First he tiptoed to the near-by repair-shop, where the stable-guard and two herders were gathered about a lantern, relieving their irksome hours with cheese, hardtack, and various tall bottles that had once adorned the shelves of The Trooper's Delight. Unseen, the interpreter looked in upon the group.
Tied in twos outside the long barn were six horses, the mounts of the guard. Each of the animals was bridled and saddled. Matthews went from pair to pair of the horses, stealing along carefully. When he was done with the six, he disappeared inside. Down the rows of stalls his work was surer and more swift. What noise he made was drowned by the rush of the river.
Now Indian and white ally continued upstream. Beyond the northern sentry-line, and beyond the sod huts of the scouts, they spied the first sign of the horse-herd they sought—a herd composed of the sutler's spike-team, a four-in-hand used on the wood-wagon, Lieutenant Fraser's "Buckskin," and a dozen or fifteen second-choice mounts belonging to absent officers. That sign was a spark on the ground a long way ahead. They knew it for the lantern of the remaining herder.
Matthews turned aside toward the landing. "We meet here," he whispered.
The Indian grunted an assent, and made off in the direction of the distant spark.
When he came back, some time had passed. A flash of lightning disclosed him to Matthews, who saw that the other was wiping at his face with his skirt.
"How did it go, Canada John?" asked the interpreter.
Canada John laughed. "The herder was glad to see The Squaw," he answered. "But he fought like a badger."
"Here is the small boat. When you have finished on this side, remember The Man-who-buys-Skins is on the other. He will be glad to see The Squaw, too."
"Have you the oil?"
"Yes." The interpreter felt for the other's hand and gave him a can. They parted for the second time.
Canada John now started for the post. As he went, he pulled dry grass until his arms were full. Arrived beside the barracks, he began to pile the grass against the pine wall.
In the blackness, Brannon lay peaceful. From the Line tinkled the soft notes of a guitar. The bray of a commissary mule answered a mule-bray from the bend. The sentries were announcing their cheery "All's well!"
The interpreter had reached the herd, where he was taking the rope hobbles from the forelegs of several horses. This done, he climbed into a herder's saddle and headed the band slowly up the bottom-land. Nearly all the animals had seen long service, so they went tamely enough. Where the road along the bank turned west to cross the bluffs through a break, they took it, and were soon over the ridge and out upon the prairie. There Matthews started them south. Finally, a mile or more below the line of the stockade, he completed his wide detour by driving them due east. Beside the Missouri, he rounded them up and brought them to a stand.
He tied the horse he had ridden to some willows. Next, having unwound several rope-lengths from about his waist, he began to catch and tie others of the bunch. He had rope for only ten. The hobbles fastened three more. The remaining horses were gentle—all but the one belonging to Fraser. Wily and uncertain of temper, nervous because of the lightning, the dun-colored cayuse would not let Matthews secure her. Each time waiting until the coaxing voice was close and the outstretched hand almost touched, "Buckskin" whirled with a flirt of her heels and a toss of her head and capered off. Matthews, swearing in English and Uncapapa, tried every device he knew, and failed.
He dared not waste another minute. Quickly, he wound some grass into a twist, lit it and waved it back and forth above his head three times. After which, as a precaution, he took a flask from his hind-pocket and, going from horse to horse of the string, to the hobbled three, and to the half-dozen that were standing loose, rubbed their muzzles with the liquor. But again he was unable to touch the "She-devil." In a fury, he threw the empty flask at her.
From his hiding-place beside the barracks, the Indian in squaw's dress saw the signal-torch of the interpreter. At once, he sneaked from side to side to listen. Then he took a wisp of grass, bound round it a strip of oily cloth and, kneeling beside the bundle farthest from the river, set a match to it. Instantly flames leaped up. He ran to other grass-piles, lighting them one by one.
The next moment, an amazed sentry, who was pacing his beat by the scouts' huts, saw the growing bonfires and called out in alarm to another. Before the latter could reply the end of the barracks was burning. Both sentries fired their guns. The sergeant of the guard answered with revolver shots. The Gatlings spoke from the lookouts. A trumpet shrilled the fire-alarm. From the sutler's sounded the clang of the mess-gong.
In the midst of the tumult, one spot—the stockade—kept strangely quiet. Its guards were collected at the sliding-panel, from where, not daring to leave, they watched the growing blaze. So intent were they upon the sight that they took no heed of their prisoners. Therefore, no one knew or hindered when the Indian braves, led by Standing Buffalo, and noiseless as shadows, filed into Brown Mink's wickie-up, crawled through the breach in the log wall, and sped away into the shielding dark.
Behind, the squaws and children were gathered, with the Indian girl walking boldly among them. Of a sudden they parted. From under the shingle roof there was a sound of struggling—a thump, as a body hit the ground—an old woman's squeal of rage. Then, into the faint glare reflected from the fire, came a stooping figure in squaw's dress, that sped through the scattering crowd, shot into Brown Mink's tent—and was gone.
Across the prairie, Matthews was following after the flighty cayuse; not trying to catch her, only striving to get her out of the way. "Buckskin" was wilful, however, and as often as the angry interpreter drove her off, came circling saucily back—to halt in the path of the coming braves. The string by the willows, the hobbled horses and the gentle free ones, were frightened by her into stamping about. But the whisky biting their noses killed the hated scent that was nearing. Not so with the cayuse. She caught it. For a moment she waited, head high, ears a-quiver, nostrils spread. Matthews warned the Indians. They did not hear. As they raced on, the mare gave a snort of terror, wheeled, and launched herself full against the end animal of the string.
The tethered horses set back upon their ropes, trampling each other and pulling themselves free. The gentle ones, thoroughly scared, went flinging away with them. While the hobbled, with no cow-pony respect for rope, made up a mad, plunging rear.
Consternation seized the Sioux. They were without boats, without weapons, without horses. They cursed. They threatened Matthews.
"Cross! cross!" he cried. "Your bows are in my wood lodge. The soldiers have no horses, and no boats. They cannot swim the river. You will be safe."
There was no other way.
"Wind-swift, my brothers," bade Lame Foot.
The Indians rushed back to where hammers had been ringing for days past. They tore away boards of the scaffold. Then, returning to the river, they dropped in.
Matthews called after them. "Remember your promise," he said; "and do not drink the water-that-burns in my lodge."
There was no answer.
And now the interpreter took thought for himself. At sundown he had lusted for the night's doing. But the heart was gone out of him. Even before the stampede, the whole affair had assumed monster proportions. He had begun to think of the murdered, and of the maiming, and had wished himself well out of it. Now, with no horse to carry him across to safety, there seemed to face him only discovery and punishment.
"Well, they drove me to it," he complained. "This wouldn't 'a' happened if they'd give me a square deal." He was wrenching with all his might at a section of the scaffold platform. "I wanted to be decent, and they treated me like a dog."
With this, he ran down the river bank and launched his frail raft. "Anyhow," he said, "I'll git out o' this jus' as fast as water'll take me!"
THE LAST WARNING
Thrown down by a sounding-board of inky clouds, the alarm shots at Brannon, the shouting, the reports of the Gatlings, and the trumpet-calls fell sharp and clear upon the shack. Dallas, watching into the blackness from her bench by the door, was up and armed on the instant, and leaning far over the sill, as if to see the better through the dark. Soon she made out something—a glimmer—that, in the beginning, was redder than the flare of the lightning, fainter, and more fixed; but which, growing as the din grew, swiftly deepened in colour, spread wide, and rose, throwing into relief the intervening grove of cottonwoods, and the form of a man who was racing riverward from the swale. He disappeared, swelling the distant clamour with a cry—a dread cry she had never heard before—of "Fire!"
She shut the door behind her and waited a moment. She was no longer merely watchful. She was uncertain and troubled.
Presently she went in and bent over Marylyn, touching her gently, and speaking low to save her a fright. "Honey, dear, honey. Hop up and see what's happ'ning at the Fort."
The younger girl scrambled to her feet, putting out nervous hands to her sister. Dallas quieted her. And they stood together in the door.
And, now, across the Missouri, the guns and trumpets suddenly stilled, and the shouting lessened. While the glow rapidly thickened into a roaring press of flame, before which darted the troopers, like flies in the light of a lamp.
"My! my!" whispered Marylyn, her voice quavering with sorrow and awe. She found her clothes and, keeping in line with the door, began to dress.
"Looks pretty bad," said Dallas, soberly. The silencing of the guns augured well, however; and she added thankfully, "It could be a lot worse, though."
"I'll put on my shoes, and we can go down a ways, so's to see close. Shall I, Dal——"
"Sh!" Dallas was leaning out again, her head lowered as if to listen. All at once she turned and, kneeling, felt about on the floor for her cartridge-belt. "Yes, yes," she answered; "put 'em on—quick!"
"Are we going down to watch?"
The barracks and the stables were high, cherry-hued pyres, terrible enough to the eye, with their tops crooking northward in the wind. To Dallas' ear, they were far more terrible, telling of awful suffering—hinting of direful intent. For the nearer pyre sent proof of a sacrifice. She could hear the screams of a horse.
The belt found, she stepped back to the door. "Hurry, hurry," she said. The old iron resolve never to desert the shack was fusing in the heat of a panic. Her unfailing instinct was hardening a new one, that ruled for immediate flight.
Marylyn was working with her shoe-thongs, not stopping to thread them, only to wind and tie them around her ankles. She heard her sister exclaim. Then she was seized and brought forward by a trembling hand. "Marylyn! Marylyn! The boat! She's going!"
They looked, and saw a black-funnelled bulk floating across the watery strip mantled by the blaze.
"Maybe they thought it'd burn," suggested Marylyn. "See, there's sparks flying that way."
Dallas leaned back against the door. "I guess—that's it," she said slowly. Then after a moment, "But why didn't they bring her straight across? There's no place to tie up downstream."
"Why, there's fire breaking out all over now," cried the younger girl, forgetting to be afraid in her wonder and excitement. "See! One of the little houses is caught!"
It was the first cabin of Clothes-Pin Row. Two or three men were near it. At that distance they seemed gaily posturing to each other in a dance.
"If anything is wrong," Dallas said, "Mr. Lounsbury'll come back."
"Mr. Lounsbury!" repeated Marylyn. "Was he here?"
"On this side, by the grove. I saw him start for the Fort."
And so their going was delayed.
Nevertheless, Dallas' sense of coming danger was acute; and when, before long, she heard the trumpet again, and saw the troopers fall away from the pyres, leaving the flames to their work, she lit the lantern and held it to where were stored her treasures—a lock of her mother's hair, her father's pipe, the letter she had received from Lounsbury.
"You take the cartridge-belt," she called to Marylyn.
The other obeyed.
"Ready?" said Dallas, and lifted the lantern to shake it.
She got no reply. Instead, gasping in alarm, Marylyn came headlong to her, pinioning her arms with wildly clinging ones. "Dallas! oh, help——"
Outside there was a sound of rapid running. Dallas flung herself against the door, driving it shut. A second, and a weight was hurled against the outer battens. Then came four raps.
"Don't open! don't!" cried Marylyn. "Maybe it ain't Charley!"
But Dallas, undoubting, swung the door back, and into the room leaped a stooping figure.
It was The Squaw.
He crouched, and moved his head from side to side, as if expecting a blow or a bullet from behind. His right hand held a bow; his left, a bundle of arrows. With these he beckoned violently, shaking the water from his tattered clothes and pointing over his shoulder to the west.
"We're coming, Charley. Dearie, stand up. Now, now!" Marylyn was dragged to her feet. The light was quenched. The outcast faced about. And the three headed for the river, with The Squaw leading at a trot.
As they crossed the plowed land rimming the yard, sleepy birds fluttered up in front of them with startled cheeps and a whistle of wings. They swerved to find the shack road, along which the way was freer and more quiet, and the pace easy. Charley glanced back now and then to see if they were close; or, halted them, when they listened, holding their breath.
They paused for the last time near the river end of the corn, and close to the coulee crossing. From there Dallas saw that the pyres were lower, and that other buildings of the Row were ablaze; the roof of a scout hut, too; and the prairie, over which travelled widening crescents of gold. But the fire was the only thing that was moving. For not a single man was in sight.
Charley was not watching toward Brannon, only along the nearer bank, to the south.
Of a sudden, as their eyes followed his, a gun-shot rang out from the cottonwood grove.
"Mr. Lounsbury!" cried Dallas, starting forward.
That moment they saw between them and the landing the silhouette of a figure.
It was not Lounsbury's; it was too short and thick-set for his. Moreover, it seemed to be casting aside clothes as it ran.
Like one, The Squaw and Marylyn bolted for the coulee. Dallas hesitated—then followed. Near the brink, they missed the steep road, and went slipping, sliding, and rolling down the sumach-grown side. Then they struck the bristling bottom—righted—turned their feet up it—and fled.
SOME UNEXPECTED DISCOVERIES
His face as blanched as a dead man's, his voice pealing out above the babel like a bell, Oliver stood to windward of the double furnace, giving quick orders on right and left.
"Two men there on the Major's quarters—Let the guard-house go—Use your blanket, Flaherty, use your blanket—Sergeant," as Kippis passed close by, "clear the Row and bring 'em all down here. Don't let 'em stop for anything—Boys, boys! turn out those horses!"
A trooper rushed up and leaned, yelling, to his captain's ear. "They won't go, sir; they're hamstrung!"
With a command, the captain fairly threw the man toward a point where help was needed and seized upon his first lieutenant. "Fraser, there's a hell-hound loose in this post to-night!"
"I know, Captain. The fire started in a dozen spots."
"It's that damned Indian of yours. I'll have him shot on sight!"
Fraser was leaving. He looked back, his face all horror and smut. "Charley?" he cried. "Never!"
Once more Oliver gave tongue, and directions were sent to the stockade and to the Line. A signal light communicated with the lookouts on the bluffs.
Kippis was already fulfilling his charge. Through a gap in the northward-sweeping prairie-fire—a gap fought out and kept open by a line of men—were coming the women of Clothes-Pin Row, each carrying a child and dragging a second by the hand. Behind them scuttled the papoose-cumbered squaws from the scouts' huts. At their rear trudged the sergeant, also weighted, and jaunty no longer, but leaving red stains where his naked feet touched the hot and smouldering ground.
"To headquarters!" shouted the captain, at the foremost laundress in the rout. Then he turned to his trumpeter. A moment after, the fires and the perishing horses were deserted, and the troopers, weapons in hand, ran out upon the parade-ground, obeying a call to arms.
Oliver led them. As he approached the flagstaff, the voice of a woman hailed him from the gallery of the nearest house. He sprang that way, and was up the steps at a bound.
Mrs. Cummings, who had sought refuge in her own home, met him at the top. "The Colonel's library is stripped!"
So it was. One hurried look by the light of a lamp showed that not a bow, not an arrow remained on the walls.
But there was no time for exclaiming or conjecturing. Oliver rushed back to the gallery and bade all the women and children collect and keep within quarters. Around it, under Sergeant Kippis, he stationed a cordon. Next, and while the house was being thoroughly wet down, the ammunition stores were drawn upon, and extra guns and cartridges were carried into the long reception-room, where the women could assist in reloading. Barely three minutes had passed since Oliver sent his messengers. But headquarters was fixed to withstand an assault and to protect its inmates. And now, still ignorant of what had befallen, he ordered the remainder of his men into line.
At this point, with the detachment about to move, a volley of rifle shots sounded from the stockade—another—and another. Then up went a great hubbub: "The Indians! The Indians!"
Oliver started his troopers double-quick across the square. At the hospital one of the stockade guard stopped them.
"The Indians?" croaked Oliver.
The troopers took up the cry: "Gone! The Indians are gone!"
Oliver turned them back.
They met a second man, black-faced, staggering, frenzied with alarm. It was Fraser. He caught at the captain's ragged sleeve.
"Shot—other side—they're over there—those girls!—those girls——" His breath failed him.
Again mingled cries went up from the troopers: "The shack, boys!" "They'll kill them girls!" "God!"
Oliver saw the need. "To the ferry," he commanded.
Like one man, they bounded headlong across the parade, through the red smoke pouring from barracks and stables, and on—only to come short upon a boatless landing, where they crowded upon each other and cursed.
Fraser was half-crazed. Oliver took him forcibly in hand. No man of them all, even if not burdened with a gun, could stem the river's current.
"There's one chance yet," he said, "the night-herd." He turned to his trumpeter. "Sound the recall, and keep a-sounding it!"
Again and again, the familiar strain rang out. All looked northward to where they knew the herd had been, to where the long curves of the prairie-fire were still moving.
But the minutes went, and there was no answering beat of hoofs. Where were the herders? Why did they not obey?
Then, to the south, a reply! Above the spiteful crackling of the tindery buildings, out of the thinning dark, came a clear, eager neigh!
That way the troopers rushed. Gathering at the flagstaff they saw, by the light of the burning piles, a single horse come galloping toward them from the direction of the stockade. Her dun neck was arched like a charger's. As she swung proudly into an imaginary line, the men greeted her with a cheer.
That greeting was echoed. Until now, the Indians had been quiet—as quiet as a flock of scurrying grouse. But the river was between them and their enemy, and they felt secure from pursuit. Moreover, whisky was working. They were boisterous with it. Casting caution aside when they heard that cheer, they answered with defiant whoops.
The cheers of the troopers changed to anguished groans. One, wildly repeating a girl's name, sprang toward the waiting "Buckskin." From headquarters came the sobbing of women, the whimpering of frightened children. And then, nearer and nearer, a dull pounding that swelled into the steady plud, plud of unshod hoofs.
Once more a cheer went up. A moment, and a cavalcade swept in—a riderless cavalcade, with ropes dangling. It was the night-herd, the discarded, second-choice mounts of the regiment's officers, a motley band that had served their country through more than one enlistment, and that, hearing the familiar summons—some limping, some hobbling—had followed the dun cayuse to answer it.
Now, nooses were twisted about the noses of the horses. The troopers mounted. The trumpet sounded the advance.
Again came whoops from across the Missouri. They were farther away than the first.
"They're travellin'!" shrilled a voice.
"Go up—go up for the crossing," Oliver ordered. "Fraser! Fraser!"
But the buckskin mare, with her master, far in advance of the twenty others, was already plunging down the bank and into a black, roily whirl.
THE FLIGHT TO MURPHY'S THROAT
For all that the way was hard, rough with stones and choked by a tangle of rank growth, the three in the coulee made fast progress over the first two miles. Charley led. After him came Marylyn, to whom the loathed split in the plain was become a place of refuge. In the rear, covering her sister against possible attack, followed Dallas.
As they went, now running, now falling into a quick walk, then running again, nettles stung their ankles; gooseberry branches tore their swinging hands; willows lashed their faces. But terror calloused, and they knew no hurts. Marylyn stepped on something soft and moving—she only increased her pace. On, on, they sped, stumbling blindly, gasping with open mouth—yet persevering.
The strain told first on the younger girl. So far, her strength had been unnatural—born of the terror that made her unconscious of any wound. It did not long endure. Before three miles had been travelled, as she sank in a shallow pool to wet her lips, it utterly failed her. She could not rise, and pleaded faintly for rest.
"Just a minute, Dallas, please—I can't go—my side hurts."
Dallas helped her through a hindering weave of pond-weeds and lilies, and laid her upon some marsh-grass beyond. Meanwhile, Charley stole back a short distance. But the respite was brief, for he returned straightway and twitched at their dresses, when the elder girl lifted the younger to her feet, whispering encouragement.
"Try again, honey. You got your breath. Try again."
Once more they pressed forward. The lightning had ceased. With a last grumble, and a scatter of drops, the clouds were pulling apart. Here and there a few stars shone. These thinned the darkness considerably, and, at a point where the coulee shallowed, Dallas was able dimly to see the toiling shapes ahead. Marylyn was wavering.
"Spunky little sister!" urged the elder girl. Lifting the rifle to her left shoulder, she came alongside to give the support of an arm.
"Where's the cartridge belt?" she whispered.
"Heavy,"—panted the other—"dropped it."
And now despite Dallas' aid, Marylyn straggled weakly. Another mile, and with scarcely a sigh of warning, she sank again, exhausted.
"Charley," called Dallas. The Squaw joined them. "You take one arm—that's it." She took the other. Thus they proceeded.
Marylyn was almost a dead weight. When the channel was clogged with rocks, she could not put one jaded foot before the other, and was fairly dragged. On clear sandy stretches she did better. Complete collapse was near, however; her head was swinging upon her breast; she prattled brokenly.
Finally Dallas stopped. "Hide—hide," she counselled between breaths, "a dark place——"
Ignoring the advice, the outcast thrust his bow and arrows into her hands; then squatting before Marylyn, he seized her wrist, drew her, limp and half-dead, upon his back, and staggered on.
"Hold to Charley, dear," begged Dallas. "He's carrying you pick-a-back."
The younger girl murmured gratefully, and locked her hands beneath The Squaw's chin. This left his arms free to part a path through the thickets of burweed and plantain that choked the defile, and, for fully a half-hour, he kept a good jog. But, well worn and hampered as he was, he began then to wobble.
Dallas gave him the weapons and received Marylyn upon her own shoulders. Notwithstanding the long way, her vigour remained splendid. And when there came a tendency to lag, she fought it stoutly. Not until her limbs refused their service, did she drop down.
Under her wild rye made a cool, stiff couch. She reached through it and dug her fingers into the wet earth. Marylyn toppled over back and lay beside her, prone. Charley leaned on an elbow, breathing hard, watching——
When, far behind, down the shadowy crack through which they had come, sounded wild whoops.
They scrambled up, terror-stricken. Like hunted deer, they whipped away again, knowing that, in their wake, instead of the one man they had seen, was a horde!
Once more, though after brave effort, it was Marylyn who compelled a halt. Dallas strove to rouse her. "Try a little longer, honey. Come on, come on." But the other only sobbed hysterically, until Charley put his hand upon her mouth.
"Can't we crawl out?" demanded Dallas. "Quick, they'll pass."
The Squaw shook his head, coming close that she might see his answer.
He shook his head again and signed that their pursuers had horses.
It was a moment of supreme despair. She laid her arms upon her knees, her face upon her arms. Their puny human power had failed. Where else could they look for succour? Would Lounsbury or the troopers come—in time?
Then, tearfully, prayerfully, in this utmost need, she raised her eyes to the sky. "It's not for me," she faltered; "it's for Marylyn."
That upward glance was not in vain. In front of her, lifting their plume-like tops against the heavens, she saw the clump of burial trees. Instantly she took heart, for her quick brain devised a plan—to hide in the cottonwoods!
But all three might not stay, for, however much the Sioux avoided the laden boughs, they would stop to search them if there were not those ahead to draw them past. And one of those ahead must be a woman.
So she decided. Bending to her sister, she lifted her to a sitting position. "Honey," she said firmly, "you see the big trees there? The Indians are afraid of 'em—remember? They'll go by. We'll put you up on a limb, and you keep quiet. You'll be safe. We'll go on—for help."
"Yes—yes—Dallas, only—I can't walk."
"Charley!" The elder girl bade him assist. Without understanding fully, he obeyed. Together they carried Marylyn toward the cottonwoods, out of which several lank, grey bodies shifted into view and shot away. Dallas chose a tree that grew close to the steep bank. Here, in the narrow space between trunk and rooty wall, she ordered Charley to get down on all fours. Then, taking Marylyn upon her shoulders as before, and steadying herself with both hands, she stood on The Squaw's back. Little by little, bracing with legs and arms, he raised his load. Marylyn was now below a thick branch. By reaching up, and summoning the remnant of her strength, she was able to clasp it, to put a foot over, to get astride.
"Lie down," continued Dallas; "they won't stop; don't speak."
Hurriedly, she and Charley resumed their way up the wolf-haunted bottom, over rocks, through puddles, into pigmy forests of cherry and plum. But now, careless of lost time, Dallas ran with backward looks and frequent haltings, giving strict heed to the whereabouts of those behind.
They had travelled a good distance when she judged that the savages were nearing the burial-place, that the time for her ruse was come. Letting the outcast go on, she paused for breath; then lifted her voice—and sent back through the night, a long, inviting call.
Down the wind came instant answer; a great howl of glee. And as if her presence ahead was unexpected, as if it tempted to a better speed, a jargon of cries swelled hideously, and drew on.
"She's safe!" shouted Dallas, exultantly; "Charley, she's safe!"
Another yowl from a score of throats.
And now began a race.
From the start it was unequal, and the gain on the side of the pursuers. For the biting poison that had made the Indians bold to the point of open defiance was now stirring them into fleeter going. They kept up a constant jabbering. They broke into short, puffy whoops. And gradually, but surely, the rods decreased between quarry and pack.
The sweat dreening from their faces, The Squaw and Dallas strained forward. But now of the two, one could scarcely keep a walk. Her strength was ebbing to the final drop.
The outcast stumbled back to help her.
A little while, and she whispered again. "Can't go—stop—can't——"
Every breath was sawing at her sore lungs. She tottered, pitched forward, and went down.
It was then that Charley pointed to the front, and as if to a vantage-place. Dallas looked, and saw, at the end of sheer walls, an oblong opening of greyish light. She hailed it dumbly. There was where the coulee narrowed until a man, standing in its bed with arms outstretched, could place the tips of his fingers against either rocky wall. There a last stand might be made. The Throat!
One helping the other, they dragged themselves on and into the opening.
The time had narrowed. Close behind, crashing through a thicket, were the warriors, announcing themselves with shrill whoops.
Dallas waited, propped against a stone. The words of the old Texas song began to run in her mind:
"We saw the Indians coming, We heard them give a yell, My feelings at that moment No mortal tongue could tell."
She was spent. She had no hope of being spared from death. Yet she was strangely calm and unafraid.
"Marylyn'll be happy," she said. "I know John Lounsbury well enough for that."
She became conscious of thirst. A branch of wild roses, shining with raindrops, bobbed above her. She bent the flowers to her mouth, one by one, and sucked their moisture.
She looked to the front again, across the spreading meadow. She heard the cheeps of awakening birds, and small movements in trees and grass. The grey of the sky was turning to pink. There was a lifting fore-glow in the east.
"See, Charley," she said, "there'll be good light to fight in. But—but there's just one charge."
FRASER HEARS A CALL
As each man of the rescuing party splashed out upon the sandy beach before Shanty Town, he headed for the open level. There was no waiting for commands, no attempt at order; only the sound of laboured breathing, of frantic urging, of the plying of heel and fist. Butchery threatened, and a wasted moment might be the one that could have stayed the knife.
Crossing the Bend, the company was strung to a long, bedrabbled line. It was slow going. Already the horses had stood hard usage—the detour with Matthews, the return, and the severely trying swim. Fraser, given the lead, still kept it, dinging hoarse persuasion into "Buckskin's" flattened ears.
So far, the troopers had kept silent through fear for the girls' safety—fear that the hostages, if aware of pursuit, would wreak instant death. But now, as their lieutenant advanced to the shack, the men behind, while trying their utmost to gain, sent forward yell upon yell to startle the Indians into dropping their captives and seeking cover.
No whoops replied, but from the doorway, unheard, the voice of a man, "Oliver—Oliver!—here!"
As the line swung up, and by, in a circle, Fraser, weapon in hand, was down and pressing forward.
He found Lounsbury, seated on the sill, from which he rose unsteadily.
"Quick—the coulee! They went that way—Give me a lift!"
His hand was wet. Fraser caught him about the waist.
"Oh, you're wounded!"
"Yes,—glancing blow. But I tied it up."
"Lounsbury? Wounded?" It was Oliver.
"Up the coulee, Captain! Give me a horse."
The captain turned, shouting orders. The other tried to follow, Fraser supporting him.
"Here, somebody, a horse for Lounsbury."
A third man dismounted—Jamieson. He put a rope in Fraser's hand.
"Take my horse," he said. "I'll stay. Ride like the devil, Lounsbury, and soak 'em one for me!"
They helped the storekeeper mount. The command had gone. He and Fraser followed.
Half the troopers were travelling the farther brink, half the near. The two caught up with the latter detachment.
Progress was slow. The men were tired from the fire-fighting. The horses were all but blown.
Nevertheless, not a moment's halt was taken until, after six wearisome miles, the troopers came opposite the cottonwoods where the Indian dead were lashed.
By now the darkness had lifted considerably, and a scout, who was riding the southern side, advised a hunt for tracks.
No tracks were found on the near brink. The horses moved forward again, Oliver and Fraser waiting behind to hear from the opposite side.
"Anything over there?" called the captain, and they fell silent for the reply.
All at once, as they waited, Fraser began peering down into the coulee. "What's that?" he whispered. "What's that? Hark!"
Just then came a shout: "No tracks, Captain."
Oliver kicked his boots into his horse's side. "Come on, come on," he said, and went hurrying after his men.
"But, Captain——" Fraser was holding back. "There was a cry. I heard——"
"Come on, Fraser." Oliver's horse broke into a trot.
A third time Oliver called sharply. Behind he heard the cayuse following.
Farther along, however, he turned to address his lieutenant—and saw that "Buckskin" carried no rider.
STANDING AT BAY
And now through the dusk of the coulee the Indians advanced toward the Throat. Single file, they came, their leader a stalwart brave who ran unsteadily.
But, of a sudden, they brought up and retreated, tripping back upon one another over rubble and bowlder, and giving out startled oaths. Then they halted, a score of dim, crowding figures.
Beyond the Throat showed a patch of sky, swiftly brightening with the dawn. Against that patch, thrust up by a ragged arm, was a twirling gun.
There was a parley, while the oaths became a jumble of protests, haranguing, and threats.
Presently Standing Buffalo could be heard above the rest. "They are only women. Let us take them and be on!"
At this, all started forward, but warily. As sudden as before, they stopped.
Against the light, for a second time, a ragged arm had shot up. Now at its top was a sinew-backed bow.
The Indians were amazed. One of their kind defending the women? They snorted in rage.
As they jostled, stretching this way and that, the arm began slowly to brandish the bow, and in a manner to announce that the holder desired single combat.
Standing Buffalo went forward in a bound. "I clear the way," he cried vauntingly to his brothers; to the one before, "Who fears? Come out." He loosened the arrows in his quiver.
The challenger came—a stooping figure in squaw's dress.
The sight of him fairly rooted the young chief. "The Squaw!" His voice was furious.
Behind, a great laugh went up. And, as though there was no longer a need either to respect or fear the signals of the one who barred their path, the whole band charged.
A little to one side of The Squaw, a gun spoke—right into their midst. A brave screamed, catching at his thigh. The others wavered and fell back beyond rifle reach, taking him with them.
The stooping figure in squaw's dress signed once more for single combat.
Lame Foot addressed his brothers. "We delay too long," he cautioned. "Standing Buffalo, go forward and slay the she-skunk, and let us hasten."
Standing Buffalo waved his bow aloft. "I do so," he promised. "But you, Medicine-Giver, must hold me clean of shame for fighting a squaw!" Then, to the outcast, "Come out, coffee-cooler, and die." He halved the distance between him and the Throat.
Squaw Charley approached him watchfully, setting a shaft in place. His face seemed all eyes—eyes burning with a fierce joy. Standing Buffalo fitted an arrow. Both raised their bows.
Behind the chief came calls of derision and execration. Behind the outcast came a voice, clear and steady: "Careful, Charley, careful."
To and fro, the contestants were stealing, noiselessly, on the alert, each striving to get the other in a favourable light.
A minute, another—then Standing Buffalo bent his knees, drew and shot. But the arrow veered a trifle from its intended course.
The Squaw drew. The cord sang. The shaft whistled to its mark.
It drove the chief backward a few paces like a wounded buck. Then, stopping himself with effort, he lurched forward again. As he came, he raised his bow and sent a second arrow that cut the bushes on the canyon side.
The shaft was his last. His face went suddenly livid, his eyeballs started; drivelling, he clutched at the air—tipped down to his hands—touched—let go his weapon—half-rose—pivoted on a heel, and slipped in a heap to the stones.
A wordless cry broke from the lips of The Squaw. He sped across the coulee-bottom to the side of the dead chief. There he struck the fallen man a blow upon the bare knee, snatched from his head an eagle feather, daubed it across the flowing wound, and thrust it dripping red into his own hair.
Then, as he had not done in years, he straightened. Then he cast from him the foul rags of his squaw's dress. And in clout and the colours of death, he stood forth—a warrior!
"I count a coup—Red Moon!" he cried.
Howls—from a watching band that had been struck dumb.
"A coup, I—Red Moon. Come on, you dogs—you that called me dog. Come on, you squaws that called me squaw. Come on, and a warrior will fight you, one by one!"
Before him, more howls, and a bluster of Uncapapa. Behind the voice again: "Charley! Charley!"
And now Red Moon leaped back to resume his stand. With his turning, the band drew after, sending a shower of arrows.
At the Throat he faced them again.
"Braves!" he laughed mockingly. "Dogs—that fight like dogs, a pack against one!"
Now he shot, swift and unerringly. Here one flattened; there, another; a third broke his jaw upon a stone. Till from their midst flew the missile of Big Ox, hard-driven, straight. Quivering, it buried its deadly point in Red Moon's breast.
Deafening whoops echoed in the narrow canyon, drowning the hoof-beats of a nearing horse.
Red Moon answered them. He was swaying to and fro, like a cypress limb in a great wind. He lifted his face to the sky until his crimson scalp-feather drooped; flung back his hair, and clapped palm to mouth in a war-cry.
Then his bow flew from his hand as his arms spread out—spread out as if seeking something upon which to lean. He sank to his knees, chanting the death-song of the Sioux.
"Charley! Charley!" It was a wail.
Not his voice, but another's, answered: "Dallas! Where are you?"
The Indians heard the call. Catching up wounded and dead, they fell back.
Dallas, shielded no longer, yet forgetful of danger and self, ran forward to where Red Moon knelt. Even as she reached him, he could kneel no longer. He toppled sideways, then straightened upon his back.
But now the band was coming back toward Dallas, on their way to the Throat. Their purpose was thwarted. Before Dallas was reached, a man blocked the narrow passage, and two revolvers, barking a staccato, spread panic among them. They turned to the walls, looking for a place to scale. From there came tramping and shouts, and they saw, over them, at either side, a line of downward-pointing guns!
Huddling together, the centre of a complete surround, wounded and unwounded cast aside their bows and flung up their hands in the peace sign.
"Give 'em hell, boys!" screamed a trooper.
But the trumpet interfered.
Close to the Throat was a group that had neither eyes nor ears for the capture. Here was the warrior, Red Moon, calm-faced, bearing his agony bravely, choking back even a murmur of pain. Over him were Lounsbury and Dallas, bent for a final look and word.
"Dear old fellow," murmured Lounsbury. "You gave 'em a good fight to-day. You saved her."
The surgeon was beside them now, hastily examining. The shaft was not in the wound; it had fallen. But the poisoned barb remained. He shook his head.
"No use, John," he whispered, and tiptoed away.
Lounsbury leaned farther down. "Charley," he said, "you're going now, old man. Say good-by to us."
The Indian moved one hand feebly.
Lounsbury understood. He lifted and shook it gently. "Brave Red Moon," he said.
The savagery was all gone from the Indian's eyes; they were wonderfully soft and un-Indian in their expression. He seemed, all at once, to be thinking of something far off. And his look was adoring.
Dallas could not speak to him, but she, too, shook him gently by the hand.
He settled his head upon Lounsbury's arm, as a child might have done. Then he looked up at Dallas. "Friend—friend," he whispered softly, smiled, and with the touch of the sun on his upturned face, he slept.
SOME ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
Lounsbury was stretched in the hammock on Captain Oliver's gallery, his bandaged head on a pillow, his left arm resting in a sling. Leaping about, almost upon him, and imperilling the stout ropes that swung the hammock, were five of the captain's seven.
Twenty-four hours were gone since, having lashed four Indian dead among the branches of the burial trees, troopers, Sioux, and rescued had returned to a post that was half in ashes. Now, guards tramped the high board walk as before, keeping strict watch of their sulky prisoners; the ramshackle ferry-boat, dragged away from the bar that had halted her, was tied up at her landing again; across the upper end of the parade, grey tents had replaced the barracks; while, farther on, teams and scrapers were clearing away smoking ruins and dumping them into the river; squaws were thatching the roofs of the scouts' shanties; and hammers were ringing on new structures for Clothes-Pin Row. With cool enterprise, Brannon was hastening toward recovery.
There was other mending that was less rapid: In the stockade, where one nursed an arrow, another a bullet, wound; in the garrison hospital, where Kippis and a comrade stumped about on swathed feet; and on the Oliver gallery, where Lounsbury lay, his face not the usual fulness, and a trifle white.
The storekeeper, however, was lending entertainment, as hospitality and his popularity demanded.
"The idea of you little apes asking for stories," he was saying to his audience, "when such popping good ones are happening right under your nose!"
Felicia was the youngest of the seven. She gave back at him, prancing up and down insistently. "But we don't want stories of things around here," she cried wilfully. "We want lords and ladies, and you gim 'em to us."
"Lords and ladies," sniffed Lounsbury. "Well, Felicia, stop that jumping-jack business and I'll begin."
A chorus of delight—then, the five disposed themselves, the boys (there were two) astride the storekeeper; the girls draping the swinging net at either side.
"Once upon a time," commenced Lounsbury, "in the middle of a gre-a-a-t, wi-i-i-de, fla-a-a-t country——"
"Now," interrupted James, who came next to Felicia. His inflection was rising and suspicious.
"Now," chimed in the others. They, too, did not fancy such familiar topography.
"Look here," said the narrator, "don't get it into your precious noddles that this Territory's the only flat country under the sun. There are other spots upon this green earth where you can see hundreds of miles in any direction."
"Go on, then, go on!"
"Well, this was such a place—great, wide, flat place. The lord lived there. He was called the Lord Harry—got his name from the way he acted; he was always making forced marches——"
Again suspicion, which Lounsbury ignored.
"And violent demands. Oo! my shin!" (This to James, whose heels were curled up under him.) "Violent demands, I said. And so he had the cheek—um—the impudence to love, to love——" He shut his eyes in silent rhapsody.
"What uz her name?"
"Ah!" Lounsbury threw up his well hand helplessly. "No name was splendid enough for her—not one. But he called her—for want of a better, mind you—he called her the Rose of the South."
"Bully! bully!" accompanied by the clapping of hands.
The door from the entry opened. Dallas came slowly out.
"Go on," urged Felicia, "'Rose of the South?'"
But Lounsbury was looking at Dallas. "Rose of the South," he repeated, a queer tremor running around his mouth; "as far south as—as Texas."
Dallas seemed about to turn.
Lounsbury hurried to put the well hand behind his ear. "Felicia," he said, "didn't I hear your mother call?"
Felicia rocked herself from foot to foot. "Oh, you go on," she said overbearingly, "or you might fall out of the hammock."
But the spell was broken. Her sisters had pounced upon Dallas. The boys, getting a whiff from regions down the hall, had made off. She followed, with backward demands for "the rest of it" later on, and carried the last of the five with her.
Lounsbury sat up and put out his hand. The fun was gone from his eyes.
"Dallas, you've had your talk," he said quietly, but with a hint of anxiety. "I know it's all right; it's got to be."
She came part way to him, and stood where morning-glory vines climbed a lattice. "Marylyn's just been telling me," she answered. She raised her head, very intent upon the flagstaff. The light through the vines touched the outline of her face—a firm outline, cut by a flying wisp of hair.
"Dear?" he questioned.
She glanced down at him, smiling through tears. "All the time, they liked each other," she said happily. "He calls her Marylyn, and she calls him Robert."
He got up and went to her. "When I saw him there in the road by that cottonwood bunch, lugging her along so careful, looking so scared—and the way he held her on Buckskin!" He caught her hand.
"There's one thing that hurts," she answered. "That it kept you out there watching, and I didn't even go to you—but I—I——"
"You were doing the white thing by that little sister. That makes it all the sweeter."
"She was afraid I'd scold," still through tears.
"I would. I felt different about soldiers—then."
He took a deep breath. "They're handy to have around," he said.
"She's afraid Mr. Fraser'll find out what she said about you."
"He won't. He might get a notion she didn't know her own mind yet! He might—well, as Kippis says, ''E's bloomin' 'ot-'eaded,' the little beggar!"
"She don't know I told you. It'd bother her if——"
"That's between you and me, Dallas." He drew her near.
"Yes, John," promptingly.
The morning-glory vines on the lattice reached up and out; brushed by the wind, they made a sheltering veil. He drew her closer. He lifted her face to his by a smoothing caress of her hair. He kissed her.
"My dearest! My splendid girl!"
He shook his head roguishly at her. "So wild, she was, with the bit in her teeth. And now—she eats right out of my hand."
Then, roguish no longer, he lifted her two hands, turned them—palms up—and touched them with his lips.
"Ah, dear, there must be no more going-it-alone. I want to take care of you after this. We won't wait, will we?"
"Just the minute a minister can be reached?"
"I've a mind to bribe Mike into taking us up to Bismarck after breakfast!"
"You're too sick." Her face was grave, her eyes watched him anxiously. "All night I thought about you: How I went running off when I heard that shot. Oh, suppose, suppose——"
"I'll be over this in a day. And I know you went because you had to. Don't I know you weren't afraid? Don't I know why you left Marylyn behind at the trees? Dallas—you're a wife for a man out here!"
She coloured under his praise.
"There'll be other things coming up to fight," he went on. "That's the beauty of this West—it keeps you busy. But we'll be together to make the fight. I don't ask anything more."
After a time, they walked to the top of the steps.
Across the river, at the centre of the yellow bend, it stood—the squat shack.
"Dear little home!" she said.
"You wouldn't like to leave it. You can go to Bismarck, you know, or East, or anywhere."
"I'd rather stay."
"We'll stay—right over there. Then, when the town comes, and it gets too populous—if you like, and if Marylyn's not at this post—we'll go farther up, to open country again."
"We'll take your share of the Clark herd," she said.
"I've got a fine little saddle-mare for you," he said.
Somebody entered the parlour behind them—two somebodies, hand in hand.
"Dallas," called one, meekly.
"Lounsbury," hailed the other.
The storekeeper went in, Dallas with him. "Bless your sweet hearts," he said when he faced the couple. "Marylyn, you rested? Fraser, you look idiotically happy."
"I'm not alone," retorted the lieutenant. "I'd hate to describe you this minute, your face beaming through all that lint."
"Save yourself the trouble, here, before my future wife."
Fraser turned to Marylyn. "Phew! But we're important! Listen to him!"
"Dallas wants to get back to the shack. Can a' ordinary, everyday trooper look after the finest two-year-old and the finest team in Dakota? Not by a long shot! And I'm not going to let her go alone," soberly, "after what's happened. Can't take any more chances."
Fraser sobered too. "Nothing to fear any more," he said. "When Mike's men were getting the boat off, down below, they found—him."
A moment's silence.
"They think he tried to cross and couldn't. There he was, tangled up in some willows, poor devil."
"That ought to explain some things to the Captain," said Lounsbury, in a low voice.
"Yes. And it will satisfy the K. O., I'm pretty sure. An officer's not to be blamed so much for things going wrong when the traitor's practically within the lines. The K. O. himself could have had that fire."
"Well, Dallas." Lounsbury was cheery again. "You and Marylyn own the Bend, sure enough."
There was a knock at the door. Then, with a great show of backing and coughing, young Jamieson appeared.
"Frank," said Lounsbury, "quit your nonsense and tell us about the other side. Did the scout find anything?"
"Yes, he did," answered Jamieson; "and what proves how smart the whole plot was. What do you think? Well, just above where you met that Indian, they found an outfit—black blanket and a ragged skirt——"
A quiet fell. Dallas turned away to the windows. Lounsbury followed her, comforting.
Presently, he returned, clearing his voice. "They copied Charley's clothes," he said. "I guessed that. As the Indian came up to me, I spoke. But when he answered, I knew—just a second too late. He gave me a terrible lick, but I caught it on my arm and came back with the gun. Don't know how I ever reached the shack."
"Mr. Lo peeled in the grove and scampered," said Fraser.
"We saw him," said Marylyn, "and I ran."
"He's the only red that got free."
"But, all the same, I plugged him," declared Lounsbury. "And I'll bet he's packing a pound of buckshot. Who was it, do you know?"
Again the door opened, and Oliver appeared. His long face was distressfully haggard; about his temples and across his forehead, what had been merely lines before were now deep grooves. Yet the fierce, baffled look that had been in his eyes since the escape was entirely gone. He smiled at the group most tenderly, and his moustache wiggled in a most incomprehensible fashion.
He closed the door and waited, his hand on the knob.
Jamieson stepped forward. "Captain," he said with mock injury, "these people"—he indicated the others—"do not mark the flight of the minutes. I don't wonder—it's natural. But I, sir, I—having been asked to breakfast by Mrs. Oliver—do. Is—is breakfast ready?"
"Breakfast is ready," Oliver answered. His voice was unsteady.
"Thank goodness for that!"
There was the sound of a faint cheer outside; then someone went rushing up the plank walk before the house. The captain closed the windows.
"We shall give thanks for many things to-day," he said significantly.
Fraser started, and his eyelids fluttered what his face strove to control.
"What's all that outside?" It was Marylyn, innocently.
But Oliver gave a quick sign, pulling nervously at his moustache.
"Frank," he began, "a—a friend is coming home to us this morning."
"A-a-ah!" It was near a groan.
"Wait—wait," firmly. "Give yourself a moment to guess. But—guess something good."
Jamieson moved like a man in pain. "You mean, you mean——" he whispered. "Oh, Captain, I've waited and waited."
"Bravely—we all know that. And there's reward for you."
Behind Jamieson, the others were leaning forward, hopeful, fearful—in a fever of emotions.
The cheering outside had grown. More people were running up the walk—children, men, bareheaded women.
"Jamieson," said the captain, "you'll be very calm?"
Jamieson relaxed, faltering forward. "I'll try! I'll try!" he promised.
Lounsbury caught him. "Tell him, Oliver," he begged.
The captain turned the knob, took Jamieson by a wrist and led him out through the entry.
On the gallery was a second group. It whispered. It laughed. It cried. It looked north to where the road came down from the landing.
"Easy now, easy," cautioned Oliver. He patted Jamieson, led him down the steps, and faced him up the Line.
"There, my dear boy," he said.
On the upper edge of the parade-ground, the men of B Troop were surrounding some travellers, caps in air. With their cheers mingled wild shouts. And one of them was singing the lines of a song, fervent, loud and martial:
"Glory, glory, Hallelujah! Glory, glory, Hallelujah!"
For a moment, as one who questions his own sight and hearing, Jamieson gazed before him. Then, he flung up his arms and sprang forward with a great cry:
"Mother! mother! Alice!"
Down the Line they had taken up the singing. And to it, the troopers dividing, the travellers came into full view.
There was a wagon, with red wheels, a green box, and drawn by a milk-white horse. On its seat were two women, who clung to each other as they looked about. Above them a cross of rude boards stood straight up into the sunlight of the morning. And beside the cross, driving, sat a man—an aged man—white-haired, priestly, patriarchal.
The parlour at Captain Oliver's was a homelike place: The black tarred paper that covered its walls was fairly hidden from sight by selected illustrations cut out of leading weeklies—these illustrations being arranged with a nice eye to convenience, right side up, the small-sized pictures low down, the larger ones higher. There was a fireplace which, it being summertime, had a screening brown-paper skirt that fell to the hearth. Above this, along the mantel, was another skirt, made of a newspaper, short and pouty, and scissored at the lower edge into an elaborate saw-tooth design. The mantel was further adorned by certain assorted belongings in the way of a doll, a kite, an empty bank, a racquet, books, and the like, all cast into their various positions by the seven small Olivers. On either side of the fireplace were bracket-lamps. Across the room was the inevitable army cot, spread with wolf skins. There were chairs—two of them—wrought from sugar barrels. There was a table, quite as ingeniously formed. And, completing the whole, the long curtains over the windows—curtains magnificently flowered, and made from a dress-pattern gift (the captain's) that Mrs. Oliver, ever a woman of resource, had artfully diverted to another purpose.
To-night, the parlour was more homelike than usual—and festive. For a family party filled it. Here was the hostess, carrying a huge iced cake, and taking account of the seven's behaviour; the seven themselves, eager, though somewhat repressed, and doing full justice to their portions; their father, thankful, as he passed the coffee, that so much good had come out of some misfortune; Frank Jamieson, mother and sister on either arm; Marylyn Lancaster, looking dimpled consciousness; close upon her every move, a certain young lieutenant, who cast longing glances toward the half-lighted gallery; the surgeon, ungratefully relegated to a corner, but solacing himself in his cup; David Bond, his wrinkled old face a benediction; and, lastly, Dallas and John.
Lounsbury was his former self, save for the plaster-strips that had supplanted the bandages. Everywhere at once he put the grip of two men into his well arm, smiling upon all like the very genius of happiness.
And Dallas—Mrs. Oliver had offered to sew her a plain white dress for the occasion. But she had chosen—since her John must of necessity come in his wonted attire—to appear in the simple frock she had worn the night they met in the swale. Above it, her hair was braided and coiled upon her head like a crown. Her cheeks were a glowing red. Her eyes shone.
All was bedlam: Tongues clattered; cups rattled; laughter rose and fell; the seven, having no chairs, sat in a line under the leadership of Felicia and kicked their heels on the floor.
Then—interrupting—a knock, loud, peremptory.
The company stilled. Jamieson opened.
There stood a jolly figure—the sutler's—apple-round head and all.
"Well, Blakely?" asked the captain.
Blakely hung his weight on a foot and, coughing behind his plump hand, bobbed his answer: "Steam's up, sir."
Lounsbury had the centre of the floor. He kept it, reaching out to bring Dallas beside him. They stood while the others crowded up to give them well wishes and to tell them good-night.
Last of all came David Bond. "My daughter, my son," he said, "God bless you!"
Lounsbury slipped Dallas' hand into his arm. Then the door opened for them, and they went out—together.
* * * * *
"John is a good man," said the evangelist, "and will make a good husband," He was seated with Fraser on the gallery, watching a light in midstream dance its way through the dark.
Fraser sighed happily. "She's a dear girl," he murmured, looking back to where the lamp was moving about in Oliver's spare room. "She'd make a wife for a prince."
Presently he roused himself with another sigh. "You ought to see the way we fixed up the shack," he said. "White kick-up curtains on the windows—that was Mrs. Oliver's idea; rose-berries all over the mantel—Marylyn did that; I stuffed the fireplace full of sumach; then, Michael sprinkled and swept out, and we covered the floor with Navajo blankets."
"Little place looked cosey."
"Cosey as could be."
A little while, and Fraser sprang up. "They're there!" he cried. "See? see? They're home!"
Far away on the bend, the eyes of the shack were bright.
"And you, Mr. Fraser?" asked the evangelist.
"Marylyn and I will wait for the Colonel. Won't be long, now. Shall you be here?"
"I think not. The Indians go to Standing Rock next week. I go with them."
"Poor Charley!" said Fraser, huskily. "He won't go, poor old chap!"
"Hardly poor, Mr. Fraser." There was a triumphant ring in David Bond's voice. "Few men gain as much as he by death."
"I know. Even the Captain's proud of him now."
They fell silent.
Now from the tent rows that replaced the barracks, rang out the trumpet, sounding the day's last call. The two turned their heads to listen.
The call ended. The faint, wavering notes of the echo died away upon river and bluff.
They turned back to the shack again—and saw its light go flickering out.
Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have been preserved. Typographical errors corrected in the text: Page 24 disappeareed changed to disappeared Page 59 work changed to word Page 80 Mehach changed to Meshach Page 130 resistence changed to resistance Page 136 removed extra word "is" Page 315 Bix changed to Big Page 345 branish changed to brandish