant camps along the Platte and Powder rivers, and among troopers and linesmen nearer home there were odd glances, and nudging elbows whenever Burleigh's boastings were repeated. Even as far as department headquarters the story was being told that the mere report of "Big band of Sioux ahead" sent in by the advance guard, a report that brought Loring and Stone leaping nimbly out of the ambulance, rifle in hand and ready for business, sent Burleigh under the seat and left him there quaking.

"Get your men down from the Big Horn," was John Folsom's urgent advice to the department commander. "Get your men up there," was the order from Washington, and no wonder the General was troubled. Then in the midst of it all began to come these rumors affecting Burleigh's integrity; then the determination to send Loring to look after this new boon companion with whom Burleigh was consorting; then a dispatch from old Colonel Stevens, "Old Pecksniff," as the irreverent youngsters called him, the commander at Fort Emory on the outskirts of Gate City, telling of a tremendous storm that had swept the Laramie plains and the range of the Medicine Bow and Rattlesnake Hills, just after Lieutenant Dean had been sent forth with a small party of troopers to push through to Warrior Gap with a big sum of money, ten thousand dollars in cash, for the payment of contractors and their men at the new post, and, what was of thrilling import, there had been a deep laid scheme to head him off, ambuscade him and get that money. Hank Birdsall and his gang, forty of the worst toughs on the Western frontier, had "got the tip" from some one in the secret in Gate City, and no one outside of the post commander himself and one of Burleigh's confidential clerks, had the faintest inkling of the transaction. Nothing but that storm could have defeated their purpose. Several of the outlaws and many of their horses were drowned, and one of the gang, rescued at the last minute by the mail carrier to Frayne—rescued just in time to save his life, had gasped his confession of the plot. Birdsall and his people were now scattering over the territory, but "Old Pecksniff" felt that matters so serious demanded full report to the department commander, and this full report had reached Omaha the very night that Loring got his orders to leave.

Hastening to the office in compliance with the imperative summons, his heart beating heavily despite his calm of manner, his thoughts reverting to that well-known face and the appealing voice at his window despite his utmost effort to forget them, Loring found the General with his chief-of-staff and Captain Stone busy over telegrams and dispatches. One of these the General handed to the Engineer. Then, as the latter read, the veteran of three wars arose from his chair, took the young soldier by the arm and led him aside, a proceding that caused Captain Stone to glance up from the telegram he was swiftly copying, and to follow with angering eyes, until suddenly aware that the adjutant-general was observing him, then his pen renewed its scratching. It was not good that a newcomer, a young lieutenant, should be preferred to him, and it was too evident that between the General and the Engineer was a bond of some kind the aid could not explain.

"Do you understand this?" asked the General, as he pointed to the letter in Loring's hand.

It was brief enough. It was written by a clerk in Burleigh's office to a fellow-clerk in that of the chief quartermaster at Omaha, and the latter had felt it his duty, he said, to inform his immediate superior, who in turn had laid it before the chief-of-staff. It read as follows:

"The old man's rattled as I never saw him before, and God only knows what's amiss. Two young lieutenants came in and thrashed him right before the whole of us, called him a liar, and all that. His friend Newhall, that pulled him through the yellow fever, he says, was there at the time drunk, and actually congratulated them, and though Burleigh raved and swore and wrote no end of dispatches to be sent to Omaha demanding court-martial for Lieutenant Dean, devil a one of them was ever really sent. Not only that, but Burleigh was threatened and abused by Newhall, and had to buy him off with a roll of greenbacks—and I saw it. Who's Newhall, anyhow, and what hold has he on Burleigh? Nursing him through yellow fever don't go. Newhall's gone, however, either over to Cheyenne or out on the Cache la Poudre. There's something rotten in Denmark, and I want to get out of this."

Loring read it carefully through twice, the General keenly studying his face the while.

"I have determined to go to Gate City myself, even though time can ill be spared, Loring," said he. "There is urgent need of my presence at Laramie. Possibly I may have to go to Frayne, and shall need you with me, but meantime this thing must be explained. Everything seems to point to Burleigh's being in some unusual trouble. Everything indicates that this Captain Newhall, who was one of his chums in New Orleans, has some heavy hold on him, a gambling debt, perhaps, or knowledge of cotton transactions during the war. I cannot but feel that you know something of the man. Tell me, did you meet that fellow when he was here?"

Loring stood looking gravely, straight into the face of his superior. Swiftly his thoughts sped back to that soft, warm evening when he and the rector slowly ascended the gentle grade toward Mrs. Burton's homestead, and there was unfolded before his eyes that picture he was destined never to forget, the lovely tints of the clear northern sky, the broad valley of the great river, with its bounding bluffs and hillocks, hued by the dying day, the dark forms, slender and graceful both, coming nearer and nearer, until in startled recognition of one at least, he halted in dumb amaze, and therefore caught but flitting glimpse of the other as it whisked jauntily away. He had his suspicions, strong and acute, yet with nothing tangible as yet on which to base them, and if he breathed them, what would be the result? The girl whose identity he had promised not to betray "until sister Naomi could be heard from," would beyond all question be called to account. To his very door had she come within forty-eight hours of that strange evening, which the rector's prattle had made public property, begged a minute's interview without giving any name, and stepping down into the plainly furnished little western parlor, there in the dim light of a single kerosene burner, Walter Loring had come face to face with his old love—Geraldine.

Mindful of all the harm she had done him in San Francisco, rather than of what had passed before, he met her in stern silence. On his generosity, his magnanimity she threw herself. She had deceived and wronged him in ever engaging herself to him, she said, and would have gone on to say more. "That is all past and done with," he coldly interposed. "What is it now?" And then it transpired that good Mr. Lambert had been the means of securing for Naomi an excellent position, that Naomi had gone to enter on her duties and had sent for her sister to come and live at Mrs. Burton's until she could better provide for her, that Naomi was living under an assumed name, and that she prayed that no one might know their unhappy past. The interview was cut short by the curiosity of some member of the household who came in ostensibly to trim the lamp.

"It shall be as you wish until you hear from your sister," said Loring, bowing her out with punctilious civility and praying in secret that there it might end, but end it did not. Within another forty-eight hours she was there with another quest. The servant who announced her presence in the parlor below did so with a confidential and impertinent grin. "The same lady wants to see Lieutenant Loring," and this time he was colder and sterner than before. Her evident purpose was to revert to the relations that once existed, though her plea was only for news from California. Had nothing ever been heard of the missing jewels? she asked. Their need was so great. She had most excellent prospects of an engagement in Boston if she could only have six months instruction under Signor Calabresi, but his terms were so high and she would have to live in New York, and people kept writing her that she and Naomi really ought to make some effort to recover the value of that property, and she had come, friendless as she was, to ask if he thought a suit against the steamship company would result in their getting anything. Captain Pet—a gentleman, that is, who had been most kind in San Francisco, had promised to do something, but now that the General was dead what could he do? There was no doubting the identity or intentions of that gentleman, thought Loring as he gravely replied that they would only be defeated in any such attempt. Then with swimming eyes she had bemoaned her past, her fatal errors, her greed for wealth and position that had led her to stifle her own heart throbs and deceive the one true friend she had ever known, and Loring broke short the conversation by leaving the room. Then she came again, alone, and he refused to see her. Then she came with Mrs. Burton, and the house was in a titter, and he broke up his establishment and moved back to the hotel, to the scandal of his landlord, as has been said, who made loud complaint to the powers at headquarters. Then she wrote that she was being followed and persecuted by a man she never knew before, the man who was with her the night Mr. Lambert said they met them in front of Mrs. Burton's, a dreadful man who said that he believed that she loved Lieutenant Loring and made threats against him. She implored Loring's protection, and Loring saw through the flimsy device and returned the letter unanswered, and later letters unopened, and then the woman seemed to take fire, and in turn she threatened him.

And now she had brought Mrs. Burton to witness his cruelty to her, the meek, suffering girl to whom he was pledged and plighted, who she had followed to Omaha in hopes of softening his heart and winning back his wayward love, as was the burden of her sorrowing song to that most sympathetic of women, already burning with prejudice and fancied wrong of her own. One "woman scorned" is more than enough for many a reputation. Two, in double harness, would wreck that of Saint Anthony.

All this and more had sped through Loring's mind that night and was uppermost in his thoughts as he stood there facing his patient commander. The General's fine, clear-cut features clouded with anxiety as he noted the long silence and hesitation. Again he spoke, with grave, yet gentle reproof in his tone.

"Surely, Loring, if you know of the fellow, it is our right to know."

"I realize it, sir. But I can do better than tell a mere suspicion. Give me authority to act and I'll land that man in jail and lay his whole story on your desk."

"Then go and do it!" said the chief.



CHAPTER XXII.

Another week and all Wyoming was awake and thrilling. There had been dreadful doings on the Big Horn, and John Folsom's prophecy had come true. Enticing one detachment after another out from the stockade at Warrior Gap by show of scattered bands of braves, that head devil of the Ogallallas, Red Cloud, had gradually surrounded three companies with ten times their force of fighting men and slaughtered every soldier of the lot. There had been excitement at Gate City during a brief visit of the General and his aid inspecting the affairs of Major Burleigh, who, confined to his bed by nervous prostration, and forbidden by his doctor to see anybody, had nevertheless sent his keys and books and bank account, and to the mystification of the chief, more money was found in the big office safe at the depot quartermaster's than was necessary to cover his accountability. The General and his inspector were fairly puzzled. They personally questioned the bank cashier and the quartermaster's clerks. They ransacked that safe and pored over the books, both there and at the bank. The only queer thing discovered was that a large sum of money, five thousand dollars or so, had been withdrawn from the bank in cash one day and within the week replaced. Then the General had to turn back to Cheyenne and hasten thence to the forts along the Platte, to expedite the sending of his soldiers to the relief of the beleaguered posts along the Big Horn, the tidings of the massacre reaching Gate City and plunging Fort Emory in mourning only a few hours after his departure.

Then came still another excitement at Gate City. Major Burleigh had suddenly become endowed with new youth and energy. He who was declared by his physicians to be in a critical condition, one demanding the utmost quiet, he who could not even see the department commander, and of whom the doctor had said it might be weeks before he was again fit for duty, had sprung from his bed, dictated certain letters, wired important news to the chief quartermaster at Omaha, demanded of the railway authorities an engine and caboose to bear him over the newly-completed mountain division to Cheyenne, had taken every cent from his private safe, had entered his office at an early hour, satchel and safe key in hand, was confounded by the sight of two clerks there smoking forbidden pipes, and turning, without a word, had fled. One of these was the young man who so recently had written to a confidant in Omaha, telling of Burleigh's queer doings and his own desire to get from underneath.

It transpired later that Burleigh went back to the bank, presented a check for the balance to his credit and demanded currency, but the cashier had become alarmed by the investigations made by the General and had temporized—said he must consult the president, and asked the major to call two hours later, whereat Burleigh had taken alarm. He was looking ghastly, said the cashier. It was apparent to every one that mentally, bodily, or both, the lately debonair and successful man of the world had "lost his grip."

And before even the swift-running engine could have landed the fugitive in Cheyenne, the truth was known. The package purporting to contain ten thousand dollars in currency for the payment of the workmen at Warrior Gap, sealed in Burleigh's office and sent at incredible risk by the hands of a young cavalry officer, with only ten troopers through the Indian lines, borne intact to the commanding officer of the new post, though its gallant guardians had run the gauntlet at the cost of the blood of more than half their number, was found when opened to hold nothing but waste paper. Then indeed was explained Burleigh's insistence. Then indeed was apparent why he had not pressed his charges against the officer who had publicly horsewhipped him. Then indeed was explained why good old John Folsom had withdrawn so large a sum in cash from his bank and how Burleigh was enabled to replace what he himself had taken. Then did it begin to dawn on people where Hank Birdsall, "The Pirate of the Plains," as he had been alliteratively described, had got the "straight tip" which enabled him to instantly enlist the services of so many outlawed men in a desperate game. Gradually as the whole scheme became evident and the truth leaked out, Gate City woke up to a pitch of pious fury against its late popular and prominent "boomer" and citizen. Gradually it dawned upon them that, in jealous hatred of the young soldier whom Folsom's lovely daughter seemed to favor, he had first sought to undermine him, then to ruin and finally to make way with, even while at the same time covering the tracks of his own criminality. It was Elinor Folsom's lover, Lieutenant Dean, who horsewhipped him for good and sufficient reasons. It was Elinor's father who bribed him with a big and sorely-needed loan to prefer no charges against the boy. It was Burleigh who almost immediately after this tremendous episode had secured the sending of Lieutenant Dean on a mission so fraught with peril that the chances were ten to one against his ever getting through alive. Who could have "posted" Birdsall but Burleigh? Who could say what the amount of his shortage really was? The key of the big safe was gone with him, and in that safe at the time of the general's visit were at least fifteen thousand dollars. "Old Pecksniff," commanding officer at Fort Emory, had wired to department headquarters. An expert safe-opener was ordered out from Chicago, and right in the midst of all the turmoil there suddenly appeared upon the scene a blue-eyed young man, with pale features, clear-cut and strong, a light brown mustache that shaded his mouth, and, though he wore no uniform, the rumor went round that this was Lieutenant Loring of the Engineers. Infantry and cavalry, commissaries and quartermasters, doctors and sutlers, the denizens of Gate City well knew as attachments of the army, but what the mischief was an Engineer? Loring put up at Gate City's new hotel, simply registering as from Omaha, but that he bore credentials and was a man of mark, Gate City learned from the fact that Colonel Stevens himself had met him on arrival and wished to take him out to the fort, and was ill-pleased when Mr. Loring explained that his business would be best performed in town. Gate City followed the young man with eager eyes, confident that Engineer must be the army name for detective. He studied the hotel register. He curiously examined all relics of the late lamented Newhall, who disappeared before Burleigh. He questioned the clerks at the corral, reconnoitered the neighborhood, asked what were their means of defense, turned inside out a worn yet shapely boot that had been the captain's, bade man after man to describe that worthy, and finally walked away from the depot, having picked up lots of information and imparted none. He spent some time at Folsom's that evening. He drove out to the fort in the afternoon, "and what do you think he wanted?" said Old Pecksniff, whose command had been cut down to one company and the band, "wanted me to post a strong guard over the quartermaster's depot, lest that damned marauding gang of Birdsall's should gallop in some night with Burleigh's safe key and get away with the funds. I asked him if those were the General's orders and he said no. I asked him if they were anybody's orders and he said no. I asked him if it was anybody's idea but his own and he said no, and then I told him, by gad, I hadn't men enough to guard the public property here at the post. The quartermaster's depot was responsible for most of them being away, let them take care of their own."

Gate City Hotel was alive with loungers that night waiting for the Engineer. At half-past nine he had come from the quartermaster's corral, and after a few minutes had gone away with Mr. Folsom, who drove up in his carriage. He was up at the old man's now, said the impatient ones, fooling away the time with the girls when he ought to be there answering their questions and appeasing their curiosity. The talk turned on the probable whereabouts of Burleigh and his "pals." So had the mighty fallen that the lately fawning admirers now spoke of the fugitive as a criminal. He couldn't follow the Union Pacific East; everybody knew him, and by this time officers were on the lookout for him all along the road. He had reached Cheyenne, that was known, and had driven away from there up the valley of Crow Creek with two companions. Loring himself had ascertained this in Cheyenne, but it was the sheriff who gave out the information. He was in hiding, declared the knowing ones, in some of the haunts of Birdsall's fellows east of Laramie City, a growing town of whose prowess at poker and keno Gate City was professionally aware and keenly jealous. He might hide there a day or two and then get out of the country by way of the Sweetwater along the old stage route to Salt Lake or skip southward and make for Denver. Northward he dare not go. There were the army posts along the Platte; beyond them the armed hosts of Indians, far more to be dreaded than all the sheriffs' posses on the plains. Half-past ten came and still no Loring, and the round of drinks were getting monotonous. Judge Pardee, a bibulous and oracular limb of the law, had been chosen inquisitor-general, with powers to call for all the news that was stowed away in that secretive "knowledge-box" on the shoulders of the Engineer. Gate City had resolved and "'lowed" that a man reputed to know so much should be held up and compelled to part with at least a little. Jimmy Peters, the landlord's boy, scouting out to Folsom's, came back on the run, breathless from three-quarters of a mile of panting through that rare atmosphere, to say that he had just seen a couple of officers ride away to the fort, and old man Folsom with "the Engineer feller" were coming out the front gate. They'd be along in a few minutes. So in their eagerness some of the loungers strolled out in front and gazed westward up the long, broad, hard-beaten street on which, in many a spot, the bunch grass of the prairie still lingered. It was a lovely summer night, warm, starlit, but the baby moon had early sunk to rest, and the darkness was intense. Yet the first men to come forth could have sworn they saw two horsemen, dim and shadowy, go loping across the broad thoroughfare from north to south, at the first cross street. There was nothing remarkable in horsemen being abroad at that hour; horses were tethered now in front of the hotel. What was strange was that they passed within a mile of Peter's bar and didn't stop for a drink. Men who are capable of that neglect of opportunity and the attendant privilege of "setting em up" for all hands, could be nothing less than objects of suspicion. Two minutes later and somebody said, "Shut up!" a frontierism for "hush," and all ears were turned expectant. No, there was no sound of brisk, springy footsteps on the elastic wooden walk. Already men had noted that quick, alert, soldierly gait of the new officer. But "shut up" was repeated when audible murmurs were made. "There's more fellows a-horseback up yonder. Who in 'ell's out to-night?" queried the citizen with the keenest ears. "Jimmy, boy, run up there and scout—I'll give you a dime."

And Jimmy, nothing loath, was off, swift and noiseless as an arrow. It was time for Loring and "old man Folsom" to be getting there if they were coming, and the boy was athrill with excitement and interest.

Bending low, as he knew the Indians went on scout, springing along the plank walk he shot like a flitting specter up the street, stooping lower and glaring to left and right at the first crossing, but seeing nobody. A noiseless run of a third of a mile brought him to a corner, where, looking southward by day, one could see the flagstaff and the big white gateway, and beyond it the main office of the quartermaster's corral. Staff and gateway were invisible now, but beyond the latter gleamed two lights, each in a separate window of that office. Jimmy knew they never worked that late. Why should the curtains be up now? Why, indeed! It was a question that interested other prowlers beside himself, for, as he paused for breath, close at hand he heard the stamp of a horse's hoof, followed by a muttered curse, and evident jerk of the bit and jab with the spurs, for the tortured creature plunged and stamped in pain.

"Keep that damned broncho quiet!" growled a voice. "You'll give the whole thing away."

"It's given away now," was the surly half whisper, in reply, "else those fellows would never be up at this hour of the night. They've mounted guard. Where'd the man go with the key?"

"Up to Folsom's back gate. Three of our fellows are shadowing him, though. He can't get away with it. He said he had to see his wife or she'd betray the whole business."

"All the same I don't like it. The old man always has a raft of fort people there. Hello, listen!"

All on a sudden there came from afar up the broad avenue the sound of scurrying hoofs. Down through the darkness, louder and louder, spurring and thundering, came three horsemen whom the shadows at the corner reined out eagerly to meet. There was no suspense. "Come on!" savagely growled a hoarse voice. "The game's up! Newhall's wife led him square into a trap. They've got him, key and all."

Then away they rode, athirst and blasphemous, and away sped Jimmy with his wondrous news, and out tumbled the loungers at Peter's bar, the judge and the sheriff last, and those who had horses mounted and galloped up to Folsom's and those who had not trudged enviously after, and a few minutes later there was gathered at the corral a panting and eager band of men, for thither had Mr. Loring, with his grip on the collar and his pistol at his captive's ear, marched an ashen-faced, scowling, scurrilous man, a dashing-looking fellow at times, a raging rascal now, cursing his wife for a foul traitress, cursing his captor for an accomplice, saying filthy words about women in general, until choked by a twist of the collar.

Into the lighted office and the presence of two armed clerks the Engineer marched his man, the first arrivals following eagerly until the door was shut and barred. Into the hands of a sheriff did Loring personally commit his prisoner. Then calling to his aid the chief clerk, he tried the key in the lock of the safe. It worked exactly. Then he turned to the civil officer of the law.

"Guard this man well," said he. "He has escaped twice before. It is not Captain Newhall. He is a thief—whose name is Nevins."

"And you hear me, young cock of the walk," was the furious outbreak of the captive runagate, "you stole that key from me—to whom it was given to deliver to Colonel Stevens. It isn't the first time you stole either. You'll sweat for this night's work so sure as there's a God in heaven!"



CHAPTER XXIII.

Gate City had found a hero and wished to worship him, but its hero proved as intractable as he was reticent. For three days after the capture of Nevins the community was agog with rumor and excitement. To begin with, the captive "had the cheek of a brass monkey," said the sheriff, and swore stoutly that he was a wronged and injured man. So far from being a prisoner he should be on a pinnacle, rewarded by a generous and grateful government for important services rendered. Who but he had followed and found the renegade major and wrested from him full confession and the key of the safe, which in turn had been forcibly wrested from him through the malevolent jealousy of that upstart Engineer; but never, said Nevins, would he now betray Burleigh's hiding-place or impart his confession until full reparation was made for the wrongs and indignities heaped upon him. The sheriff was fairly dazed.

"Who were all the fellows you had with you," he demanded, "if they weren't some of Hank Birdsall's crowd, come there to raid the quartermaster's department depot?" Nevins' indignation was fine to see. He denied all knowledge of the presence of any such. He demanded an interview with Folsom. He utterly refused at first to accord one to his wife, as Naomi Fletcher, Folsom's housekeeper was now understood to be. That woman was in league with his enemies, he swore. That woman wrote and bade him come and then had Folsom and Loring and other armed men there to pounce upon him. Folsom came and had a few words with him, but told him bluntly that he wouldn't believe his preposterous story, and would have nothing to do with him until he withdrew the outrageous accusations against both his wife and Loring. That woman's a million times too good for you, said Folsom. Then Nevins concluded he must have a talk with Loring, and, on his message being conveyed that officer, the bearer was bidden to say that Mr. Loring refused to have anything whatever to do with him, whereat the captive ex-captain ground his teeth with rage and made the jail-yard ring with malediction. Events succeeded each other with marvelous rapidity. Folsom's visit was early the morning after the capture, and by noon he was bowling along on a seventy-mile ride to the ranch in the Laramie valley, hurried thither by the news that Birdsall's gang had run off many of his son's best horses and that Hal Folsom himself was missing. Loring galloped by the side of the ambulance several miles, conferring with the old frontiersman all the way, then turned back to resume his work at the depot. Eagerly he wired dispatches to the General, which were forwarded from Cheyenne to the Platte, telling of his important capture, smiling quietly as he wrote. Had he not promised to produce the mysterious Newhall himself? Admirable service, indeed, had the young Engineer rendered. The testimony of Folsom, Loring, Jimmy Peters and one or two wakeful citizens all proved that there must have been a dozen of Birdsall's gang in town that night. There could be only one explanation, for a price was on the head of every man. They had come with "Newhall" and the key straight from some distant lair in the Black Hills of Wyoming, the big-shouldered range that stretches from the Laramie near its junction with the Platte southward to Colorado. They were bent on a sudden rush upon the corral in the dead of night, the forcing of the gate and the office door, then, with "Newhall" to unlock the safe, they would be up and away like the wind, with money enough to keep them all in clover—and whisky—until the last dollar was gambled or guzzled. Loring's suspicions had proved exactly correct. Loring's precautions in having the office brightly lighted and a show of armed men about had held the would-be robbers at bay during the early hours of the night, and then his prompt action in hurling himself on the mysterious stranger who came stealthily in at Folsom's back gate, had finally and totally blocked the game.

But, just in proportion as Loring turned out to be right, old Pecksniff turned out to be wrong, for he had refused a guard for the depot, and therefore was it now Pecksniff's bounden duty to himself to pooh-pooh the precautions of the Engineer and belittle the danger. Not for a moment would he admit that armed desperadoes had come at Nevins' back. As for the key in his possession, with all respect to the statements of Mr. Loring, the story of the unfortunate captain was just as plausible, and that key should have been delivered to him, the commander at Fort Emory, instead of being taken possession of by the Engineer. True, Nevins had been dismissed in disgrace, and in a question of veracity between the two men there was little doubt that Loring's would prevail. But a very peppery, fidgety, unhappy old man was Colonel Stevens for many days, prating about this independence of action of stripling officers right under his nose. But the worst came on the day when the little troop of cavalry at Fort Emory was still further depleted by the detachment of a sergeant, two corporals and eight troopers, ordered to report with pack-mule and ten-days' rations to Lieutenant Loring, of the Engineers, and Colonel Stevens had not been consulted again. The senior colonel in the department, he had seen his command cut down, company by company, until only a bare squad, said he, remained to guard the most important post in Wyoming. (Which it wasn't by any means, but he had been led to think so.) And now young whipper-snappers just out of West Point were running away with his men right under his nose!

But Loring's orders came to him direct from Omaha. He had need of every precaution. He was now going on a mission that demanded the utmost secrecy, and the colonel could no more conceal a movement than a sieve could hold water.

Quitting the quartermaster's depot one summer night at twelve, the little detachment rode silently out across the southward prairie, swung round to the east when the dim lights of town were a mile behind, took the trot over the hard, bounding turf, and at dawn were heading straight for the breaks of the Laramie. Halting for rest and coffee when the sun was an hour high, they again pushed on until noon, when they unsaddled in a grove of leafy cottonwoods in a little fork of the Medicine Bow, watered the weary horses and gave them a hearty feed and themselves as hearty a dinner, and then picketing and hoppling their steeds, who were glad enough to roll and sprawl in the sand, all hands managed to get some hours of sound sleep before the sun was sinking to the edge of the Sweetwater Range. Then came the careful grooming of their mounts, then a dip in the cool waters, then smoking tins of soldier coffee and sizzling slips of bacon. Then again the saddle and the silent trail, with the moon looking down from the zenith on their warlike array. Heavily armed was every man, each, even the lieutenant, with carbine and brace of Colts, and on they rode through the still, soft night air, chatting in low tones, no man knowing but every one believing that the taciturn, blue-eyed young officer in the lead was heading them for a lair of the Birdsall gang. It was too far south just then for Sioux.

Another morn and they had crossed, during the dark hours, the broad plains of the Laramie and were winding up among the hills. Another rest and, spurring from the rear, there overtook them a bronzed, weather-beaten frontiersman whom Mr. Loring greeted without show of surprise, and when again they moved on it was he who rode at the lieutenant's left, up, up a winding trail among the frowning heights, until just as every man was wondering when on earth they could hope for a bite, the noiseless signal halt was given, while the leaders dismounted and peered over a shoulder of bluff ahead, held brief consultation, then down the ravine to the left rode the stranger, and back to his men came Loring, his eyes kindling.

"There is a camp half a mile ahead where I have to make an arrest," said he quietly. "Keep close at my heels. We'll have to gallop when we get in view. Draw pistol. Don't fire unless they do. They probably won't."

And they didn't. Half a dozen startled men, gambling about a blanket; two or three sleeping off a drunk, and one hunted, haunted wretch nervously pacing up and down among the pines, were no match for the dash of a dozen blue jackets coming thundering into view. There was no thought of fight. Those who could catch their horses threw themselves astride bareback and shot for the heart of the hills; two or three scrambled off afoot and were quickly run down, one a heavily-built, haggard, hollow-eyed man shook from head to foot as the lieutenant reined up his panting and excited horse and coolly said:

"You are my prisoner, Burleigh."

Nor was there attempt at rescue. Mounting his four captives on their horses, their feet lashed to the stirrups, their hands bound, all the abandoned arms, ammunition and provisions destroyed and the camp burned, Loring led promptly away up the range toward the north until clear of the timber, then down the westward slope toward the Laramie valley once more, searching for a secure place to bivouac. Far to the north the grand old peak loomed against the blue gray of the Wyoming skies. Off to their left front, uplifting a shaggy crest from its surrounding hills, a bold butte towered full twenty miles away, and toward that jagged landmark Loring saw his sergeant peering time and again, with hand-shaded eyes.

"What do you see?" he presently asked.

"Smoke, sir, I think. Will the lieutenant look with his glass?"

Silently Loring unslung his binocular and gazed. His eyes were keen, but untrained. "Take it yourself, sergeant," he said; and the veteran trooper reined out to one side and peered long and steadily, then came trotting up to the head of the column, doubt and suppressed excitement mingling on his weather-beaten face.

"I couldn't be sure, sir, but it looked for a minute like smoke."

"And that means——"

"Indian signals, sir. That's Eagle Butte, only a couple of miles from Hal Folsom's ranch."

Loring pondered. It was long since, in any force, the Sioux had ventured south of the Platte; but now, after their victory at Warrior Gap and the tremendous reinforcement they had received from all the turbulent tribes, what was to prevent? John Folsom himself had told him it might be expected any moment. John Folsom himself had gone to that very spot, consumed with anxiety about the safety of his son, but confident of the safety of himself and those he loved when once he could reach the ranch. "No Sioux," said he, "would raise hand to harm me."

But Loring's men and horses both were sorely wearied now, and at sundown the little command reached a sheltered nook where grass, wood, and water were abundant. Here restfully, yet anxiously they bivouacked until three in the morning, and then once more, refreshed but alert and cautious, watchful of their prisoners and watchful of the signs ahead, on they sped for Folsom's ranch. The dawn broke beautifully clear. The trail led down into the romantic valley of the Laramie at the bend where it begins its rush through the range. Then, turning westward as they reached the foot of a steep and commanding height, Loring signaled to his sergeant and the troopers spurred up alongside. There before them lay the broad and beautiful valley just lighting up with the rosy hues of the glad young day. There to the northward, black-bearded with its growth of pine, the rays of the rising sun just glinting on the topmost crags, towered Eagle Butte, a plume of smoke-puffs, even at the moment beginning to soar slowly aloft. There, not a mile away straight ahead was the steep ridge that, hiding Folsom's from view, stretched down from the northward foothills to the very bank of the lapping Laramie. There south of the stream, the gradual slope of the black range, studded here and there with bowlders that seemed to have rolled down from the precipitous cliffs under which they were now moving, two seasoned old dragoons three hundred yards out to the front, covering the cautious advance. All the broad sweep of rolling landscape far to the west just lighting up in the slant of the summer sunshine. Not a living thing in sight save their own little band, yet beyond that ridge, only two miles away, lay the ranch. All seemingly peaceful and secure, yet, over that jagged watch tower to the north the war signals of the Sioux were flaunting, and every hand seemed to seek the small of the gun stock. Even two of the prisoners plead for "a show in the fight," if there was to be one, and not five minutes later it came. Borne on the still, breathless air there rose throbbing from the west the spiteful crack, crack of rifles, the distant clamor of taunting jeer and yell. Back from the front came one of the troopers at mad gallop, his eyes popping almost from his head. "My God! lieutenant, Folsom's ranch is afire and the valley's thick with Sioux!"

Even then, when every carbine seemed to leap from its socket, men remembered the groan of despair that rose from Burleigh's lips.

"Look after the prisoners, corporal. Sergeant Carey, you and the first six come with me!" cried Loring. A gallop of less than a minute brought them almost abreast of the ridge. Black and billowing a cloud of smoke was rising, lashed from beneath by angry tongues of red flame.

"It isn't the house, thank God!" cried the sergeant. "It's the haystacks. But—look at the Indians!"

Look, well they might! All about the corrals they were darting. All of a sudden there blazed from the ridge line across the stream the fire of a dozen rifles. All around them the spiteful bullets bit the turf. One horse madly reared and plunged, his rider cursing heartily. Wildly the more excitable troopers returned an aimless shot from the saddle, while others gazed eagerly to the officer for orders. It was his first meeting with the Sioux. It had been his hope to gain that threatened ranch by dawn and join its garrison, but where was that hope now? Down along the banks of the Laramie, lashing their bounding ponies, brandishing their weapons and yelling like mad, a band of Sioux, full forty strong, came charging at them, splashing through the shallows and scattering out across their front in the well-known battle tactics. Not an instant was there to be lost!

"Jump for those rocks, men!" rang Loring's order. "Cut loose your prisoners, corporal. They must fight for their lives."

But oh, what chance had so few against so many! Springing from saddle, turning loose their startled, snorting horses, that go tearing away down the valley, the old hands have jumped for the rocks, and kneeling and taking deliberate aim, opened fire on the foremost of the foe. A gaudy warrior goes down in the flood, and a yell goes up to heaven. Another good shot slays a feather-decked pony and sends his rider sprawling, and wisely the others veer away to right and left and scurry to more distant range. But up the slopes to the south still others dart. From three sides now the Indian bullets are hissing in. In less than four minutes of sharp, stinging fight, gallant Sergeant Carey is stretched on the turf, with a shattered elbow, Corporal Burke and two troopers are shot dead, Loring, with white, set face and a scorching seam along the left cheek, seizes a dropped carbine and thrusts it into Burleigh's shaking hands. "Up with you, man!" he cries. "It's your scalp you're fighting for. Here, take a drink of this," and his filled canteen is glued to Burleigh's ashen lips. A long pull, a gasp, and hardly knowing what he does, the recreant officer kneels at the nearmost rock, aims at a painted savage leaping to the aid of a fallen brother, and the chance shot, for a marvel, finds its mark, and with a howl the warrior drops upon the bank.

"Well done, Burleigh!" shouts Loring. "Fire again!"

Hope, or whiskey, or lingering spark of manhood has fired the major's eye and nerved his hand. With something like a sob, one of Birdsall's captured crew rolls over to where the young commander is coolly loading and firing—and despite their heavy loss the stout defense has had its effect, and the yelling braves are keeping at wider range.

"I'm done for, lieutenant," he moans. "For God's sake lie flat behind me," and he feebly points to the slope behind their left rear, where half a dozen Sioux, dismounted, are skipping to the shelter of the rocks. Another minute and their bullets are hissing at the backs of the besieged. Another minute and Burleigh topples over on the sward, the life blood pouring from his side, and Loring sees that half his fighting force is gone, even as everything begins to swim before his eyes, and the hand that strives to sweep away the blur before his sight, leaves his pallid face smeared with blood. There is a sound of coming thunder in his ears, the blare of distant trumpet, the warning yell of wary Indians, the rousing cheer of charging horse, and the earth seems turning round and rolling up to meet him as he droops, fainting at his post, the battle won.

Well and gallantly done, was the universal verdict of the frontier on Walter Loring's maiden fight. Brave, cool and resolute in face of desperate peril he had proved, and many a sympathizing soldier hovered about the hospital tent, where day after day he lay in the delirium of fever that followed his wounds. Yet will it be believed that, when at last convalescence came and the doctors were compelled to raise the blockade, the news was broken to him that so soon as he should be declared strong enough there was still another ordeal ahead. The gallant General he had served so well had indeed been ordered elsewhere, as was prophesied at Omaha. "A new king came who knew not Joseph." The senior colonel was assigned to temporary command of the department, and he, old Pecksniff, listened to the tales of Nevins, and of that new arrival from California, Petty, reinforced by Heaven alone knows what allegations from the lambs of Lambert's flock.

"They found some damned trumpery jewelry in a flat tin case in a trunk you left with your traps at Omaha," was the indignant outburst of Lieutenant Dean, who had led the rush of the cavalry to the rescue of Folsom's ranch and Loring's exhausted party, "and some idiot has preferred charges on the strength of them."



CHAPTER XXIV.

That Loring court was the talk of the West for many a month. Long before its meeting the wrathful division commander had sent Colonel Stevens back to the obscurity of Fort Emory, welcomed the new brigadier and bade him, if a possible thing, quash the proceedings, but now it was Loring who was obdurate. "This matter has been a scandal for months," said he. "It must be settled now once and for all."

But, oh, what complications had not been brought about by Pecksniff's spell of brief authority! Never before intrusted with a higher command than that of a regiment, to the head of which he had risen by reason of long years of unimpaired bodily health and skillful avoidance of all danger, the old colonel had lost no time in moving, bag and baggage, to Omaha, in having Nevins transported thither, in opening wide his ears to his story of the heinous wrongs inflicted on him by that Arizona court, through the malignity of its judge advocate, of that judge advocate's heartless treachery to two helpless women, one of whom was Nevins' wife, the other the officer's own deserted and broken-hearted betrothed. Then came Petty, ordered to join his company in the field and eager as ever to seek some loophole of escape. Reporting to pay his homage to the temporary commander at headquarters he soon got an inkling of what was going on, and all at once there flashed upon him the magnificence of his opportunity. Here he could at one and the same time feed fat his ancient grudge against Loring and make himself indispensable to the aging commander of the department—perhaps even secure another staff billet, certainly, at least, succeed in being kept there on duty and away from the perils of the field until after the court, and meantime, what would friends be worth if they could not move the powers at Washington.

Day after day he was closeted with old Stevens, adding fuel to the flame of that ingenuous veteran's suspicions, but it is doubtful if even Petty dreamed of the depth of Nevins' scoundrelism. Burleigh, whom the ex-captain had "bled" and blackmailed, had passed beyond the bar of human arraignment, "dying like a gentleman" even while captive in the hands of the authorities; and so did Nevins impress his uncontradicted tale of loyal service to the State on the old weakling in command, that Stevens had declared that there was no evidence on which to hold him, had ordered his release from custody on parole, unless the civil authorities desired to prosecute him for "personating an officer," and had written to the division commander, praising Nevins' conduct, and urging that the sentence of imprisonment be set aside.

And then, he never could tell just who brought this about—whether it was Mrs. Burton or Miss Allyn with their tears and tribulations; whether it was Nevins, with his bold accusations, or Petty, with his insidious tales, but between them all the old colonel was induced to send his adjutant and acting aid to examine certain baggage of Loring's stored at the hotel. Never having given up his room when hurrying off to Gate City; expecting to be back within a week and merely to pay room rent when absent, as was the arrangement of the day, Loring had left his trunks and desks securely locked. Two officers and the protesting hotel clerk were present at the opening. The locksmith, even, seemed to hate his job; the adjutant had never a meaner one, but Petty was eager. Fresh from an interview with Geraldine, he was the directing spirit. It was his hand that extracted from deep down under the packed clothing in the trunk, a small tin box, wrapped in a silk handkerchief. Within the box, when opened, were certain letters in a woman's hand—Geraldine Allyn's—letters written to Loring in the days of their brief engagement, letters long since returned to her under his hand and seal, and with them, in closely-folded wraps of tissue paper, inclosed in stout envelope, a valuable solitaire and as valuable a ring. The regimental adjutant it was who opened the box and who made these discoveries. Half an hour later they were identified by Nevins, in the presence of old Pecksniff, as the diamonds intrusted to Loring's care in Arizona, and Nevins professed to be disappointed because the watch, too, was not found with them.

Not until late July did Loring learn of the action taken in his enforced absence, and of the resulting developments. Not a word would he vouchsafe in explanation, when old Pecksniff, wilting under the criticisms of his superiors, sent his adjutant to "invite remarks." "The court has been ordered," said Loring, with coolness described as contemptuous, "I'll make my remarks there." But long before that court could meet, the colonel, as has been said, went back to his post. The new commander arrived, and ordered Nevins to an Iowa prison to serve out the year awarded him; sent Captain Petty summarily to Laramie, and bade Mrs. Burton go about her business when that lachrymose person came to urge that he should do something "to make Lieutenant Loring settle." She had lost her lovely boarder, too, for no sooner had "Mrs. Fletcher" heard of the new accusations against Loring than she appeared at Omaha, and whisked her sister away, no one at Omaha knew where, but indignant old John Folsom could perhaps have told. He cut Pecksniff dead when that officer returned to Emory, and refused to go near the fort. He threw open his doors and his heart to Loring when the convalescing Engineer was brought in from the ranch. The new General actually came, ostensibly to inspect the post, but spent twelve hours at Folsom's by Loring's side to the one devoted to Stevens, and everybody felt that there was a storm brewing that would break when finally the witnesses for the defense arrived and the Loring court could meet.

But who would have dreamed there could be such dramatic scene before a military tribunal?

It came with the third day of the trial. The court had been carefully selected by old Pecksniff, whose adjutant had obediently signed the charges drawn up under the chief's directions. There were only nine officers in the array—"no others being available without manifest injury to the service"—read the formula of the day. Five were officers of Stevens' regiment, one a cavalry major, the others of the pay, commissary and quartermaster's departments. None had known Loring. Everybody expected him to object to some at least, but he objected to none. The judge advocate was a vigilant official who made the most of his opportunity, but his witnesses for the prosecution were, with one exception, weak; the exception was Nevins. He swore stoutly that he had given the valuables in Arizona to Loring, and from that day had never seen them until they were found secreted in Loring's trunk, and, to the amaze of the court, Loring declined to cross-examine. Petty was a failure. He wanted to swear to a thousand things that other people had told him, for of himself he knew nothing, and though the defense never interposed, the court did. It was all hearsay, and he was finally excused. Mrs. Burton appeared, but like Mrs. Cluppins of blessed memory, had more to say of her domestic and personal affairs than the allegations against the accused. Miss Allyn, said the judge advocate, in embarrassment, was to have appeared on the afternoon of the second day, but did not, nor could he find her. She was a most important witness, so he had been assured by—various persons, but at the last moment she had apparently deserted the cause of the prosecution. A civil court would have had power to drag an unwilling witness before it and compel his or her testimony; a military court has neither, so long as the desired person is not in the military service, which Miss Allyn and some sixty million others at that time could not be said to be. A sensation was "sprung" on the court at this juncture by the defense. It magnanimously informed the court that John Folsom, of Gate City, knew where that witness was in hiding, and that she could be reached through him, whereupon the judge advocate seemed to lose his eagerness.

Something was wrong with the prosecution anyway. It had begun with truculent confidence. It was unnerved by the serene composure of the accused, and his refusal to object to anything, to cross-examine, to avail himself of any one of the privileges accorded the defense. This could have only one interpretation, and Nevins, twitching with nervous dread, was worrying the judge advocate with perpetual questions as to the witnesses for the defense. When were they to be produced? Who were they? And the judge advocate did not know. Very unfairly had he been treated, said he, for the list of witnesses for the defense not only had not been furnished him, but he had never been "consulted." Two or three "stuck-up" Engineers had come out from St. Louis and Detroit, and Loring and they had been actually hobnobbing with the department commander. But the mere fact that the meeting of the court was delayed until the end of September proved that they must be coming from the Pacific coast, at which announcement Petty looked perturbed and Nevins twitched from head to foot. He didn't suppose, he said, the United States would stand the expense of fetching witnesses way from California, transportation and per diem would cost more than the whole business was worth.—and the judge advocate was wishing himself well out of it when, on a sunny Friday morning, the third day of the court, the president rapped for order and the big roomful of spectators was hushed to respectful silence. The defense had made its first request, that the principal witness for the prosecution, Nevins, should be present, and there he sat, nervous and fidgety, as Loring was serene.

In halting and embarrassed fashion, very unlike the fluent ease with which he opened the case, the judge advocate announced that, owing to the impossibility of compelling the testimony of witnesses on whom he had relied, he was obliged to announce that the prosecution would here rest. The defense, of course, he said, vaguely, would wish to be heard, though he had not been honored with any conference or even a list of the witnesses. Then he looked inquiringly at Loring, and every neck in the thronged apartment, the biggest room at headquarters, was "craned" as Loring quietly handed him a slip of paper.

The judge advocate read, looked puzzled, glanced up, and cleared his throat.

"You mean you want these summoned?"

"No, they're here, in my office."

The judge advocate turned to the orderly of the court, a soldier standing in full dress uniform at the door. The hallway, even, was blocked with lookers-on. The windows to the south were occupied by curious citizens, gazing in from the wooden gallery. Those to the north, thrown wide open to let in the air, were clear, and looked out over a confused muddle of shingled roofs and stove-pipe chimneys. Hardly a whisper passed from lip to lip as the orderly bustled away. Members of the court fidgeted with their sash tassels, or made pretense of writing. Nevins, the sheriff's officer, in close attendance, sat staring at the doorway, his face ashen, and beginning to bead with sweat. Presently the people in the hall gave way right and left, and all eyes save those of Loring were intent upon the entrance. He sat coolly looking at the man whom six months before he had convicted in Arizona. There was a stir in the courtroom. Half the people rose to their feet and stared, for slowly entering upon the arm of a tall, slim, long legged lieutenant of infantry, a stranger to every man in the court, came a slender, shrinking little maid, whose heavy eyelashes swept her cheeks, whose dark, shapely head hung bashfully. Behind them, in the garb of some religious order, unknown to all save one or two in the crowded room, came a gentle-faced woman, leaning on the arm of a field officer of the Engineers, at sight of whom the president sprang from his chair, intending to bow, but the silence was suddenly broken by the quick, stern order, "Look out for your prisoner!" followed by a rush, a crashing of overturned chairs, as court and spectators, too, started to their feet—a general scurry to the northward windows, shouts of "Halt!" "Head him off!" "Stop him!" in the midst of which a light, supple form was seen to poise one instant on the sill, then go leaping into space. "He's killed!" "He's not!" "He's up again!" "He's off!" were the cries, and with drawn revolver the deputy sheriff fought his way through the throng at the door and with a dozen men at his heels, darted down the hallway in vain pursuit of Nevins, now out of sight among the shanties half a block away.

Of all that followed before the court when at last it came to order, there is little need to tell. The judge advocate would have been glad to drop the case then and there, but now the defense had the floor and kept it, though not a word of evidence was needed. The first witness sworn was Lieutenant Blake, who told of the trick by which he and his men, Loring's guards, had been lured from the camp at Sancho's ranch, and of their finding Loring senseless, bleeding and robbed on their return. The next was little Pancha, and Loring sat with his hand shading his blue eyes as the pallid maid, with piteously quivering lips at times, with brave effort to force back her tears, in English only a little better than that in which she had poured out her fears to Blake that eventful night at Gila Bend—sometimes, indeed, having to speak in Spanish with the gray sister sworn as her interpreter—told the plaintive story of her knowledge of and connection with Sancho's wicked band. Her dear father and her stepmother were ruled by Sancho. She had seen Nevins there often, "him who had fled through the window." She gathered enough from what she heard about the ranch to realize that they were planning to rob the officer, "this officer," before he could get away with the diamonds. Nevins had ridden in with six men, bad men, that very night, and she heard him planning with Sancho and her father, and she had tried to warn the officers, and "this gentleman" (Blake this time) had come, and before she could tell him she was followed and discovered. But then her stepmother had later whispered awful things to her—how they were going to rob the stage and kill the passengers, and bade her take her guitar and try to call the officer again, and tell him to take his soldiers and go to the rescue, and this she had done eagerly, and then when they were away her mother seized her and drew her into the room and shut her there, but she heard horsemen rush into the camp, and a minute later Nevins, jeering and laughing in the bar, and that very night they took her away—she and her father and the stepmother, and Nevins was with them. They went by Tucson to Hermosillo and to Guaymas, and her mother told her she must never breathe what she knew—it would ruin her father, whom she loved, yes, dearly, and whom she would not believe had anything to do with it. And at Hermosillo Nevins had the watch, the diamond ring, the diamond stud, these very ones, she was sure, as the valuable "exhibits" were displayed. But at San Francisco when the lady superior told her of the accusations against "this gentleman" (even now her eyes would not look into Loring's) and of all his trouble, she forgot her father's peril, forgot everything but that Lieutenant Loring, who had been so good and kind and brave, was wrongfully accused, and she told all to the lady superior and went with her and repeated it to the General, the General who had died. And when at last she finished her trembling, tearful story, Loring rose before them all, went over and took her hand and bowed low over it, as though he would have kissed it, and said, "Thank you, senorita." And the judge advocate declined to cross-examine. What was the use? But the defense insisted on other witnesses—a local locksmith who had sold Nevins keys that would open any trunk, a hotel porter who swore that the blinds to Loring's room had been forcibly opened from without, a bell boy who had seen Nevins on the gallery at that window three nights before the search of the luggage was made. And the court waxed impatient and said it had had more than enough. Every man of the array came up to and shook Loring by the hand before they let him leave the courtroom, and Blake hunted high and low through Omaha until he found poor Petty and relieved his mind of his impressions, and finally the order announcing the honorable acquittal of Lieutenant Loring, on every charge and specification, was read to every command in the department fast as the mails could carry it.

Brought to by a bullet in the leg, George Nevins was recaptured down the Missouri three days later, and sent for his wife that she might come and nurse him. Though everybody said no, she went and did her best, and if nursing could have saved a reprobate life he might still have remained an ornament to society such as that in which he shone. But Naomi wore a widow's veil when late in October she returned to Folsom's roof; the good old trader had stood her friend through all.

There were some joyous weddings in the Department of the Platte the summer that followed, Loring gravely figuring as best man when Dean, of the cavalry, was married to Elinor Folsom, and smiling with equal gravity when he read of the nuptials of Brevet Captain Petty and the gifted and beautiful Miss Allyn. He had reverted to his original idea, that of waiting in patience until he had accumulated a nest egg and had acquired higher rank than a lieutenancy in the Engineers; and so he might have done if it took him a dozen years had not orders carried him once more to the Pacific coast, after the completion of the Union Pacific railway.

Regularly every month he had written to Pancha, noting with surprise and pleasure how rapidly she learned. Gladly he went to see her at the gray sisters the day after his arrival. He had meant to laughingly remind her of his good-by words: "You know we always come back to California," but he forgot them when she came into the room. He took her hands, drew her underneath the chandelier and looked at her, and only said:

"Why, Pancha!"

Loring never did say much, and it was a beautiful, dark-eyed girl who uplifted those eyes to his and smiled in welcome, saying as little as he. She was a graduate now. She was teaching the younger girls—until—until it was decided when she should return to Guaymas—to the home of Uncle Ramon, who had been good to her always, but especially since her poor father's death. She did go back to Guaymas, by and by, but not until Uncle Ramon had come twice, at long intervals, to San Francisco to see her and the good lady Superior, and to confer with a very earnest, clear-eyed, dignified man at headquarters. There came a new Idaho on the line to Guaymas, and a newer, bigger, better steamer still a year or two later, and bluff old Captain Moreland was given the command of the best of the fleet, and on the first trip out from 'Frisco welcomed with open arms two subalterns of the army, one of the Engineers, the other a recent transfer to the cavalry, both old and cherished friends.

"We won't have you with us on the back trip, Blake, old boy," he said, as he wrung their hands when he saw them go ashore at Guaymas, "but I can tell you right here and now there won't be anything on this ship too good for Mrs. Loring—of the Engineers."

"It is a pretty name! I'm glad its mine now," said Pancha, one starlit night on the blue Pacific, as they neared the lights of the Golden Gate.

"It was a wounded name, Pancha, wounded worse than I," he answered reverently, "until you came and healed and saved it."

THE END.

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