Once more he turns to the east, across the shimmering glare of that parched and tawny plain, and strains his eyes in vain effort to catch sight of the longed-for column issuing from the opposite valley, but it is hopeless. The hot sun beats down upon his bruised and aching head and sears his bloodshot eyes. He raises his hand in mute appeal to heaven, and at the instant there is a flash, a sharp report not thirty yards away, an angry spat as the leaden missile strikes the shelving top of his parapet and goes humming across the gorge, a stifled shriek from Ruth looking fearfully up from below, an Irish oath from Walsh as he whirls about to answer the shot, and Drummond can barely repress a little gasp.
"Narrow squeak that, Walsh! That devil has crawled close up on us. Can you see him?"
"Begad, sir, I can see nothing at all but rocks, rocks, rocks. How can a man fight anyway agin' human beings that crawl like snakes?"
Zip! Another shot close at hand, too, and from another unseen foe. The first came from somewhere among the bowlders down to the southeast, and this second whizzed from across the canon. A little puff of blue smoke is floating up from among the rocks fifty yards or so to the north of the narrow slit.
Crouching lower, Drummond calls across to Costigan, posted as the easternmost of the two men on the opposite side,—
"That fellow is nearest you, corporal; can you see nothing of him?"
"Nothing, sir; I was looking that way, too, when he fired. Not even the muzzle of his gun showed."
This is serious business. If one Indian or two can find it so easy to creep around them and, armed only with their old muzzle-loading guns, send frequent shots that reach the besieged "in reverse," what can be hoped when the whole band gathers and every rock on every side shelters a hostile Apache? From the first Drummond has feared that however effective might be these defences against the open attack of white men, they are ill adapted to protect the defenders against the fire of Indians who can climb like squirrels or crawl or squirm through any chink or crevice like so many snakes.
Another shot! Another bullet flattens itself on the rock close to his right shoulder and then drops into the dust by his knee. It comes from farther up the cliff,—perhaps two hundred yards away among those stunted cedars,—but shudderingly close. Costigan and the other men glance anxiously over their shoulders at the point where their young commander and Walsh are crouching. They are not yet subjected to a fire from the rear, these others. The lookout, the signal-station, as it might be called, is the highest point and most exposed about the position.
"For God's sake, lieutenant," cries the corporal, "don't stay there. They've got your range on two sides anyhow. Come out of it. You and Walsh can slip down as we open fire. We'll just let drive in every direction until you are safe below."
Drummond hesitates. He sees a half-pleading look in Walsh's honest face. The Irishman would willingly tackle the whole tribe in open fight, but what he doesn't like is the idea of being potted like a caged tiger, never knowing whence came the shot that laid him low. Then the lieutenant peers about him. Yes, it is exposed to fire from a point in the cliffs to the west, and there are rocks over there to the north that seem to command it; but if abandoned there will be no way of preventing a bold advance on part of the Apaches up the rugged eastward slope. It would then stand between the defenders and the assailants, giving to the latter incalculable advantage. Hold it he must for a few minutes at least, until, recalling McGuffey, he can set him and one or two others to work piling up a rock barricade in front of the cave. Then if driven out and no longer able to stand the Indians off, they can retire into the caves themselves, hide their precious charges in the farthest depths, and then, like Buford at Gettysburg, "fight like the devil" till rescue come.
"No, down with you, Costigan," he answers. "Get McGuffey and Fritz; block up the front of the cave with rocks; move in those Moreno women; carry Sergeant Wing back to the farther cave,—Miss Harvey will show you where. Stand fast the rest of you. Don't let an Indian close in on us."
"Look, lieut'nant," whispers Walsh; "they're coming up down beyant you there."
And, peeping through a narrow slit left in his parapet, Drummond can just see bobbing among the bowlders far down towards the willow copse two or three Apache crests,—Apache unmistakably, because of the dirty-white turban-like bandages about the matted black locks. At that distance they advance with comparative security. It is when they come closer to the defenders that they will be lost to view.
Obedient to his orders, Costigan slips out of his shelter and "takes a sneak" for the edge of the cliff. In an instant, from half a dozen points above, below, and on both sides, there come the flash and crack of rifles. The dust is kicked up under his nimble feet, but he reaches unharmed the cleft in which some rude steps have been hacked, and goes, half sliding, half scraping, down into the cooler depths below.
"Mother of Moses!" he groans, "but we'll never get the lieut'nant out alive. Shure they're all around him now."
Then bounding down the gorge he finds McGuffey kneeling at the point.
"They're coming, Barney," whispers the boy, all eager and tremulous with excitement, and pointing down between the vertical walls. "Look!" he says.
Gazing ahead to the next bend, Costigan can see Moreno and his Yankee compadre crouching behind their shelter, their carbines levelled, their attitude betokening intense excitement and suspense. It is evident the enemy are within view.
"I'll have one shot at 'em, bedad, to pay for the dozen their brother blackguards let drive at me," mutters Costigan. "Come on, you; it's but a step." And, forgetful for the moment of his orders in his eagerness for fight, the Irishman runs down the canon, leaps the swirling brook just as he reaches the point, and, obedient to the warning hand held out by their bandit ally, drops on his knees at the bend, McGuffey close at his heels. Off go their hats. Those broad brims would catch an Indian eye even in that gloom.
"How many are there coming?" he whispers.
Moreno puts his finger on his lips, then throws out his hand, four fingers extended.
"One apiece then, be jabers! Now, Little Mac, you're to take the second from the right,—their right, I mean,—and doan't you miss him or I'll break every bone in your skin."
Down they go upon their faces, then, Indian-like, they crawl a few feet farther where there is a little ledge. The canon widens below; the light is stronger there, and, bending double, throwing quick glances at one another, then from sheer force of Indian habit shading their eyes with their brown hands as they peer to the front; exchanging noiseless signals; creeping like cats from rock to rock; leaping without faintest sound of the moccasined foot across the bubbling waters, four swarthy scamps are coming stealthily on. Two others are just appearing around the next bend beyond.
"Ready, boys? They're near enough now. Cover the two leaders! Drop the first two anyhow!"
Breathless silence, thumping hearts one instant longer, then the chasm bellows with the loud reports. The four guns are fired almost as one. One half-naked wretch leaps high in air and falls, face downward, dead as a nail. Another whirls about, bounds a few yards along the brook-side, and then goes splashing into a shallow pool, where he lies writhing. The two farthest down the canon have slipped back behind the rocky shoulder. The other two, close at hand, have rolled behind the nearest shelter and thence send harmless bullets whizzing overhead. Costigan lets drive a wild Irish yell of triumph and delight.
"Now, then, run for it, boy. Well done, you two, if ye are blackguards," he calls to Moreno and his mate. "They won't disturb ye again for ten minutes anyhow. Hold your post, though, till we call you back. We're going to block the mouth of the cave."
Twenty minutes later and, working like beavers, Costigan and his two men have lugged rocks, logs, bales of blankets, everything, anything that can stop a bullet, and the entrance to the cave is being stoutly barricaded. Patterson, who was sorely exposed at his post and ordered down by Lieutenant Drummond, is aiding in the work. Wing has been carefully borne into the back cave, whither, too, the wailing, quaking Moreno women are herded and bidden to hold their peace. There, too, Fanny and Ruth, silent, pallid perhaps, but making no moan, are now kneeling by their patient. Costigan runs in with two buckets he has filled with water and "Little Mac" follows with half a dozen dripping canteens. More rocks are being lifted on the barricade, convenient apertures being left through which to fire, and Costigan, feverishly eager, is making every exertion, for any minute may be the last with those plucky fellows battling there aloft. The air rings with the shots of the encircling Apaches and with the loud report of the cavalry carbine answering the hidden foe. Twice has Costigan implored the lieutenant to come down anyhow, so long as his crippled condition prevents his firing a gun, but Drummond pokes his bandaged head one instant over the edge to shout something to the effect that he is "on deck" until he has seen the last man down, and Costigan knows it is useless to argue. At last the barricade is ready. Walsh, peering grimly around, just the top of his head showing over the parapet, begs for one shot and shouts his Hibernian challenge to the Apache nation to come forth and show itself. Drummond picks up the glasses for one final look down the desert and across the valley in search of friends who surely should be coming, cautiously places the "binocular" on the inner edge of the top of his shelving rock, then raises his head to the level.
"Fur the love o' God, loot'n'nt, don't sit so high up!" implores Walsh. "They're sure to spot—Oh, Christ!" And down goes the poor faithful fellow, the blood welling from a deep gash along the temple. He lies senseless at his commander's feet.
For a moment the air seems alive with humming missiles and shrill with yells from on every side. In their triumph three or four savage foes have leaped up from behind their sheltering rocks, and one of them pays the penalty,—a vengeful carbine from across the canon stretches the lithe, slender, dusky form lifeless among the rocks, with the dirty white of his breech-clout turning crimson in the noonday glare. Up from the cave, cat-like, Patterson and "Little Mac" come climbing the narrow trail. Between them they drag Walsh's senseless body to the edge, and then, somehow, despite hissing, spattering lead, they bear him safely down and carry him within the cave.
"Now call in Moreno and help his partner back!" shouts Drummond, and Costigan goes at speed to carry out the order. A few minutes of intense excitement and suspense, then Moreno is seen limping around the point. Behind him Costigan is slowly helping their brigand friend. A few more shots come singing overhead. A moment more and the watchful Indians will come charging up the now unguarded canon and crowning both banks.
"Now, lads, give 'em two or three shots apiece to make them hug their cover. Then down for the caves, every man of you," is the order.
For a moment the Indian fire is silenced in the rapid fusillade that follows. Sharp and quick the carbines are barking their challenge, and whenever a puff of powder-smoke has marked the probable lurking-place of an Apache, thither hiss the searching bullets warning him to keep down. Then Costigan comes climbing to the lookout.
"Let us help you, lieut'nant; now's your time, sir, while they're firing."
But Drummond shakes his head. He wants to be the last man down.
"Don't hang on here, sir. Come now. Sure the others can get down from where they are easy enough, but you can't except when they're firing. Please come, sir," and Costigan in his eagerness scrambles to the lieutenant's side and lays a broad, red hand on his shoulder. The men have fired more than the designated number of shots and now are looking anxiously towards their commander. They do not wish to move until he does.
"Give 'em another whack all around, fellers," shouts Costigan, "while I help the loot'n'nt down;" and so, with a laugh, Drummond gives it up, and after one last wistful glance out over the desert, turns to pick up the binocular, when it is struck, smashed, and sent clattering down into the canon by a shot fired not twenty yards away.
"Fur God's sake come quick, sir!" gasps Costigan. Then, desperate at his loved young leader's delay, the Irishman throws a brawny arm about him and fairly drags him to the end of the steep. Then down they go, Costigan leading and holding up one hand to sustain Drummond in case of accident. Down, hand under hand, to the accompaniment of cracking rifles and answering carbines, while every other second the bullets come "spat" upon the rocky sides, close and closer, until, panting, almost breathless, Costigan reaches the solid bottom of the gorge and swings Drummond to his feet beside him. Seeing their leader safely down, the men, with one defiant shot and cheer, scurry to the edge of the canon, and come slipping and sliding to join their comrades. At the mouth of the cave Costigan strives to push Drummond in through the narrow aperture left for their admission, but miscalculates his commander's idea of the proprieties. Like gallant Craven at Mobile Bay, Drummond will seek no safety until his men are cared for. "After you, pilot," the chivalric sailor's last word as the green waters engulfed his sinking ship, finds its cavalry echo in Drummond's "After you, corporal," in this far-away canon in desert Arizona. The men have scrambled through the gap, then Costigan, with reluctant backward glance, is hurried in just as a flash of flame and smoke leaps downward from the crest and the foremost Apache sends a hurried, ill-aimed shot at the last man left. Before another shot can follow, Drummond's arm is seized by muscular hands and he is dragged within the gap. Two or three huge stones are rolled into place, and in an instant through the ragged loop-holes the black muzzles of half a dozen carbines are thrusting, and Costigan shouts exultingly, "Now, you black-legged blackguards, come on if ye dare!"
But no Apache is fool enough to attack a strong position. Keeping well under cover, the Indians soon line the crest and begin sending down a rain of better-aimed bullets at the loop-holes, and every minute the flattened lead comes zipping through. One of these fearful missiles tears its way through Costigan's sleeve and, striking poor old Moreno in the groin, stretches him groaning upon the floor. A glance shows that the wound is mortal, and, despite his crimes, the men who bear him, moaning, in to the farther cave are moved to sudden sympathy as his hapless wife and child prostrate themselves beside his rocky bier. Drummond can afford to lose no more, and orders the lower half of each hole to be stopped with blankets, blouses, shirts, anything that will block a shot, and then for an hour the fire of the besiegers is harmless, and no longer can the besieged catch even an occasional glimpse of them. At noon their fire has ceased entirely and, even when breathing a sigh of relief, the men look into one another's faces questioningly. How long can this last? How hot, how close the air in the cave is growing!
Drummond has gone for a moment into the inner chamber, where Moreno is now breathing his last, to inquire for Wing and to speak a word of cheer to his fair and devoted nurses. Not one murmur of complaint or dread has fallen from their lips, though they know their father to have ridden on perilous quest and into possible ambush; though they know their brother to be lying at the ruined ranch, perhaps seriously wounded; though their own fate may be capture, with indescribable suffering, shame, and death. Fanny Harvey has behaved like a heroine, as the two troopers remarked, and Ruth has done her best to follow her sister's lead. Yet they, too, now realize how close and stifling the heavy atmosphere is growing. Is it to be black hole of Calcutta over again? Even as he takes her hand in his Drummond reads the dread in Ruth's tearless face. Even as he holds it and whispers words of hope and comfort there is a heavy, continuous, crashing sound at the mouth of the cave, just in front of the rock barricade, and he springs back to learn the cause.
"They're heaving down logs and brushwood, sir," whispers Costigan. "They mean to roast us out if they can't do anything else."
More thunder and crash; more heaping up of resinous logs from the cliffs above them. Some of the men beg to be allowed to push out and die fighting, but Drummond sternly refuses. "At the worst," he says, "we can retire into the back cave; we have abundant water there. The air will last several hours yet, and I tell you help will come,—must come, before the day is much older."
Two o'clock. Hissing flames and scorching heat block the cavern entrance. The rocky barrier grows hotter and hotter; the air within denser and more stifling. The water in the canteens and pails is no longer cool. It is hardly even cooling. The few men who remain with Drummond in the front of the cave are lying full length upon the floor. The pain in Drummond's battered head has become intense: it is almost maddening. Wing is moaning and unconscious. Walsh is incoherent and raving. All are panting and well-nigh exhausted. The front of the cave is like an oven. Overcome by the heat, one or two of the men are edging towards the inner cave, but Drummond orders them back. To the very last the lives of those fair girls must be protected and cherished. In silence, almost in desperation, the men obey, and lie down again, face downward, their heads at the rear wall of the cave.
And then Costigan comes crawling to the lieutenant's side,—
"Have you heard any more logs thrown down lately, sir?"
"No, corporal. I have heard nothing."
"They were yellin' and shootin' out there in the gulch half an hour ago. Have ye heard no more of it, sir?"
"No; no sound but the flames."
"Glory be to God, thin! D'ye know what it manes, sir?"
"I know what I hope," is Drummond's faint answer. "Our fellows are close at hand, for the Indians are clearing out."
"Close at hand, is it?" cries Costigan, in wild excitement, leaping to his feet. "Listen, sir! Listen, all of ye's! D'ye hear that?—and that? And there now! Oh, Holy Mother of God! isn't that music? Thim's the thrumpets of 'K' throop!"
Ay. Out along the crests of the winding canon the rifles are ringing again. The cheers of troopers, bounding like goats up the rocky sides, are answered by clatter of hoof and snort of excited steeds in the rocky depths below. "Here we are, lads! Dismount! Lively now!" a well-known voice is ordering, and Costigan fairly screams in ecstasy of joy, "Tear away the fire, captain, an' then we'll heave over the rocks."
Stalwart forms, brawny arms, are already at the work. The wagon-tongues are prying under the heavy, hissing, sputtering logs. Daring hands scatter the embers. Buckets of water are dashed over the live coals. "Up wid ye now, boys!" shouts Costigan. "Heave over thim rocks!" Down with a crash goes the barricade. A cloud of steam rushes into the cave. A dozen sturdy troopers come leaping in, lifting from the ground the helpless and bearing them to the blessed coolness of the outer air, and the last thing Jim Drummond sees—ere he swoons away—is the pale, senseless face of little Ruth close to his at the water's brink; her father, with Fanny clinging about his neck, kneeling by her side, his eyes uplifted in thanks to the God who even through such peril and distress has restored his loved ones, unharmed, unstained, to his rejoicing heart.
It is a sultry day, early in July, and the sun is going westward through a fleet of white, wind-driven clouds that send a host of deep shadows sweeping and chasing over the wide prairie. Northwards the view is limited by a low range of bluffs, destitute of tree or foliage, but covered thickly with the summer growth of bunch-grass. Southward, three miles away at least, though it seems much less, a similar range, pierced here and there with deep ravines, frames the picture on that side. Midway between the two ridges and fringed with clumps of cottonwood and willow, a languid stream flows silently eastward and is lost, with the valley, in the dim distance. Out to the west in long, gradual curve the southward range veers around and spans the horizon. Midway across this monotone of landscape, cutting the stream at right angles, a hard prairie road comes twisting and turning out of one of the southern ravines and, after long, gradual dip to the ford among the cottonwoods, emerges from their leafy shade and goes winding away until lost among the "breaks" to the north. It is one of the routes to the Black Hills of Dakota,—the wagon road from the Union Pacific at Sidney by way of old Fort Robinson, Nebraska, where a big garrison of some fourteen companies of cavalry and infantry keep watch and ward over the Sioux Nation, which, one year previous, was in the midst of the maddest, most successful, war it ever waged against the white man. That was the Centennial year—'76. This is another eventful year for the cavalry,—'77; for before the close of the summer even the troops so far to the southeast are destined to be summoned to the chase and capture of wary old Chief Joseph,—the greatest Indian general ever reared upon the Pacific slope,—and even now, on this July day, here are cavalrymen at their accustomed task, and though it is five years since we saw them under the heat and glare of the Arizona sun, there are familiar faces among these that greet us.
All along under the cottonwoods below the crossing the bivouac extends. Long before sunrise these hardy fellows were in saddle and, in long column, have come marching down from the north,—four strong troops,—a typical battalion of regular cavalry as they looked and rode in those stirring days that brought about the subjugation of the Sioux. Out on the prairie the four herds of the four different troops are quietly grazing, each herd watched by its trio of alert, though often apparently dozing, guards. One troop is made up entirely of black horses, another of sorrels,—two are of bays. Another herd is grazing close to the stream,—the mules of the wagon-train, and the white tops of these cumbrous vehicles are dotting the left bank of the winding water for two or three hundred yards. Cook-fires are smouldering in little pits dug in the yielding soil, but the cooking is over for the present; the men have had their substantial dinner and are now smoking or sleeping or chatting in groups in the shade,—all but a squad of a dozen, commanded by a grizzled veteran on whose worn blouse the chevrons of a first sergeant are stitched. Booted and spurred, with carbines slung and saddles packed, these sun-tanned fellows are standing or sitting at ease, holding the reins of their sleepy chargers and waiting apparently for the passengers who are to start in the stout-built "Concord" drawn by four sleek, strong-looking mules, now standing in the shade near the canvas homestead of the commanding officer.
Presently two soldiers following a young man in civilian dress come forward lugging a little green painted iron safe, and this, with a swing and a thud, they deposit in the wagon.
"You've seen that before, sergeant," laughs the civilian.
"I have, begad, an' when it had a heap more green inside an' less outside than it has now. Faith, I never expected to see it again, nor the paymaster either. We were both bored through and through. 'Twas our good habits that saved us. Sure your predecessor was a game fighter, Mr. Barnes, if he was a tenderfoot."
"Yes, the major often tells me he wishes he had him back, and me in the place he has instead of the one he had," answers the clerk, whimsically. "Does he know you're to command the escort in? You got him into such a scrape then that he's never tired of telling of it."
"Then he may feel gratified at the honor I am doing him now. Sure it's beneath the dignity of a first sergeant to command a squad like this except on extraordinary occasion, and it's to take the taste of the last time out of his mouth I volunteered to escort the major now. 'Twas a strong taste to last five years, though my reminder will go with me many a year longer. Here they come now."
As the sergeant speaks a little group of officers issues from the battalion commander's tent. Foremost among them, in loose flapping raiment and broad-brimmed hat and green goggles, the rotund and portly shape of Major Plummer, the paymaster.
"Well, old man," says the cavalry leader, "you can hardly get into a scrape 'twixt here and Sidney. We've seen you through all right so far; now we'll go on about our scouting. Your old friend Feeny asked permission to see you safely to the railway."
"What, Feeny? and a first sergeant too? I'm honored, indeed! Well, sergeant," he adds, catching sight of the grizzled red face under the old scouting hat, "I'll promise to let you run the machine this time and not interfere, no matter what stories come to us of beauty in distress. All ready?"
"All ready, sir, if the major is."
"He wasn't that civil to me in Arizona," laughs the paymaster, as he turns to shake hands with the officers about him.
"You see you were new to the business then," explains a tall captain; "Feeny considers you a war veteran now, after your experience at Moreno's. We all had to serve our apprenticeship as suckling lieutenants before he would show us anything but a semblance of respect. Good-by, major; good luck to you."
"Good-by all. Good-by, Drummond. Good-by, Wing.—Here! I must shake hands with you two again." And shake he does; then is slowly "boosted" into his wagon, where, as the whip cracks and the mules plunge at their collars and tilt him backward, the major's jolly red face beams on all around, and he waves his broad-brimmed hat in exuberant cordiality as they rattle away.
The group of officers presently disperses, two tall lieutenants strolling off together and throwing themselves under the spreading branches of a big cottonwood. One of them, darker and somewhat heavier built now, but muscular, active, powerful, is Drummond; the other, a younger man by a brace of years, tall, blue-eyed, blonde-bearded, wearing on his scouting-blouse the straps of a second lieutenant, is our old friend Wing, and Wing does not hesitate in presence of his senior officer—such is the bond of friendship between them—to draw from his breast-pocket a letter just received that day when the courier met them at the crossing of the Dry Fork, and to lose himself in its contents.
"All well with the madam and the kid?" queries Drummond, after the manner of the frontier, when at last Wing folds and replaces his letter, a happy light in his brave blue eyes.
"All well; Paquita says that Harvey has captured the entire household, and that Grandpa Harvey is his abject slave. There isn't anything in Chicago too good for that two-year-old. They've had them photo'd together,—the kid on his grandfather's shoulder."
"Aren't you afraid his Arizona uncle will be jealous for his own boy's sake?" laughs Drummond.
"I don't believe Ned would begrudge Fanny anything the old man might feel for her or for hers. He is generosity itself towards his sisters, and surely I could never have found a warmer friend—out of the army. You know how he stood by me."
"I know, and it was most gratifying,—not but that I feel sure you would have won without his aid. The old man simply couldn't quite be reconciled to her marrying in the army and living in Arizona."
"A strange land for a honey-moon certainly,—yet where and when was there a happier? Do you remember how the Apaches jumped the Verde buck-board the very week after we were married?"
"And you spent half of the honey-moon scouting the Tonto Basin? I should say so! What with a courtship in a robbers' cave, a marriage in a cavalry camp, and a wedding tour in saddle, you had a unique experience, Wing, but—you deserved her." And Drummond turns and grips his comrade's hand.
Wing is silent a moment. His eyes are wistfully searching the elder's half-averted face.
"Jim, you told me awhile ago of your sister's approaching marriage. Are you not going on?"
"Yes. It will be early in October. She's blissfully happy is Puss, and he's a very substantial, solid sort of a fellow. I'm well content, at last, that her future is assured."
"And you are a free agent, practically. Isn't it time we heard of your own happiness,—your own vine and fig-tree, old man?"
"Time's gone by, I reckon," laughs Drummond, yet not merrily. "I've had too much to think of,—too much responsibility, and probably have lost my chance."
Wing looks as though he wanted mightily to say something, but conquers his impulse.
"October is a long way off," he finally remarks, "and I thought you might find earlier opportunity of going East. Now that Ned has entire charge of the business in Arizona the old gentleman takes life easier. The winter in Cuba did him a lot of good, and Fan writes that he seems so happy now, having his two girls and his little grandson under the same roof with his sister and her children. What a reunion after all these years!"
"Where are they living in Chicago?"
"You would know better than I, for—think of it!—I have never been east of the Missouri since my babyhood," answers Wing. "Fan writes that her aunt has a lovely house on what they call the North Side,—near the great water-works at the lake front."
"I know the neighborhood well," says Drummond. "Chicago is as familiar to me as San Francisco was to you. Only—I have no roof to call my own anywhere, and as soon as Puss is married shall not have a relative or friend on earth who is not much more deeply interested in somebody else." And the senior lieutenant is lying on his back now, blinking up at the rapidly scudding clouds. Presently he pulls the broad brim of his campaign hat down over his eyes. "What do you hear from your mother, Wing?"
"Nothing new. Bless the dear old lady! You should have seen her happiness in Harvey. She could hardly bear to let the little fellow out of her arms, and how she cried and clung to him when we parted at the Oakland wharf! Poor little mother! She has never given up the hope of seeing that scapegrace of an uncle of mine again."
"Has she ever heard how he tried to murder his nephew?" queries Drummond, grimly.
"Never. Nor have we the faintest trace of him since the break up of the old Morales gang at Fronteras. They went all to pieces after their encounter with you and 'C' troop. What a chain of disasters! Lost their leaders and three of their best men, lost their rendezvous at Moreno's, lost horses and mules,—for what our men didn't get the Apaches did,—and won absolutely nothing except the twenty-four-hour possession of a safe they hadn't time to open. Whereas I got my commission and my wife; Feeny, honorable wounds and mention and the chevrons of a first sergeant; Costigan got his sergeant's stripes and the medal of honor, Murphy his sergeantcy, Walsh and Latham medals and corporalships; and the only fellow who didn't get a blessed thing but scars was the commanding lieutenant,—your worthy self,—thanks to wiseacres at Washington who say Indian fighting isn't war."
"Didn't I get a letter of thanks from the department commander?" grins Drummond. "What else could I expect?"
"What else?" is Wing's impulsive rejoinder. Then, as though mindful of some admonition, quieting at once and speaking in tone less suggestive. "Well, in your case I suppose you can be content with nothing, but bless me if I could." Then, suddenly rising and respectfully touching his weather-beaten hat, he salutes a stoutly-built, soldierly-looking man in rough scouting dress, whose only badge of rank is the tarnished shoulder-strap with the silver leaf on the shabbiest old fatigue-coat to be found in the battalion, most of whose members, however, wear no coat at all.
"Hullo, Wing!—didn't mean to disturb your siesta,—Drummond here?" says the commander in his off-hand way, and at sound of the well-known voice Drummond, too, is on his feet in a twinkling.
"Seen the papers that came in to-day?" queries the colonel, obliterating from his sentences all verbal superfluities.
"Not yet, sir; any news?"
"Hell to pay in Chicago, so far as heard from. The railway strike has taken firm hold there. Police and militia both seem unable to do anything against the mob, and the authorities are stampeded. Your home, isn't it?"
"It was once, sir, but that was many a long year ago."
"W-e-ell," says the colonel, reflectively, stroking his grizzled beard, "it's my belief there is worse to come. It isn't the striking railway hands that will do the mischief, but every time there's a strike all the thieves and thugs and blackguards in the community turn out. That's what happened in Pittsburg,—that's what's the matter in Chicago. It looks to me as though the plea for regular troops would have to be granted."
"Think we can get there, sir?" asks Wing, eagerly.
"Can't say. We're supposed to have our hands full covering this section of Nebraska, though I haven't heard of a hostile Sioux this summer. Besides, they have full regiments of infantry at Omaha and along the lakes. Doesn't Mrs. Wing say anything about the trouble?"
"Her letter is four days old, sir, and only says her father looks upon the situation as one of much gravity; but women rarely see troubles of this kind until they come to their doors."
"Well, this is the Times of two days ago. It reached Sidney at breakfast-time this morning, and Hatton brought two or three copies out when he came with the mail. I thought you two might be interested." And with that the colonel goes strolling along down the bank of the stream, pausing here and there to chat with some officers or give some order relative to the grazing of the horses,—one of his especial "fads."
And this evening, just as the sun disappears over the low bluff line to the west and the horses are being picketed for the night, while from a score of cook-fires the appetizing savor of antelope-steak and the aroma of "soldier coffee" rise upon the air, a little dust-cloud sweeps out from the ravine into which disappears the Sidney road and comes floating out across the prairie. Keen-eyed troopers quickly note the speed with which it travels towards them. Officers and men, who have just been looking to the security of their steeds, pause now on their way to supper and stand gazing through the gloaming at the coming cloud. In five minutes the cause is apparent,—two swift riders, urging their horses to full speed, racing for the ford. Five minutes more and the foremost throws himself from saddle in the midst of the group at the colonel's tent and hands that officer a telegraphic despatch, which is received, opened, read with imperturbable gravity, and pocketed. To the manifest chagrin of the courier and disappointment of his officers, the colonel simply says,—
"W-e-ell, I'm going to supper. You all'd better have yours too."
"Why, blame his old hide!" pants the courier later, "the quartermaster told me never to lose a second, but git that to him before dark. The hull outfit's ordered to Chicago by special train."
And so, finding the secret out, the colonel presently puts aside professional sang-froid and condescends to be human again.
"Get a hearty supper all round, gentlemen, then—'boots and saddles' and away for Sidney!"
Two days later. A fierce July sun is pouring down a flood of humid, moisture-laden heat upon a densely-packed, sweltering mass of turbulent men, many of them flushed with drink, all of them flushed with triumph, for the ill-armed, ill-disciplined militia of the seventies—a pygmy force as compared with the expert "Guardsmen" of to-day—has been scattered to the winds: the sturdy police have been swept from the streets and driven to the shelter of the stations. Mob law rules supreme. Dense clouds of smoke are rising from sacked and ruined warehouses and from long trains of burning cars. Here and there little groups of striking employes have gathered, holding aloof from the reckless and infuriated mob, appalled at the sight of riot and devastation resulting from their ill-advised action. Many of their number, conscious of their responsibility for the scenes of bloodshed and pillage and wanton destruction of property, public and private, would now gladly undo their work and array themselves among the few defenders of the great corporations they have served for years and deserted at the call of leaders whom they never saw and in a cause they never understood, but there can be "no footsteps backward" now. The tide of riot has engulfed the great city of the West, and the majesty of the law is but the laughing-stock of the lowest of the masses. Huddled in their precinct stations the police are bandaging their bruised and broken heads. Rallied at their armories, the more determined of the militia are preparing to defend them and their colors against the anticipated attack of fifty times their force in "toughs,"—Chicago's vast accumulation of outlawed, vagabond, or criminal men. The city fathers are well-nigh hopeless. Merchants and business-men gather on 'Change with blanched faces and the oft-repeated query, "What next? What next?" Every moment brings tidings of fresh dismay. New fires, and a crippled and helpless department, for the rioters slash their hose and laugh their efforts to scorn. A gleam of hope shone in at ten o'clock, and the Board-room rang with cheers at the president's announcement that the regulars were coming,—a whole regiment of infantry from Omaha was already more than half-way. But the gleam died out at noon when, with white lips, an official read the telegram saying the strikers had "side-tracked" the special trains bearing the soldiers and they could not advance another mile.
And so they had on one road, but there are others, better guarded, better run. The sun is well over to the west again, Chicago is resigning itself to another night of horror, when from the suburbs there comes gliding in to the heart of the city the oddest-looking railway train that has been seen for years: a sight at which a host of riotous men break away from the threatening front, dragging with them those "pals" whom drink has either maddened or stupefied; a sight at which skulking blackguards who have picked up paving-stones drop them into the gutters and think twice before they lay hand on their revolver butts. No puffing engine hauls the train: the motor-power is at the rear. First and foremost is a platform car,—open, uncovered, but over its buffer glisten the barrels of the dreaded Gatling gun, and around the gun—can these be soldiers? Covered with dust and cinders, hardly a vestige of uniform among them, in the shabbiest of old felt hats, in hunting-shirts of flannel or buckskin, in scout-worn trousers and Indian leggings, but with their prairie-belts crammed with copper cartridges, their brawny brown hands grasping the browner carbine, their keen eyes peering straight into the faces of the thronging crowd, their bronze features set and stern, the whole car fairly bristles with men who have fought tribe after tribe of savage foes from the Yellowstone to the Sonora line, and who hold a savage mob in utter contempt. Here by the hub of the Gatling's wheel stands old Feeny, close at the elbow of dark-faced Drummond. "C" troop's first platoon "mans" the Gatling gun, and under its old leader of the Arizona campaigns "leads the procession" into the "Garden City" of the ante-bellum days. By Drummond's side is a railway official gazing ahead to see that every switch is properly set and signalling back to the engineer when to "slow," when to come confidently ahead. Behind the platform car come ordinary baggage and passenger coaches, black with men in the same rough, devil-may-care scouting rig. All but their horses and horse equipments left with the quartermaster at the Sidney station, the battalion has been run to Chicago exactly as it came from the plains, and Chicago's "toughs," who would have hooted and jeered, perhaps, at sight of polished brasses and natty uniforms, recoil bewildered before this gang of silent and disciplined "jay-hawkers." Steadily, silently, ominously, the train rolls along. As it is rounding a curve several ugly-looking fellows are seen running at speed towards the switch-lever at the next street-crossing. Excitedly the railway man clutches Drummond's elbow and points. Two troopers are kneeling close at hand.
"Shoot if they touch that switch," says Drummond, and instantly the locks click as the hammers are brought to full cock. The foremost runner is almost at the iron stand; his hand is outstretched to grasp it when a gasping, warning cry reaches his ears; glancing back he sees his fellows scattering to either side, and one look at the smooth rolling car reveals the cause: two carbines are levelled at him, and flat he throws himself on his face and rolls to one side amid derisive laughter from the strikers themselves. A little farther on a knot of surly rioters are gathered on the track. No warning whistle sounds and the clanging bell is too far to the rear to attract their attention. "Out of the way there!" is the blunt, roughly-spoken order. No time this for standing on ceremony. Vengeful and scowling the men spring aside, some stooping to pick up rocks, others reaching into their pockets for the ready pistol; but rocks are dropped and pistols undrawn as the train whirls rapidly by, and wrath gives place to mystification. Who—what are these strange, silent, stubbly-bearded, sun-tanned fellows in slouch hats, flannel shirts, and the worn old black belts over the shoulder? Even the engine has its guard, and half a dozen of them, perched upon the tender, have levelled their carbines to flank and rear, ready to let drive into the crowd the instant a brick is heaved or a trigger pulled.
And so into the great stone station they roll, and here they find the platforms jammed with citizens,—some drawn by curiosity, some active sympathizers in the strike, and many of them prominent leaders of the mob surging in the crowded thoroughfare without. The train has hardly come to a stand when from every direction the mass of outsiders is heaving up around it.
"Now, Feeny, clear the platform to the left. Take the other side, Wing," says Drummond, quietly, to the officer at the front door of the next car.
In the very fraction of a second the first sergeant and a dozen men have leaped from the deck, and straight into the heart of the crowd they go. "Back with ye! Out o' this!" are the stern, determined orders, emphasized by vigorous prods with the heavy carbine butts. Astonished at methods so prompt and decided, there is only such resistance as the weight and bulk of those in rear can offer, and that is but momentary. The sight of those gleaming Gatling barrels, the stern, brief orders and the rapid, confident advance combine to overcome all idea of resistance. On both sides, at the head of the train, the huge crowd, half laughing, half suffocating, is heaved back upon itself and sent like a great human wave rolling up to the iron lattice at the office end. Meantime, without an instant's delay the battalion springs out from the cars, forms ranks on the north platform, counts fours, and then, arms at right shoulder, away it goes with swinging, steady tramp around the rear of its train, across the parallel rows of rails, and in another moment, greeted by tremendous cheers from the occupants of long lines and high tiers of stores, offices, business blocks, the grimy, dusty, war-worn campaigners come striding down the crowded street. Heavens! how the people shout! Staid old burghers, portly business-men, trot panting alongside waving their hats and cheering themselves hoarse. "Them fellers hasn't no boquets in their guns," is the way a street gamin expresses it.
"Whither are they going?"—"What have they first to do?" is the cry. Police officials ride now with the captain temporarily in command: a carriage has whisked the colonel over to head-quarters, but haste! haste! is the word. On they go, silent, grim, with the alkali dust of the North Platte crossing still coating their rusty garb. A great swing bridge looms ahead: a dozen police deploy on either side and check the attending crowd. Over they go at route step, and then, turning to the right, tramp on down a roughly-paved street, growing dim and dimmer every minute with stifling smoke. Presently they are crossing snake-like lines of hose, gashed and useless; passing fire apparatus standing unhitched and neglected; passing firemen exhausted and listless. Then occasional squads of scowling men give way before their steady tramp and are driven down alley-ways and around street-corners by reviving police. Then the head of column turns to the left and comes full upon a scene of tumult,—a great building in flames, a great mob surging about it defying police interference and bent apparently on gutting the structure from roof to cellar and pillaging the neighboring stores. Now, men of the ——th, here's work cut out for you! Drive that mob! bloodlessly if you can, bloodletting if you must!
The colonel is again at the head. All are on foot. "Left front into line, double time;" the first company throws its long double rank from curb to curb, Drummond, its commander, striding at its front; Wing, his subaltern, anxiously watching him from among the file-closers. Already they have reached the rearmost of the rioting groups and, with warning cries and imprecations, these are scurrying to either side and falling into the hands of the accompanying police. Thicker, denser grows the smoke; thicker, denser the mob.
"Clear this street! Out of the way!" are the orders, and for a half-block or so clear it is. Then comes the first opposition. On a pile of lumber a tall, stalwart man in grizzled beard and slouching hatevidently a leader of mark among the mob—is shouting orders and encouragement. What he says cannot be heard, but now, tightly wedged between the rows of buildings, the mob is at bay, and, yelling mad response to the frantic appeals and gesticulations of their leader, at least two thousand reckless and infuriated men have faced the little battalion surging steadily up the narrow street.
"You may have to fire, Drummond," says the colonel, coolly. "Get in rear of your company." Obedient, the tall lieutenant turns and follows his chief along the front of his advancing line so as to pass around the flank. He is not fifty paces from the pile on which the mob leader, with half a dozen half-drunken satellites, is shouting his exhortations. Just as the lieutenant's arm is grazing grim old Feeny's elbow as he passes the first sergeant's station a brick comes hurtling through the air, strikes full upon the back of the officer's unprotected head, and sends him, face forward, into the muddy street. In the yell of triumph that follows, Wing's voice for an instant is unheard. Obedient to its principle, "Never load until about to fire," the battalion's carbines are still empty, but all on a sudden "C" troop halts. "With ball cartridges load!" is Wing's hoarse, stern order. "Now aim low when I give the word. Fire by company. Company, READY!" and, like one, the hammers click. But no command "Aim" follows. "Look out! Look out!—For God's sake don't fire! Out of the way!" are the frantic yells from the throats of the mob. Away they go. Scattering down side streets, alley-ways, behind lumber-piles, everywhere—anywhere. Many even throw themselves flat on their faces to escape the expected tempest of lead. "Don't fire," says the colonel, mercifully. "Forward, double time, and give them the butt. We'll support you." Down from the lumber-piles come the erstwhile truculent leaders. "Draw cartridge, men," orders Wing in wrath and disappointment. "Now, butts to the front, and give them hell. Forward!" And out he leaps to take the lead, dashing straight into the thick of the scattering mob, his men after him. There is a minute of wild yelling, cursing, of resounding blows and trampling feet, and in the midst of it all a single shot, and when Wing, breathless, is finally halted two squares farther on, only a dozen broken-headed wretches remain along the street to represent the furious mob that confronted them a few minutes before. Only these few and one writhing, bleeding form, around which half a dozen policemen are curiously gathered, and at whose side the battalion surgeon has just knelt.
"He's shot through and through," is his verdict, presently. "No power can save him. Who is he?"
"About the worst and most dangerous ringleader of riot this town has known, sir," is the answer of one of the police officials. "No one knew where he came from either—or his real name."
And then in his dying agony the fallen demagogue turns, and the other side of his twitching face comes uppermost. Even through the thin, grizzly beard there is plainly seen an ugly, jagged scar stretching from ear to chin.
"This isn't his first row by any manner of means, if it is his last," says a sergeant of police. "Look at that! Who shot him, anyhow?"
"I did," is the cool, prompt answer, and Sergeant Feeny raises his hand to his carried carbine and stands attention as he sees the surgeon kneeling there. "I did, and just in the nick of time. He had drawn a bead on our lieutenant; but even if he hadn't I'd have downed him, and so would any man in that company yonder." And Feeny points to where "C" troop stands resting after its charge.
"You knew him, then?"
"Knew him instantly, as a deserter, thafe, highway-man, and murderer,—knew him as Private Bland in Arizona, and would know him anywhere by that scar."
A policeman bends and wrenches a loaded revolver from the clutching, quivering fingers just as Wing comes striding back and shoulders a way into the group.
"Is he badly hurt, doctor? That was an awful whack."
"It isn't the lieutenant, sir," says Feeny, respectfully, but with strange significance in his tone as he draws a policeman aside. "Look!"
And Wing, bending over, gives one glance into the dying face, then covers his eyes with his hands and turns blindly, dizzily, away.
That evening a host of citizens are gathered about the bivouac of the battalion at the water-works while the trumpets are sounding tattoo. A few squares away the familiar notes come floating in through the open windows of a room where Jim Drummond is lying on a most comfortable sofa, which has been rolled close to the casement, where every whiff of the cool lake breeze can fan his face, and where, glancing languidly around, he contrasts the luxury of these surroundings with the rude simplicity of the life he has lived and loved so many years. Gray-haired George Harvey, kindly Mrs. Stone, his sister, blissful, beautiful Fanny Wing with burly baby Harvey in her arms and her proud, soldierly husband by her side, and a tall, lovely, silent girl have all been there to minister to his needs and bid him thrice welcome and make him feel that here, if anywhere on earth, he is at home. And here the battalion surgeon and the family physician unite in declaring he must remain until released by their order, and here for three days and nights he is nursed and petted and made so much of that he is unable to recognize himself, and here sister Puss comes to cry over and kiss and bless him and, in her turn, to be made much of and forbidden to leave, and then, after her big brother's return to duty with the battalion, now being fed and feted by all the North Side, he must needs come over every evening to see her; and, now that presentable uniforms have arrived and the rough beards have been shaved and the men of the old regiment look less like "toughs," but no more like American soldiers as our soldiers look in the field of their sternest service, her sisterly pride in her big brother is beautiful to see,—so is her self-abnegation, for, somehow or other, though he comes to see her he stays to look at Ruth Harvey, shy, silent, and beautiful, and soon, as though by common consent, that corner of the big parlor is given up to those two, the tall, stalwart trooper and the slender, willowy girl. And one evening he comes earlier than usual in manifest discomposure, and soon it transpires that important orders have reached him. Fanny turns pale. "Are you—all—ordered back?" she cries, and is for an instant radiant at his assurance that the order involves only himself. He is called to department head-quarters to report in person to the general commanding, who is about to make a tour through the mountains in Northwestern Wyoming and wants Drummond with the escort. She is radiant only until she catches sight of her sister's face. It is not so very warm an evening, yet she marshals the household out on the steps, out on the back veranda,—anywhere out of that parlor, where, just as the faint notes of the trumpets are heard, sounding their martial "tattoo," and just as Lieutenant Wing, returning from a tiptoed visit to his sleeping boy and escaped for the moment from the vigilance of his wife, now happens to go blundering in,—there is heard from the dimly-lighted corner near the piano the sound of subdued sobbing, the sound of a deep, manly voice, low, soothing, wondrously happy, the sound—a sound—indescribable in appropriate English, yet never misunderstood,—a sound at which Wing halts short, pauses one instant irresolute; then faces about and goes tip-toeing out into the brilliant sheen of the vestibule lamps,—into the brilliant gleam of his fond wife's questioning, reproachful eyes.
And for all answer, it being perhaps too public a spot for other demonstration, Wing simply hugs himself.
That night, under the arching roof of the great railway station, the comrades, so long united by the ties of such respect and affection as are engendered only by years of danger and hardship borne in common, and now so happily united by a closer tie, are pacing the platform absorbed in parting words.
"Jim, think what a load I've had to carry all these five years and forbidden by my good angel to breathe a word of it to you."
"I can't realize my own happiness, old man. I never dreamed that, after she got out into the world and saw for herself, that she would remember her girlish fancy or have another thought for me."
"I know you didn't. Yet Fan says that ever since the voyage in the 'Newbern' little Ruth has never had a thought for anybody else."
There is a moment's silence, then Wing speaks again:
"There has not been time for mother's letter to reach me. I had to write, of course, and tell her of the fate that at last befell him. Do you know I feel as though after all it was my hand that did it."
"Feeny says he knew him the instant that side of his face was turned towards him,—the side my knife laid open years ago. That was a fatal scar."
NOVELS BY CAPT. KING.
CAPTAIN BLAKE. Illustrated. 12mo Cloth, $1.25
THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER. Illustrated. " 1.25
THE COLONEL'S CHRISTMAS DINNER " 1.25
MARION'S FAITH. Illustrated " 1.25
STARLIGHT RANCH " 1.00
KITTY'S CONQUEST " 1.00
LARAMIE " 1.00
THE DESERTER, AND FROM THE RANKS " 1.00
TWO SOLDIERS, AND DUNRAVEN RANCH " 1.00
A SOLDIER'S SECRET, AND AN ARMY PORTIA " 1.00
FOR SALE BY ALL BOOKSELLERS.
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY, Publishers,
715 and 717 Market Street, Philadelphia.