But he hung on to the prize. "Let me keep it a minute," he pleaded. "It's the loveliest thing I've seen in months."
And, studying his absorbed face, she yielded, her eyebrows arching, a pretty smile of feminine triumph about her lips, and neither noticed the non-commissioned officer hurrying within the gate, nor that half the men in "C" Troop at their bivouac along the stream were on their feet and gazing to northeast, that far down the valley a horseman was speeding like the wind, that little puffs of smoke were rising from the crests of the grand landmark of the range and floating into the blue of the heavens. Both started to their feet at the abrupt announcement.
"Lieutenant, there are smoke signals on Lar'mie Peak."
Lieutenant Dean's orders required that he should march his troop without unnecessary delay to Fork Emory, there to take station relieving Troop "F," ordered to change to Frayne, which meant, in so many words, to take the field. Captain Brooks, still wrestling with the fever, had retired to his quarters at the old frontier fort that stood so long on the bluffs overlooking the fords of the Platte. The surgeon said he must remain in bed at least a week, so meantime the troop packed up, sent its wagons ahead over the range, bade God speed to "F" as it passed through en route to the front, exchanged a volley of chaff and chewing tobacco over the parting game of "freeze out" fought to a finish on many an outspread saddle blanket, then, jogged on toward Gate City, making wide detour at the suggestion of the field officer in command at Frayne, that they might scout the Laramie plains and see that all was well at Folsom's ranch. This detour was duly reported to the peppery veteran at Fort Emory, an old colonel whose command was by this time reduced from "headquarters, field, staff and band," six companies of infantry and four troops of cavalry, to the band and two desperately overworked companies of foot. "Two nights in bed" were all his men could hope for, and sometimes no more than one, so grievous was the guard duty. Hence "old Pecksniff," his adjutant and quartermaster and his two remaining companies saw fit to take it as most unkind in Lieutenant-Colonel Ford to authorize that diversion of Dean's, and highly improper on Dean's part to attempt it. By this time, too, there was in circulation at Emory a story that this transfer of "C" to interior lines and away from probable contact with the Sioux was not so much that it had done far more than its share of that arduous work, completely using up its captain, as that, now the captain was used up, the authorities had their doubts as to the "nerve" of the lieutenant in temporary command. A fellow who didn't care to come to Emory and preferred rough duty up along the Platte must be lacking in some essential particular, thought the women folk, and at the very moment that Marshall Dean sat there at Hal Folsom's ranch, as brave and hardy and capable a young officer as ever forded the Platte, looking forward with pleasurable anticipations to those days to come at Emory, with Jessie—Jessie and, of course, Pappoose—so close at hand in town, there was gaining ground at the post an impression that the safety of the board of officers sent to choose the site of the new Big Horn post had been imperiled by Dean's weakening at a critical moment in presence of a band of probably hostile Sioux. Burleigh had plainly intimated as much to his chief clerk and Colonel Stevens, and when Loring and Stone came through a day or two later and questions were asked about that meeting, the aide-de-camp gave it as distinctly to be understood that he had practically assumed command, Dean's inexperience being manifest, and his own prompt measures had extricated the little detachment from a most delicate and dangerous position. The engineer, let it be said, did not hear this statement, and the aid was very careful not to make it in his presence. He was a comparative stranger and as no one presumed to question him, he volunteered no information.
Planning to bivouac until dawn of the next day at Folsom's, Dean had then intended to reach Fort Emory in three easy marches. He was anxious to bring his horses in in best possible condition, despite all their hard service; yet now, barely two o'clock on this hot June afternoon, came most unlooked-for, most importunate interruption to his plans. Springing to the gate at the sergeant's summons, he first directed his gaze to the distant peak, recognized instantly the nature of the smoke puffs there rising, then turned for explanation to the swift-riding courier, whose horse's heels were making the dust fly from the sun-dried soil. One or two ranch hands, with anxious faces, came hastening over from the corral. The darkey cook rushed up from the kitchen, rifle in hand. Plainly these fellows were well used to war's alarms. Mrs. Folsom, with staring eyes and dreadful anxiety in her face, gazed only at the hurrying courier, clinging the while to the pillar of the portico, as though needing support. The smoke puffs on the mountain, the dust-cloud back of the tearing rider were symptoms enough for Dean.
"Get in your herd, sergeant!" he shouted at the top of his voice; and over the rushing of the Laramie his words reached the rousing bivouac, and saddle blankets were sent swinging in air in signal to the distant guards, and within a few seconds every horse was headed for home; and then, to the sound of excited voices was added the rising thunder of scores of bounding hoofs, as, all in a dust-cloud of their own, the sixty chargers came galloping in, ears erect, eyes ablaze, nostrils wide, manes and tails streaming in the breeze, guided by their eager guards full tilt for camp. Out ran their riders, bridles in hand, to meet and check them, every horse when within a few yards of his master seeming to settle on his haunches and plow up the turf in the sudden effort to check his speed, long months of service on the plains and in the heart of Indian land having taught them in times of alarm or peril that the quicker they reached the guiding hand and bore, each, his soldier on his back, the quicker would vanish the common foe. Even before the panting steed of the headlong courier came within hailing distance of the ranch, half the horses in the troop were caught and the bits were rattling between their teeth; then, as the messenger tore along the gentle slope that led to the gateway, his wearied horse laboring painfully at the rise, Mrs. Folsom recognized one of her husband's herdsmen, a man who had lived long years in Wyoming and could be unnerved by no false alarm, and her voice went up in a shriek of fear as she read the tidings in his almost ghastly face.
"Where is Hal?" she screamed. "Oh, what has happened?"
"He's safe," was the answering call, as the rider waved a reassuring hand, but at the instant he bent low. "Thank God, you're here, lieutenant," he gasped. "Mount quick. Hal's corralled two miles out there under the butte—Sioux!" And then they saw that he was swooning, that the blood was streaming down the left thigh and leg, and before hand could help him, he rolled senseless, doubled up in the dust at his horse's feet, and the weary creature never even started.
"Saddle up, men!" rang the order across the stream. And then while strong arms lifted and bore the wounded herdsman to the porch, Dean turned to the wailing mistress, who, white-faced and terror-stricken, was wringing her hands and moaning and running wildly up and down the walk and calling for some one to go and save her husband. Dean almost bore her to a chair and bade her fear nothing. He and his men would lose not a moment. On the floor at her feet lay the little card photograph, and Dean, hardly thinking what he did, stooped, picked it up and placed it in the pocket of his hunting shirt, just as the trumpeter on his plunging gray reached the gate, Dean's big, handsome charger trotting swiftly alongside. In an instant the lieutenant was in saddle, in another second a trooper galloped up with his belt and carbine. Already the men were leading into line across the stream, and, bidding the trumpeter tell Sergeant Shaughnessy to follow at speed, the young officer struck spur to his horse and, carbine in hand, a single trooper at his heels, away he darted down the valley, "C" Troop, splashing through the ford a moment later, took the direct road past the stockade of the corral, disappeared from sight a moment behind that wooden fortification, and, when next it hove in view, it was galloping front into line far down the Laramie, then once more vanished behind its curtain of dust.
"Two miles out there under the butte," was the only indication the young officer had of the scene of the fight, for fight he knew it must be, and even as he went bounding down the valley he recalled the story of the Indian girl, the threats of Burning Star, the vowed vengeance of her brothers. Could it be that, taking advantage of this raid of Red Cloud, far from all the reservations, far from possibility of detection by count of prying agents, the three had induced a gang of daring, devil-may-care young warriors to slip away from the Big Horn with them and, riding stealthily away from the beaten trails, to ford the Platte beyond the ken of watchful eyes at Frayne and sneak through the mountain range to the beautiful, fertile valley beyond, and there lie in wait for Hal Folsom or for those he loved? What was to prevent? Well they knew the exact location of his ranch. They had fished and sported all about it in boy days—days when the soldiers and the Sioux were all good friends, days before the mistaken policy of a post commander had led to an attack upon a peaceful band, and that to the annihilation of the attacking party. From that fatal day of the Grattan massacre ten years before, there had been no real truce with the Sioux, and now was opportunity afforded for a long-plotted revenge. Dean wondered Folsom had not looked for it instead of sleeping in fancied security.
A mile nearer the butte and, glancing back, he could see his faithful men come bounding in his tracks. A mile ahead, rising abruptly from the general level, a little knoll or butte jutted out beyond the shoulders of the foothills and stood sentinel within three hundred yards of the stream. On the near—the westward—side, nothing could be seen of horse or man. Something told him he would find the combatants beyond—that dead or alive, Hal Folsom would be there awaiting him. A glance at the commanding height and the ridge that connected it with the tumbling, wooded hills to the north, convinced him that at this moment some of the foe were lurking there, watching the westward valley, and by this time they knew full well of the coming of the cavalry to the rescue. By this time, more than likely, they were scurrying off to the mountains again, returning the way they came, with a start of at least two miles.
"With or without the coveted scalps?" he wondered. Thus far he had been riding straight for the butte. The road wound along and disappeared behind him, but there was no sense in following the road. "Pursue and punish," was the thing to be done. Surely not more than a dozen were in the band, else that courier could never have hoped to get in, wounded as he was. The Indians were too few in number to dare follow to the ranch, guarded as, by almost God-given luck, it happened to be through the unlooked-for presence of the troops. No, it was a small band, though a daring one. Its lookout had surely warned it by this time of his coming, and by this time, too, all save one or two who rode the fleetest ponies and lingered probably for a parting shot at the foremost of the chase, had scampered away behind the curtain of that ridge. Therefore, in long curve, never checking his magnificent stride, Dean guided his bounding bay to the left—the northeast—and headed for the lowest point of the divide.
And then it all occurred to him too that he was far in front of his men, too far to be of use to them and just far enough to be an easy prey for the lurking foe. Then, too, it occurred to him that he must not leave the ranch unprotected. Already he was within long rifle range of the height; already probably some beady eye was glancing through the sights, and the deadly tube was covering him as he came bounding on. Three hundred yards more and his life probably wouldn't be worth a dollar in Confederate money, and wisely the young leader began to draw rein, and, turning in saddle, signaled to his single companion, laboring along one hundred yards behind, to hasten to join him. Presently the trooper came spurring up, a swarthy young German, but though straining every nerve the troop was still a mile away.
"Ride back, Wegner, and tell the sergeant to take ten men around that side—the south side of the bluff," and he pointed with his hand; "the rest to come straight to me."
Oh, well was it for Dean that he checked his speed, and as the young dragoon went sputtering back, that he himself drew rein and waited for the coming of his men. Suddenly from far out along the ridge in front, from the very crest there leaped a jet or two of fire and smoke. Two little spurts of dust and turf flew up from the prairie sod a dozen yards in front, a rifle bullet went singing off through the sunny air, Rabb, his handsome bay, pawed the ground and switched about, and up on the crest, riding boldly in full view, two lithe, naked, painted warriors, war bonnets trailing over their ponies' croups, yelling shrill insult and derision, went tearing away northward, one of them pausing long enough to wave some ragged object on high, and give one ringing, exultant whoop ere he disappeared from view.
"It's a scalp, lieutenant," shouted the foremost sergeant as he came lunging up to join his chief. "They've got one, anyhow."
"Come on, then, and we'll get it back," was the only answer, as with nearly thirty troopers stringing out behind them, the two launched out in chase.
Obedient to his orders the Irish sergeant, with a little squad at his heels, had kept straight on. A few minutes later, rounding the bluff at the gallop, eyes flashing over the field in front of them, the party went racing out over the turf and came in full view of the scene of the fight. Five hundred yards further down stream was a deep bend in the Laramie. Close to the water's edge two horses lay stretched upon the ground, stone dead. Out on the open prairie lay an Indian pony still kicking in his dying agony, and as the soldiers came sweeping into view two men rose up from behind the low bank of the stream and swung their hats—Hal Folsom and one of his hands safe, unwounded, yet with a look in their gray faces that told of recent mortal peril.
"We're all right! Go on after them. They've run off a dozen of my best horses," said Folsom, "and I'm afraid they cut off Jake."
"No! Jake reached the ranch all right—leastwise somebody did," said Shaughnessy. "That's how we got the news. They got somebody, or else they were only bluffing when they waved that scalp. How many were there?"
"At least a dozen—too many for you to tackle. Where's the rest of the troop?"
"Close at their heels. The lieutenant led them right over the ridge. Listen!"
Yes, far up in the foothills, faint and clear, the sounds of the chase could now be heard. Dean's men were closing on the fleeing warriors, for every little while the silence of the range was broken by the crack of rifle or carbine. Shaughnessy's fellows began to fidget and look eagerly thither, and he read their wish. "Two of you stay with Mr. Folsom," he said, "and the rest come with me. There's nothing we can do here, is there? Sure, you're not hit?"
"No, go on! Give 'em hell and get back my horses. I'd go with you, but they've killed what horses they couldn't drive. All safe at the ranch?"
Shaughnessy nodded as he spurred away. "We'll be gettin' the lieutenant a brevet for this," said he, "if we can only close up with those blackguards." And these were the words Folsom carried back with him, as, mounting a willing trooper's horse, he galloped homeward to reassure his wife, thanking God for the opportune coming of the little command, yet swearing with close compressed lips at the ill-starred work of the day. Thus far he had striven to keep from her all knowledge of the threats of the Ogallallas, although he knew she must have heard of them. He had believed himself secure so far back from the Platte. He had done everything in his power to placate Red Cloud and the chiefs—to convince his former friends that he had never enticed poor Lizette, as Baptiste had called the child, from her home and people. They held he should never have left her, though she had accused him of no wrong. Burning Star, in his jealous rage, hated him, because he believed that but for love of the paleface Lizette would have listened to his wooing, and Folsom's conscience could not acquit him of having seen her preference and of leading her on. He could not speak of her to his wife without shame and remorse. He had no idea what could have been her fate, for the poor girl had disappeared from the face of the earth, and now, at last, this day had proved to him the threats of her lover and her brothers were not idle. He had had so narrow a squeak for his life, so sharp and sudden and hard a fight for it that, now that the peril was over, his nerve began to give way, his strong hands to tremble. Armed with breech-loaders, he and his two friends had been able to stand off the attacking party, killing two ponies, and emptying, they felt sure, two saddles; but little by little the Indians were working around their position, and would have crawled upon them within an hour or two but for Jake's daring ride for help and the blessed coming of the blue-coats in the nick of time. Folsom swore he'd never forget their services this day.
And as he cantered homeward he could still hear the distant firing dying away in the mountains to the north. "Give 'em hell, Dean!" he muttered through his set teeth. "They're showing fight even when you've got 'em on the run. I wonder what that means?"
Not until another day was he to know. Late on the evening of the attack, while he was seated with his wife by Jake's bedside, half a dozen troopers, two of them wounded and all with worn-out horses, came drifting back to camp. Twice, said they, had the fleeing Indians made a stand to cover the slow retreat of one or two evidently sorely stricken, but so closely were they pressed that at last they had been forced to abandon one of their number, who died, sending his last vengeful shot through the lieutenant's hunting shirt, yet only grazing the skin. Dean, with most of the men, pushed on in pursuit, determined never to desist so long as there was light, but these who returned could not keep up.
Leaving the dead body of the young brave where it lay among the rocks, they slowly journeyed back to camp. No further tidings came, and at daybreak Folsom, with two ranchmen and a trooper, rode out on the trail to round up the horses the Indians had been compelled to drop. Mrs. Hal clung sobbing to him, unable to control her fears, but he chided her gently and bade her see that Jake lacked no care or comfort. The brave fellow was sore and feverish, but in no great danger now. Five miles out in the foothills they came upon the horses wandering placidly back to the valley, but Folsom kept on. Four miles further he and a single ranchman with him came upon three troopers limping along afoot, their horses killed in the running fight, and one of these, grateful for a long pull at Folsom's flask, turned back and showed them the body of the fallen brave. One look was enough for Hal and the comrade with him. "Don't let my wife know—who it was," he had muttered to his friend. "It would only make her more nervous." There lay Chaska, Lizette's eldest brother, and well Hal Folsom knew that death would never go unavenged.
"If ever a time comes when I can do you a good turn, lieutenant," said he that afternoon as, worn out with long hours of pursuit and scout, the troop was encountered slowly marching back to the Laramie, "I'll do it if it costs me the whole ranch." But Dean smiled and said they wouldn't' have missed that chance even for the ranch. What a blessed piece of luck it was that the commanding officer at Frayne had bidden him take that route instead of the direct road to Gate City! He had sent men riding in to both posts on the Platte, with penciled lines telling of the Indian raid and its results. Once well covered by darkness the little band had easily escaped their pursuers, and were now safe across the river and well ahead of all possibility of successful pursuit. But if anything were needed to prove the real temper of the Sioux the authorities had it. Now was the time to grapple that Ogallalla tribe and bring it to terms before it could be reinforced by half the young men in the villages of the northern plains. The Platte, of course, would be patrolled by a strong force of cavalry for some weeks to come, and no new foray need be dreaded yet awhile. Red Cloud's people would "lay low" and watch the effect of this exploit before attempting another. If the White Father "got mad" and ordered "heap soldiers" there to punish them, then they must disavow all participation in the affair, even though one of their best young braves was prominent in the outrage, and had paid for the luxury with his life—even though Burning Star was trying to hide the fresh scar of a rifle bullet along his upper arm. Together Dean and Folsom rode back to the ranch, and another night was spent there before the troop was sufficiently rested to push on to Emory.
"Remember this, lieutenant," said Folsom again, as he pressed his hand at parting, "there's nothing too good for you and "C" Troop at my home. If ever you need a friend you'll find one here."
And the time was coming when Marshall Dean would need all that he could muster.
Two days later—still a march away from Emory—a courier overtook him with a letter from his late post commander: "Your vigorous pursuit and prompt, soldierly action have added to the fine record already made and merit hearty commendation." The cordial words brought sunshine to his heart. How proud Jess would be, and mother! He had not had a word from either for over a week. The latter, though far from strong, was content at home in the loving care of her sister, and in the hope that he would soon obtain the leave of absence so long anticipated, and, after Jess's brief visit to Pappoose's new home, would come to gladden the eyes of kith and kin, but mother's most of all, bringing Jessie with him. Little hope of leave of absence was there now, and less was he the man to ask it with such troubles looming up all along the line of frontier posts to the north. But at least there would be the joy of seeing Jess in a few days and showing her his troop—her and Pappoose. How wonderfully that little schoolgirl must have grown and developed! How beautiful a girl she must now be if that photograph was no flatterer! By the way, where was that photo? What had he done with it? For the first time in four days he remembered his picking it up when Mrs. Hal Folsom collapsed at sight of Jake's swooning. Down in the depths of the side pocket of his heavy blue flannel hunting shirt he found it, crumpled a bit, and all its lower left-hand corner bent and blackened and crushed, Chaska's last shot that tore its way so close below the young soldier's bounding heart, just nipping and searing the skin, had left its worst mark on that dainty carte de visite. In that same pocket, too, was another packet—a letter which had been picked up on the floor of the hut at Reno after Burleigh left—one for which the major had searched in vain, for it was underneath a lot of newspapers. "You take that after him," said the cantonment commander, as Dean followed with the troop next day, and little dreamed what it contained.
That very day, in the heavy, old-fashioned sleeping-cars of the Union Pacific, two young girls were seated in their section on the northward side. One, a dark-eyed, radiant beauty, gazed out over the desolate slopes and far-reaching stretches of prairie and distant lines of bald bluff, with delight in her dancing eyes. The other, a winsome maid of nineteen, looked on with mild wonderment, not unmixed with disappointment she would gladly have hidden. To Elinor the scenes of her childhood were dear and welcome; to Jessie there was too much that was somber, too little that was inviting. But presently, as the long train rolled slowly to the platform of a rude wooden station building, there came a sight at which the eyes of both girls danced in eager interest—a row of "A" tents on the open prairie, a long line of horses tethered to the picket ropes, groups of stalwart, sunburned men in rough blue garb, a silken guidon flapping by the tents of the officers. It was one of half a dozen such camps of detached troops they had been passing ever since breakfast time—the camps of isolated little commands guarding the new railway on the climb to Cheyenne. Papa, with one or two cronies, was playing "old sledge" in the smoking compartment. At a big station a few miles back two men in the uniform of officers boarded the car, one of them burly, rotund, and sallow. He was shown to the section just in front of the girls, and at Pappoose he stared—stared long and hard, so that she bit her lip and turned nervously away. The porter dusted the seat and disposed of the hand luggage and hung about the new arrivals in adulation. The burly man was evidently a personage of importance, and his shoulder straps indicated that he was a major of the general staff. The other, who followed somewhat diffidently, was a young lieutenant of infantry, whose trim frock-coat snugly fitted his slender figure.
"Ah, sit down here, Mr.—Mr. Loomis," said the major patronizingly. "So you are going up to the Big Horn. Well, sir, I hope we shall hear good accounts of you. There's a splendid field for officers of the right sort—there—and opportunities for distinction—every day."
At sound of the staff officer's voice there roused up from the opposite section, where he had been dozing over a paper, a man of middle age, slim, athletic, with heavy mustache and imperial, just beginning to turn gray, with deep-set eyes under bushy brows, and a keen, shrewd face, rather deeply lined. There was a look of dissipation there, a shade of shabbiness about his clothes, a rakish cut to the entire personality that had caused Folsom to glance distrustfully at him more than once the previous afternoon, and to meet with coldness the tentatives permissible in fellow travelers. The stranger's morning had been lonesome. Now he held his newspaper where it would partly shield his face, yet permit his watching the officers across the aisle. And something in his stealthy scrutiny attracted Pappoose.
"Yes," continued the major, "I have seen a great deal of that country, and Mr. Dean, of whom you spoke, was attached to the troop escorting our commission. He is hardly—I regret to have to say it—er—what you imagine. We were, to put it mildly, much disappointed in his conduct the day of our meeting with the Sioux."
A swift, surprised glance passed between the girls, a pained look shot into the lieutenant's face, but before the major could go on the man across the aisle arose and bent over him with extended hand.
"Ah, Burleigh, I thought I knew the voice." But the hand was not grasped. The major was drawing back, his face growing yellow-white with some strange dismay.
"You don't seem sure of my identity. Let me refresh your memory, Burleigh. I am Captain Newhall. I see you need a drink, major—I'll take one with you."
For nearly a week after the home-coming of his beloved daughter John Folsom was too happy in her presence to give much thought to other matters. By the end of that week, however, the honest old Westerner found anxieties thickening about him. There were forty-eight hours of undimmed rejoicing. Elinor was so radiant, so fond, and had grown, so said the proud father to himself, and so said others, so wondrously lovely. His eyes followed her every movement. He found himself negligent of her gentle little friend and guest, Jessie Dean, to whom he had vowed to be a second father, and such a friend as she had been to his Pappoose when, a homesick, sad-eyed child, she entered upon her schooldays. Elinor herself had to chide him, and with contrition and dismay he admitted his fault, and then for hours nothing could exceed his hospitable attentions to Jessie, who, sorely disappointed because Marshall was not there to meet her, was growing anxious as no tidings came from him. Two whole days the damsels spent in going over the new house, exclaiming over papa's lavish preparations, but wishing presently that Mrs. Fletcher were not quite so much in evidence, here, there, and everywhere. Only when bedtime came and they could nestle in one or other of their connecting rooms were they secure from interruption, and even then it presently appeared they could not talk confidentially as of old. Folsom had taken them driving each afternoon, he himself handling the reins over his handsome bays, Elinor at his side the first time, and Jessie, with Mrs. Fletcher, occupying the rear seat. But this, Elinor whispered to him, was not as it should be. Her guest should have the seat of honor. So, next day, Jessie was handed to the front and Mrs. Fletcher and Pappoose were placed in rear, and in this order they bowled round the fort and listened to the band and talked with several of the women and one or two officers, but these latter could tell nothing about Lieutenant Dean except that they had been expecting him for two days—he having taken the long way home, which both Jessie and Pappoose considered odd under the circumstances, though neither said so and nobody thought to explain. But the morning of the third day "Miss Folsom"—as the veteran was amazed to hear his daughter addressed, yet on reflection concluded that he'd be tempted to kick any man who addressed her otherwise—seized a favorable opportunity and whisked her fond father into a corner of his library, and there gave him to understand that in Eastern circles the housekeeper might sometimes, perhaps, accompany the young ladies when they were going shopping, or the like, alone, but that when escorted by papa it was quite unnecessary. It was in fact not at all conventional.
"Bless my soul!" said Folsom. "I supposed that was what she was for. What did these women mean by telling me I must have a, companion—a guide—etc.?"
"They meant, you blessed Daddy, that they wished to provide you with—one of their number, and me—with something I do not want. If Mrs. Fletcher is to be housekeeper I have nothing to say, but—don't you think your big daughter old enough and wise enough to select her own companions? Daddy dear," she continued, after a little pause, and nestling close to him with a pathetic look in the big brown eyes, her lips twitching a bit, "I know how loving and thoughtful you have been in all this, and I wouldn't have you think me ungrateful, but—did you believe I was always going to be a little girl? What do you suppose I studied housekeeping for at school? Mrs. Fletcher is engaged, I presume, and I can't ask you to undo that now, but I wish you had written to me first. However, if you don't mind, there's somebody I'd rather you would invite to take the fourth seat to-day, and then you can have Pappoose beside you, if you wish."
"Why, of course, sweetheart, any one you like."
"Lieutenant Loomis, then, Daddy—the officer we met on the train. Jessie likes him and he's such a friend of her brother—the only one we have yet seen who seems to know him at all. Then you could ask him to dinner, too."
Folsom's face was a study. Doubt and perplexity both were twitching in the little muscles about his lips.
"We met three officers, did we not, Elinor, and I had thought—somewhat of—asking the major and his guest. He said he wished to call. He was here while we were driving yesterday. I met him later."
"Yes, I saw his card," was the hurried, indifferent answer. "But they are not like Mr. Loomis. Daddy, I did not at all like that Captain Newhall, or—for that matter——"
"They both seemed prodigiously struck with you," said Folsom, in misguided confidence yet pardonable pride. "They've done, nothing but talk to me about you ever since."
"They did nothing but talk to me all the way over the mountains, except when they were out taking what I have reason to believe was an occasional drink, Daddy mine. Jess had Mr. Loomis to herself. They have found your weak spot, Daddy. They know you love to talk of your daughter. You have only known Major Burleigh a little while, is it not so?"
"Only within the year, perhaps, though of course I've heard of him a great deal."
"And this Captain Newhall, whose regiment is in Louisiana while he's out here on leave—I thought officers went East when they got leave."
"Newhall says he's out here looking over some mining schemes. He has money to invest, I believe."
"He should invest some money in a traveling suit, Daddy dear. That coat and his linen seemed woefully out of condition. Gentlemen are not careless about such matters."
"Oh, he explained that his trunks were delayed in Omaha or somewhere, and were coming along next train. I own I was prejudiced against him, too, but of course if he's a friend and guest of Burleigh's he—he must be all right. He's staying with him at the depot."
"And you've got to invite them to dinner?" asked Miss Folsom, after another pause, during which she had been thinking deeply.
"Not if you don't want it, pet. Of course they'll expect it. Army officers are hospitable, you know, Burleigh has asked me to dine with him a dozen times, though I've only been there once."
"Then you'll have to invite him, Daddy," was the answer, with quick decision. "Only, just wait for a day or two. Captain Newhall was going right out to the mines, he said, and there may be others we'd be glad to have. Jessie's brother ought to be here any hour."
"Yes," said Folsom dubiously. "I've been thinking about him—I've been wishing——"
But he hesitated and faltered and could not meet the deep brown eyes, so full of searching inquiry and keen intelligence.
"You've been thinking—what, Daddy?" she asked, and now her slender hands were on his shoulders and she was turning him so that she could study his face. "You have been hearing something you do not wish us to know, Daddy dear. I heard Major Burleigh say something to Mr. Loomis about—about Lieutenant Dean, and I know Mr. Loomis did not like it, and Jessie and I can't believe it. Father, where is he? Why doesn't he come? Why do these—these people at the fort hem and haw and hesitate when they speak about him? Jessie is getting so troubled."
"I'm getting troubled, daughter," answered Folsom impulsively. "I never met a likelier young fellow or one that promised to make a better officer. He may be all right, too, only it isn't so much what they do say as what they don't say that troubles me. Burleigh here and old Stevens out at the fort and one or two others I've asked about him. Burleigh says he 'lost his nerve' when they met Red Cloud's big band. A boy might be excused for that so long as he didn't misbehave. It was big responsibility for a young lieutenant. But these people, as you speak of them out at the fort, really know very little about Dean. Burleigh says he's in a position that enables him to know so much more about the character and habits of the young officers."
"Surely he can say nothing against Mr. Dean!" exclaimed Pappoose, looking up with quick indignation in her brown eyes. "No one knows how good and generous he has been to Jessie and his mother."
They were standing at the moment in the corner of the library farthest from the doorway. The front windows opened to the north, giving a fine view of the rolling hills rising higher and higher and looking down upon the grass-grown slopes spread out at their feet, criss-crossed and traversed by hard-beaten roads and trails. Immediately in front of the house Folsom had seeded and watered and coaxed into semblance of a lawn the best turf to be had in that section of Wyoming, and inclosed it in a spick and span white picket fence. The main road between the fort and the railway station passed directly in front of his gate. The side window of the cozy room looked out to the west over the valley of a rushing stream, once rich in trout, but now much infested by the mules from Burleigh's corral, which lay half a mile away to the southeast, out of sight of Folsom's house except from the upper windows. Eager to stock the library with standard works against his daughter's coming, the old trader had consulted a friend among the officers and had sent a lavish order to a house in Chicago. Books, therefore, were there in plenty on the handsome shelves, and they were not ill-chosen either, but it was Mrs. Fletcher who pointed out how stiff and angular everything looked, who introduced the easy lounge, the soft rugs, the heavy hanging portieres of costly Navajo blankets. It was her deft touch that draped the curtains at the windows and softened and beautified the lines the hand of man would have left crude and repellent. And that library had been her favorite haunt; but since the coming of the girls Mrs. Fletcher had seemed to retire to her own room aloft, and to spend no time below stairs that was not demanded by her household duties. Now as the father and daughter were talking earnestly together, they heard Mrs. Fletcher moving about overhead as though looking over the work of the housemaid. Jessie had gone to her own room to write a short letter to her mother. Major Burleigh was to come at 10.30 to drive them out to Pinnacle Butte, a sharp, rocky height far across the valley, from the summit of which a wonderful view was to be obtained. It lacked but five minutes of the time and suddenly Mrs. Fletcher's voice was heard on the floor above. It was a well-modulated voice, gentle and controlled, with a clear, vibrant ring in it that made the words distinctly audible to the hearers below.
"The major's carriage is coming up the street, Miss Dean. There are two officers."
"Two!" exclaimed Jess, starting to her feet, thinking only of her brother. "Oh! I wonder if—" And then they heard her go pit-a-pat through the hall to the front of the house, heard Mrs. Fletcher more deliberately follow, heard presently the beat of horses' hoofs on the hard roadway, and the whir of coining wheels. "I'll go out to meet them, Elinor—I'll—I'll talk to you more about this some other time. You don't care to go on this ride this morning one bit, do you dear?" he added uneasily.
"No, father; frankly, I don't—but he has been polite to you and attentive to us. There's no help for it."
And so Folsom went alone to the door to meet his visitors on the porch without, and did not hear, did not see Mrs. Fletcher, who came hastily down the stairs, her face singularly pale, a glitter of excitement in her eyes. On tiptoe she hastened along the broad hall, reaching the library door just as Folsom stepped out on the porch. On tiptoe she darted in, closed the door behind her, almost rushed to the north window, and there grasping the curtain she crouched, heedless of the possibility of observation, and for half a minute clung and crouched and stared. Then, as Folsom's genial, powerful voice was heard in welcoming accents, and heavy footsteps came along the broad board walk, the woman straightened suddenly and, noiseless as before, hurried back across the room and came face to face with the daughter of the house.
"Oh, Miss Folsom!" she faltered, her bosom heaving in violent agitation. "I did not know you were here. I—excuse me—" and hastened out of the room and up the winding stairs.
"Pappoose" never hesitated. Coolly, quickly, she stepped to the window. Major Burleigh had just reached the top step and was exchanging greeting with his host. The stylish team and glistening wagon were just spinning away.
"It'll be back in five minutes," she, heard the quartermaster explain to her father. "Newhall has to meet come people coming in by stage from Green River. I thought I'd rather spend the time here."
And on the back seat, affably waving his hand in adieu, and jauntily lifting his rakish forage cap in salutation general to any of the young ladies who might be watching, sat the gentleman whose regiment was in Louisiana while he was up here on leave looking after mining investments.
"Three mortal hours," said Miss Folsom to her fond little school friend and chum that afternoon, "have I had to sit or stroll with or listen to Major Burleigh. I never once was able to enjoy the view. What made him hurry us away from the northeast point, do you suppose?"
"Did you notice that, Nell? I did, too, and I was so interested in the view. Away up toward Laramie Peak I could see something through the glasses that looked like a lot of little ants crawling along together. It was just after that—just after we looked through the glass, that he marched us round to the other side. The view toward Green River isn't half as pretty."
"And now he's telling some interminable story to father over their cigars. What shall we do if he hangs on? Father will have to ask him to drive with us to the fort, and there won't be room."
"Unless Mrs. Fletcher gives up her seat," said Jessie demurely.
"Mrs. Fletcher isn't going. A very different person takes her seat to-day, Jess. Father left a note for Mr. Loomis at the hotel and he accepted. Now you see why I don't want Major Burleigh."
It was then long after three o'clock. At five they were to start and Jessie could hardly curb her impatience. The mail from Frayne, so said Folsom, would arrive that evening, and then surely there would be news of Marshall. They had slipped away to their rooms after the bountiful luncheon served on their return, in order, as "Pappoose" expressed it, that the gentlemen might have t-heir cigars in peace. Mrs. Fletcher, after seeing that everything was prepared, had directed the servant to say to Mr. Folsom, on the return of the party, that she would prefer not to appear, and would be glad to keep her room, as she did not feel it at all necessary for the housekeeper to meet strangers, and Folsom felt a sense of relief. It was so much sweeter not to have any presiding genius other than Pappoose, not that he was forgetful of Mrs. Fletcher's merits and services—which were great—but it was plain to see that his daughter would have been happier had no such office existed as that created for this deserving and destitute widow. At three Miss Folsom had gone and tapped at the lady's door—her room was in the third story overlooking the street—and was very civilly assured that Mrs. Fletcher stood in need of nothing, but, being wearied, she would like a little sleep. No, she did not even care for a cup of tea. Yet Elinor felt confident that the voice that replied to her inquiries came neither from the bed nor the lounge, but from the direction of the front window.
At three the cigars were smoked out and the host and his guest were in the library. It was Folsom's custom, when a possible thing, to take a brief nap after the midday meal, and Elinor felt sure he would be glad of the opportunity now, if Burleigh would only go, but Burleigh wouldn't. In monotonous monologue his voice came floating up to the second floor, drowsy, unbroken in its soporific flow, and the girls themselves, after the morning's drive in the clear, bracing air, felt as though forty winks would be a blessing. Could it be that Burleigh lingered on in hopes of their reappearance below? Might it not be that if relief came not speedily Papa Folsom would yield to the spell and fall asleep in his easy-chair? Was it not Miss Folsom's duty to descend and take the burden of entertainment off those elder shoulders? These thoughts oppressed the girl, and starting up, she cried:
"It's simply wicked of me staying here and letting poor papa be bored to death. Do come down, Jess, dear, unless you're dreadfully sleepy. He acts just as though he intended never to go."
And Jess promised reluctantly to come down in ten minutes, if he didn't leave; but she hated him, and had hated him ever since he spoke so of Marshall in the car three days before.
The upper hall had been quite dark when Miss Folsom went up to inquire how Mrs. Fletcher was just after luncheon. The door to her little room was tightly closed. The blinds in all the other rooms aloft were drawn against the glare of the sunshine in the cloudless atmosphere; yet now, as Pappoose stepped suddenly out upon the landing, she was surprised to see that the upper floor was much lighter than when she went up half an hour earlier. The maid had not gone thither from the kitchen, and Mrs. Fletcher wished to doze. Who, then, could have opened both blind and door and let in that flood of light? Impulsively the active girl flew up the winding stairs to the third story, and some one suddenly withdrew from the balcony rail, and an instant later, as Miss Folsom reached the top, all became dark again. Mrs. Fletcher's door had unquestionably been open, and was now shut to. She must have been out there listening, and gravely the young girl asked herself what it meant—Mrs. Fletcher's agitation in the library that morning as she peered out at the major's wagon; her absence from luncheon on account, as she pleaded, of not desiring to appear when company was present; and now, despite her desire to sleep, her vigil at the third-floor landing, where she was surely listening to the sounds from below.
Pondering over the facts, Elinor Folsom slowly retraced her steps and went downstairs. She reached the library none too soon. Old John's eyes were closed, and he was slowly toppling, over come with sleep. The sound of her cheery voice aroused him, and he started, guilty and crestfallen.
Burleigh's heavy face brightened visibly at her coming. He cared no more for music than does a cat, but eagerly followed her across the broad hall into the parlor when she suggested showing him the beautiful piano papa had given her; and old John, blessing her, lurched for the sofa, buried his hot head in a pillow, and was asleep in ten seconds. Major Burleigh was alone with the lovely daughter of the veteran trader. He was a man of the world; she an unsophisticated girl just out of school—so said Burleigh, albeit a most charming one; and he, who had monopolized her time the entire morning, bore down once more upon his prize.
She had seated herself at the piano, and her long, taper fingers were rippling over the keys. She knew full well he did not care what she played, and as for herself she did not care just then to play at all. She was thinking of his insinuation at Marshall Dean's expense. She was still pondering over Mrs. Fletcher's stealthy scrutiny of the quartermaster's team. On these two accounts, and no other, he was possessed of certain interest in Elinor's dark-brown eyes, and they were studying him coolly, searchingly, as he drew a chair near the piano stool, and seated himself and met her look with a broad, encouraging smile.
Trill and ripple, ripple and trill her white fingers raced over the keyboard.
"I'm sure you know this waltz, major," she was saying. "They played it beautifully at the Point two summers ago."
"I—ah, yes, it's a charming composition—charming, though I don't recall it's name just now."
"This? why it's one of Godfrey's—'The Hilda,' don't you know? I'm sure you waltz, major."
"I—ah, used to, yes. I was very fond of a waltz," answered Burleigh, whose best efforts in that line could result in nothing better than a waddle. "But of late years I—I—since my bereavement—have practically withdrawn from society." Then, with a languishing smile, he added, "I shall be tempted to re-enter the list now," and the major drew his chair nearer by full an inch, and prepared to be further "killing."
"Jessie dances divinely," said Miss Folsom. "She simply floats round a room. You should see her waltz with her brother, Major Burleigh. They might be waltzing here this very minute if he were only home. What can have detained him, do you think?"
"I wish I knew," said the quartermaster slowly. "It makes those who are—ah—his friends, you know, anxious in more ways than one, because there is—er—nothing to warrant delay—nothing to—excuse it. He should, in fact, have been at his post, where his troop is sorely needed, full four days ago," and Burleigh looked heavy with portent.
"Is it not possible that he has found something along the lower Laramie—something where his troop is needed much more than here doing stable guard?"
"How can it be possible?" said Burleigh. "The only thing to warrant his delay would be Indians, and there are none south of the Platte; or horse thieves, and they hung the last of the gang three months ago. Mr. Dean, I—ah—regret to say, is fonder of fishing and hunting than of his legitimate duties, and this, I fear, is why he is not here to welcome his sister."
The piano went rippling on, but the brown eyes kept up their steady gaze. In the deep bass chords now her slender fingers were entangled. Slowly and thoughtfully the rich melody swung in the proud waltz rhythm through the airy room and floated out upon the summer breeze. A little line was setting deep between the dark, arching eyebrows, a symptom Pappoose's schoolmates had learned to note as a signal for danger, but Burleigh knew her not, as yet.
"It is odd," said she dreamily, "that at the Point the officers spoke so highly of Mr. Dean, and here you seem to think so differently of him. It is a deep disappointment to his sister that he is not here; but, do you know, major, we were saying only this morning before you came that there was some excellent reason for his delay, and we'd know it within another day."
"Oh, ah—er—of course I hope so. I think, pardon me, that that must be a messenger from my office now," for spurred boot-heels were coming briskly up the wooden walk. There was a bounding step on the piazza, a ring at the bell. The servant bustled through the hall and threw open the door. It was not a messenger from the depot, but a stalwart, sunburnt man in rough ranch garb, who whipped off his broad-brimmed hat and stood abashed within the hall as he asked for Mr. Folsom.
And all of a sudden over went the piano-stool with a crash, and out into the hall, joyous, bounding, light as a fairy, a vision of dark, girlish beauty, went Pappoose.
"Why, Ned Lannion!" she cried, as she seized the swarthy young fellow's hands and shook them up and down "Don't you know me—Winona that used to be? Why, how well you look! When did you leave the ranch? How did you leave them? Is Hal here—or coming?"
And at sound of her voice old Folsom had started up from his sofa and came trotting out into the hall, just roused from his sleep, and blinking a bit as he, too, held forth cordial, welcoming hands. It was a moment before they could let Ned tell his story, and then it came by jerks.
"We left there early yesterday morning, mum. They're all well now, 'cept Jake, and he'll come out all right, but we had a close call. A war party of Sioux jumped as Wednesday afternoon, and they'd a got away with us but for Lieutenant Dean and his troop. They come along just in time——"
"Ned!" gasped Elinor, "you don't mean they attacked the ranch?"
"No'me. We was down the Lar'mie—rounding up horses. There was a dozen bucks in the party. It's the first time they've come across in a year that I know of, and they won't be apt to try it again. We shot two of 'em and the cavalry drove 'em a running fight, so hard that they had to leave one of their wounded behind them. He died in a minute. It was—" and then Ned Lannion gulped and stumbled and choked in embarrassment.
"Who was it?" demanded Mr. Folsom, his rugged face pale and twitching, his eyes full of anxiety.
"Chaska, sir. You know."
Folsom gripped him by the shoulder. "And Burning Star—did you see him? Was he there?"
"Yes, sir; but those boys of Lieutenant Dean's gave them a lickin' they'll never forget. The ranch is safe as if it was here in Gate City, only Hal he couldn't come himself, and he knowed you'd be anxious for full particulars, so he sent me in with the cavalry. They're out at the fort now."
"Jessie!" cried Elinor, in delight that overmastered the emotion with which she had listened to the tale of her brother's recent peril. Marshall's here—almost home. It's just as we said, Jess. Do come down. He was there just in time to save my brother's life—to drive the Indians back to the river. Come quick—I want to hug you!" And her dark eyes, flashing with joy and excitement, danced full upon the bulky form of the major, slowly issuing from the parlor door, then beyond as she went bounding by him, all eagerness to clasp her bonny friend in her arms, and shower her with congratulations. And so it happened that both the girls were at the rear of the hall entwined in each other's arms at the foot of the stairs when the ranchman answered Folsom's next question, and then broke out with the abrupt announcement, "I never see a young officer handle his men better. We'd all been in hell by this time if it wasn't for him, yet, by God, sir, the moment he got into the post they clapped him in arrest."
That evening, when John Folsom, half an hour earlier than the stipulated time, drove the girls and their friend, Lieutenant Loomis, out to the fort, Major Burleigh was left to his own devices, and his face plainly showed that he was far from pleased with the way things were going. The news that Marshall Dean had been placed in arrest by order of the commanding officer of Fort Emory, following as it did close on the heels of the tidings of that young officer's prompt and soldierly handling of the crisis at the ranch, made Folsom boil over with wrath. His first word was one of caution, however. "Hush!" he said, "Speak low. Yonder stands his sister. The girls must not know yet." Then, leading the way into the library and closing the door behind them, he demanded all particulars Lannion could give him, which were few enough.
"The lieutenant halted the troop outside the post," said the indignant ranchman, "had it dismount there while he rode on in to report to the commanding officer for instructions. The colonel was taking his nap after lunch, and the adjutant was at the office, and what does he do but get up from his desk solemn-like, and when the lieutenant says 'I report the arrival of Troop "C" at the post, sir,' the adjutant didn't answer a word, but reached out and got his sabre and began buckling it around him, and then he put on his cap and gloves, and says he, 'Lieutenant Dean, I'm sorry, but my instructions are to place you in close arrest, by order of Colonel Stevens.' Why, you could have knocked me down with the kick of a gopher I was so dumfounded! The lieutenant he didn't say anything for a minute, but turned white and looked like he could have knocked the top of the adjutant's head off. 'An officer will be sent to take charge of the troop,' said the adjutant, 'an' I suppose you'd better confine yourself to your tent, as the colonel means to have them camp there a day or two, until he hears from Captain Brooks as to quarters.' 'Well, will you have the goodness to say what charges have been laid against me?' said Mr. Dean, and the adjutant hemmed, and hawed, and 'lowed that the colonel hadn't formerly drawn 'em up yet, but that a copy would be served on him as soon as they were ready."
"Then I said I'd go right in and find you, and that's all I know."
And then it was that Folsom turned on Burleigh, with gloom in his eye, and said: "By the Eternal, Major Burleigh, I hope you've had nothing to do with this!"
"Nothing in the world, I assure you, Mr. Folsom, I—I deeply regret it. Though, as I have told you, I can hardly be surprised, after what has been said, and—d what I have seen." But the major could not squarely meet the gaze in the keen eyes of the old trader, nor could the latter conceal his suspicions. "I know you wish to hear all the particulars of the affair at the ranch from this gentleman," said the major uneasily, "so I will leave you with him for the present," and backing out into the hall he turned to the foot of the winding staircase where Elinor had met her friend. The girls were still there, their faces clouded with surprise and anxiety. It was an opportunity not to be lost.
"Pray do not be troubled, Miss Folsom," said Burleigh, advancing upon them with outstretched hand, "er, Mr. Folsom merely wants to hear further details from Lannion. I wish to extend my congratulations to you and, ah, this young lady, first upon the fortunate escape of your brother," and he bowed over his distended stomach to Elinor, "and second upon the part played by yours," and he repeated the bow to Jess, who, however, shrank away from the extended hand. "It will go far to counteract the stories that I—ah, er—believe you know about—that were in circulation, and most unjustly, doubtless, at—er—his expense."
"Who put them in circulation, Major Burleigh?" asked Pappoose, her brown eyes studying his face as unflinchingly as had her father's gaze a moment before.
"That, my dear young lady I—er—cannot surmise. They are mostly imaginative, I dare say."
But Miss Folsom looked unmollified, Miss Dean agitated, and Burleigh himself had many a reason for feeling ill at ease. Just at the time of all others when he most desired to stand on good terms with the well-to-do old trader and his charming daughter he found himself the object of distrust. He was thinking hard and far from hopefully as a moment later he hastened down the street.
"Tell them to send up my buggy, quick," were his orders as he stepped within his office doorway. Then lowering his voice, "Has Captain Newhall returned?" he asked the chief clerk.
"The captain was here, sir. Left word he needed to take the first train—freight or construction, it made no difference—to Cheyenne and expected to find a letter or package from you, and there's two telegrams in from Department Headquarters on your desk, sir."
The major turned thither with solemn face, and read them both, his back to his subordinate, his face to the light, and growing grayer every moment. One was a curt notification that ten thousand dollars would be needed at once at Warrior Gap to pay contractors and workmen, and directing him to send the amount from the funds in his keeping. The other read as follows:
"Have all transportation put in readiness for immediate field service. Every wheel may be needed."
This he tossed carelessly aside. Over the first he pondered deeply, his yellow-white face growing dark and haggard.
Ten thousand dollars to be sent at once to Warrior Gap! Workmen's pay! Who could have predicted that? Who could have given such an order? Who would have imagined payment would have to be made before July, when some reasonable amount of work had been done? What could laborers do with their money up there, even if they had it? It was preposterous! It was risky to attempt to send it. But what was infinitely worse—for him—it was impossible. The money was practically already gone, but—not to Warrior Gap.
Those were days when inspectors' visits were like those of other angels, few and far between. The railway was only just finished across the great divide of the Black Hills of Wyoming. Only as far as Cheyenne was there a time schedule for trains, and that—far more honored in the breach than the observance. Passengers bound west of that sinfully thriving town were luckier, as a rule, if they went by stage. Those were days, too, in which a depot quartermaster with a drove of government mules and a corral full of public vehicles at his command was a monarch in the eyes of the early settlers; and when, added to these high-priced luxuries, he had on deposit in various banks from Chicago to Cheyenne, and even here at Gate City, thousands of dollars in government greenbacks expendible on his check for all manner of purposes, from officers' mileage accounts to the day laborer's wages, from bills for the roofing of barracks and quarters to the setting of a single horseshoe, from the purchase of forage and fuel for the dozen military posts within range of his supply trains down to a can of axle grease. Every one knew Burleigh's horses and habits were far more costly than his pay would permit. Everybody supposed he had big returns from mines and stocks and other investments. Nobody knew just what his investments were, and only he knew how few they were and how unprofitable they had become. Those were days when, as now, disbursing officers were forbidden to gamble, but when, not as now, the law was a dead letter. Burleigh had gambled for years; had, with little remorse, ruined more than one man, and yet stood now awe-stricken and dismayed and wronged by Fate, since luck had turned at last against him. Large sums had been lost to players inexorable as he himself had been. Large sums had been diverted from the government channels in his charge, some to pay his so-called debts of honor, some to cover abstractions from other funds, "robbing Peter to pay Paul," some to silence people who knew too much; some, ay, most of it, in fact, to cover margins, and once money gets started on that grade it slips through one's fingers like quicksilver. At the very moment when Anson Burleigh's envious cronies were telling each other he stood far ahead of the world, the figures were telling him he stood some twenty thousand dollars behind it, and that, too, when he was confronted by two imperative calls for spot cash, one for ten thousand to go to Warrior Gap, another for a sum almost as big to "stake" a man who never yet had turned an honest penny, yet held the quartermaster where he dare not say so—where indeed he dare not say no.
"If you haven't it you know where you can get it—where you have often got it before, and where you'd better get it before it's too late;" these were words said to him that very morning, in tones so low that none but he could bear; yet they were ringing in his head now like the boom of some tolling bell. Time was when he had taken government money and turned it into handsome profit through the brokers of San Francisco and Chicago. But, as Mr. John Oakhurst remarked, "There's only one thing certain about luck, and that is it's bound to change," and change it had, and left him face to face with calamity and dishonor. Where was he to raise the ten thousand dollars that must be sent to the post quartermaster at Warrior Gap? The end of the fiscal year was close at hand. He dare not further divert funds from one appropriation to cover shortages in another. He could borrow from the banks, with a good endorser, but what endorser was there good enough but John Folsom?—the last man now whom he could bear to have suspect that he was in straits. Folsom was reported to be worth two hundred thousand dollars, and that lovely girl would inherit half his fortune. There lived within his circle no man, no woman in whose esteem Burleigh so longed to stand high, and he had blundered at the start. Damn that young cub who dared to lecture him on the evils of poker! Was a boy lieutenant to shame him before officers of the general's staff and expect to go unwhipped? Was that butt-headed subaltern to be the means of ruining his prospects right here and now when he stood so sorely in need of aid? Was the devil himself in league against him, that that boy's sister should turn out to be the closest friend old Folsom's daughter ever had—a girl to whom father and daughter both were devoted, and through her were doubtless interested in the very man he had been plotting to pull down? Burleigh savagely ground his teeth together.
"Go and hurry that buggy," he ordered, as he crushed the sheet of paper on which he had been nervously figuring. Then, springing up, he began pacing his office with impatient stride. A clerk glanced quickly up from his desk, watched him one moment with attentive eye, and looked significantly at his neighbor. "Old man's getting worse rattled every day," was the comment, as the crash of wheels through loose gravel announced the coming of the buggy, and Burleigh hastened out, labored into his seat, and took the whip and reins. The blooded mare in the shafts darted forward at the instant, but he gathered and drew her in, the nervous creature almost settling on her haunches.
"Say to Captain Newhall when he gets back-that I'll see him this evening," called Burleigh over his shoulder. "Now, damn you, go—if you want to!" and the lash fell on the glistening, quivering flank, and with her head pointed for the hard, open prairie, the pretty creature sped like mad over the smooth roadway and whirled the light buggy out past the scattered wooden tenements of the exterior limits of the frontier town—the tall white staff, tipped by its patch of color flapping in the mountain breeze, and the dingy wooden buildings on the distant bluff whirling into view as he spun around the corner where the village lost itself in the prairie; and there, long reaches ahead of him, just winding up the ascent to the post was a stylish team and trap. John Folsom and the girls had taken an early start and got ahead of him.
Old Stevens was up and about as Folsom's carriage drove swiftly through the garrison and passed straight out by the northeast gate. "I'll be back to see you in a moment," shouted the old driver smilelessly, as he shot by the lonely colonel, going, papers in hand to his office, and Stevens well knew he was in for trouble. Already the story was blazing about the post that nothing but the timely arrival of Dean and his men had saved Folsom's ranch, and Folsom's people. Already the men, wondering and indignant at their young leader's arrest, were shouting over the sutler's bar their paeans in his praise, and their denunciation of his treatment. Over the meeting of sister and brother at the latter's little tent let us draw a veil. He stepped forth in a moment and bade his other visitors welcome, shook hands eagerly with Loomis and urged their coming in, but he never passed from under the awning or "fly," and Folsom well knew the reason.
"Jump out, daughter," he said to Pappoose, and Loomis assisted her to alight and led her straight up to Dean, and for the first time in those two years the ex-cadet captain and the whilom little schoolgirl with the heavy braids of hair looked into each other's eyes, and in Dean's there was amaze and at least momentary delight. He still wore his field rig, and the rent in the dark-blue flannel shirt was still apparent. He was clasping Miss Folsom's hand and looking straight into the big dark eyes that were so unusually soft and humid, when Jessie's voice was heard as she came springing forth from the tent:
"Look, Nell, look! Your picture!" she cried, as with the bullet-marked carte de visite in her hand she flitted straight to her friend.
"Why, where did this come from?" asked Miss Folsom in surprise, "and what's happened to it?—all creased and black there!" Then both the girls and Loomis looked to him for explanation, while Folsom drove away, and even through the bronze and tan the boy was blushing.
"I—borrowed it for a minute—at the ranch just as Jake came in wounded, and there was no time to return it, you know. We had to gallop right out."
"Then—you had it with you in the Indian fight?" cried Jess, in thrilling excitement. "Really? Oh, Nell! How I wish it were mine. But how'd it get so blackened there—and crushed? You haven't told us."
"Tell you some other time, Jess. Don't crowd a fellow," he laughed. But when his eyes stole their one quick glance at Elinor, standing there in silence, he saw the color creeping up like sunset glow all over her beautiful face as she turned quickly away. Lannion had told them of the close shave the lieutenant had had and the havoc played by that bullet in the breast pocket of his hunting shirt.
Meantime "Old Peeksniff," as commentators of the day among the graceless subs were won't to call Colonel Stevens, was having his bad quarter of an hour. Leaving his team with the orderly, John Folsom had stamped into his presence unannounced, and after his own vigorous fashion opened the ball as follows:
"Stevens, what in the devil has that young fellow done to deserve arrest?"
"Oh, ah, shut the door, Mr. Adjutant," said the commanding officer, apprehensively, to his staff officer, "and—d I desire to confer with Mr. Folsom a moment," whereat the adjutant took the hint and then hied himself out of the room.
"Now, ah, in the first place, Mr. Folsom this is rather a long and—d painful story. I'm—m—ah, ah—in a peculiar position."
"For God's sake talk like a man and not like Burleigh," broke in the old trader impulsively. "I've known you off and on over twenty years, and you never used to talk in this asinine way until you got to running with him. Come right to the point—What crime is young Dean charged with? Those girls of mine will have to know it. They will know he's in arrest. What can I tell them?"
"Crime—ah—is hardly the word, Folsom. There has been a misunderstanding of orders, in short, and he was placed under arrest before—ah—before I had been furnished with a mass of information that should have been sent to me before."
"Well, what fault is that of his? See here, man, you don't mean to say it is because he didn't get here three days ago? That's no crime, and I haven't knocked around with the army the last forty years not to know the regulations in such matters. Do you mean without ever hearing what kept him and what splendid, spirited service he rendered there along the Laramie, that you've humiliated that fine young fellow and put him in arrest?"
Pecksniff whirled around in his chair. "Really now, Mr. Folsom, I can't permit you to instruct me in my military duties. You have no conception of the way in which I've been ignored and misled in this matter. There are collateral circumstances brought about, er—forced on me in fact, by injudicious friends of this young man, and he—he must blame them—he must blame them, not me. Now if you'll permit me to glance over this mass of matter, I can the sooner do justice in the premises." And over his goggles the colonel looked pleadingly up into his visitor's irate features.
"Read all you like, but be quick about it," was the angry rejoinder. "I want to take that boy back with me to town and confront him with one of his accusers this very day—the man I believe, by the ghost of Jim Bridger, is at the bottom of the whole business!" and Folsom flopped heavily and disgustedly into a chair, at sound of a rap at the door, which opened an inch and the adjutant's nose became visible at the crack.
"Major Burleigh, sir, would like to see you."
"And I'd like to see Major Burleigh!" stormed Folsom, springing to his feet. Commanding officers of the Stevens stamp had no terrors for him. He had known his man too long.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen!" cried Pecksniff, "I can have no disturbance now over this unfortunate matter. Really, Mr. Folsom, I cannot permit my office to be the scene of any—of any——"
But his words wandered aimlessly away into space as he discovered he had no listener. Folsom, finding that the major had apparently changed his mind and was not coming in, had changed his plan and was going out. He overtook Burleigh on the boardwalk in front and went straight to the point.
"Major Burleigh, you told me a short time ago that you had nothing to do with the allegations against this young gentleman who was placed in arrest here this afternoon, yet I learn from my own daughter that you spoke of him to a brother officer of his in terms of disparagement the day you got aboard the car at Sidney. Mr. Loomis corroborates it and so does Miss Dean. I've heard of two other instances of your speaking sneeringly of him. Now I ask you as man to man what it is you have to tell? He has saved the lives of my son, his wife and child, and the people of the ranch, and by the Eternal I'm his friend and mean to see justice done him!"
Burleigh listened with solemn face and with no attempt to interrupt. He waited patiently until Folsom came to a full stop before he spoke at all. Then his voice was eloquent of undeserved rebuke—of infinite sympathy. "Mr. Folsom," he said, "it would be useless for me to deny that before I knew your charming daughter or her—ah—very interesting friend I did speak in their presence—ah—incautiously, perhaps, of Mr. Dean, but it was in continuance of a conversation begun before we boarded the car, and what I said was more in sorrow than in criticism. The young gentleman had attracted my attention—my favorable—ah—opinion on the up trip to the Big Horn, and I was—ah—simply disappointed in his conduct on the way back. It was perhaps due to—ah—inexperience only, and my whole object in coming here in haste this afternoon was to bear testimony to his ability and zeal as a troop commander, and to urge—ah—Colonel Stevens to reconsider his action and restore him at once to duty. I had hoped, sir, to be here—ah—ahead of you and to have driven him in my buggy—ah—to meet you, but I am disappointed—I am disappointed in more ways than one."
Folsom stood and wiped his streaming face, and looked the speaker square in the eye, and Burleigh stood the scrutiny with unlooked-for nerve. Long years at the poker-table had given him command of his features, and the faculty of appearing the personification of serene confidence in his "hand," when the twitching of a nerve might cost a thousand dollars. Folsom was no match for him in such a game. Little by little the anger and suspicion faded from his eyes, and a shame-faced look crept into them. Had he really so misjudged, so wronged this gentleman? Certainly there was every appearance of genuine sympathy and feeling in Burleigh's benevolent features. Certainly he was here almost as soon as he himself had come, and very possibly for the same purpose. It was all that old fool Pecksniff's doing after all. Folsom had known him for years and always as more or less of an ass—a man of so little judgment that, though a major in the line at the outbreak of the war, he had never been trusted with a command in the field, and here he was now a full colonel with only three companies left him. Burleigh saw his bluff was telling, and he took courage.
"Come with me," he said, "and let me reassure you," and the doors of the commanding officer's sanctum opened at once to the omnipotent disburser of government good things, Folsom following at his heels. "Colonel Stevens," he began, the moment he was inside, and before the colonel could speak at all, "in a moment of exasperation and extreme nervous—ah—depression the night I—er—started East so hurriedly after a most exhausting journey from the Big Horn, I spoke disparagingly of the action of Lieutenant Dean in face of the Indians the day we met Red Cloud's band, but on mature reflection I am convinced I misjudged him. I have been thinking it all over. I recall how vigilant and dutiful he was at all times, and my object in hurrying out here to-day, at—ah—almost the instant I heard of his arrest, was to put in the best words I could think of in his behalf—to—ah—urge you to reconsider your action, especially in view of all the—e—ah—encomiums passed upon his conduct in this recent raid on the Laramie."
The colonel whirled around upon him as he had on Folsom. "Major Burleigh," he began, "I call you to witness that I am the most abused man in the army. Here am I, sir, thirty-five years in service, a full colonel, with a war record with the regulars that should command respect, absolutely ignored by these mushroom generals at Omaha and elsewhere—stripped of my command and kept in ignorance of the movements of my subordinates. Why, sir," he continued, lashing himself on, as he rose from his chair, "here's my junior at Frayne giving orders to my troop, sir; presumes to send them scouting the Laramie bottoms, when every man is needed here, and then, when, as it happens, my officer and his men get into a fight and drive the Indians, to whom does he report, sir? Not to me, sir—not to his legitimate commander, but he sends couriers to Laramie and to Frayne, and ignores me entirely."
A light dawned on Burleigh in an instant. Well he knew that Dean's reasons for sending couriers to those guard posts of the Platte were to warn them that a war party had crossed into their territory, and was now in flight. There was nothing to be gained by sending a man galloping back to the line of the railway seventy-five miles to the rear—no earthly reason for his doing so. But the fact that he had sent runners to officers junior in rank to Stevens, and had not sent one to him, fairly "stuck in the crop" of the captious old commander, and he had determined to give the youngster a lesson. But now the mail was in, and dispatches from various quarters, and a telegram from Omaha directing him to convey to Lieutenant Dean the thanks and congratulations of the general commanding the department, who had just received full particulars by wire from Cheyenne, and Stevens was glad enough to drop the game, and Burleigh equally glad of this chance to impress Folsom with the sense of his influence, as well as of his justice.
"I admit all you say, colonel. I have long—ah—considered you most unfairly treated, but really—ah—in this case of Lieutenant Dean's, it is, as I said before, inexperience and—ah—the result of-ah—er—not unnatural loss of—er—balance at a most exciting time. A word of—ah—admonition, if you will pardon my suggestion, all he probably needs, for he has really behaved very well—ah—surprisingly well in conducting this—ah—pursuit."
And so was it settled that later the colonel was to see Mr. Dean, and admonish accordingly, but that meantime the adjutant should go and whisper in his ear that his arrest was ended, and all would be explained later, thereby releasing him before the girls discovered the fact that he was confined to his tent.
But the adjutant came too late. The tearful eyes of one, the flushed and anxious faces of both damsels, and the set look in the eyes of both the young officers at Dean's tent, as the adjutant approached, told him the cat was out of the bag. "The explanation cannot be made too promptly for me, sir," said Dean, as he received the colonel's message and permitted the adjutant to depart without presenting him to the two prettiest girls he had seen in a year. "Now, Loomis, just as quick as possible I want you to go with me to that man Burleigh. I'll cram his words down his throat."
"Hush, Dean, of course, I'll stand by you! But—both girls are looking. Wait until to-morrow."
How many a project for the morrow is dwarfed or drowned by events unlooked for—unsuspected at the time! Not ten minutes later Folsom and Burleigh came strolling together to the little tent. Ashamed of his apparently unjust accusation, Folsom had begged the quartermaster's pardon and insisted on his coming with him and seeing the young people before driving back to town. The horses were being groomed at the picket line. The western sun was low. Long shadows were thrown out over the sward and the air was full of life and exhilaration. The somber fears that had oppressed the quartermaster an hour earlier were retiring before a hope that then he dare not entertain.
"You—you stood by me like a trump, Burleigh," old Folsom was saying, "even after I'd abused you like a thief. If I can ever do you a good turn don't you fail to let me know."
And Burleigh was thinking then and there how desperately in need of a good turn he stood that minute. What if Folsom would back him? What if——
But as they came in full view of the picket line beyond the row of tents, the major's eagerly searching gaze was rewarded by a sight that gave him sudden pause. Halted and examining with almost professional interest the good points of a handsome little bay, Lieutenant Loomis and Jessie Dean were in animated chat. Halted and facing each other, he with glowing admiration in his frank blue eyes, she with shy pleasure in her joyous face, Dean and Elinor Folsom stood absorbed in some reminiscence of which he was talking eagerly. Neither saw the coming pair. Neither heard the rapid beat of bounding hoofs nearing them in eager haste. Neither noted that a horseman reined in, threw himself from saddle and handed Burleigh a telegraphic message which, with trembling hands, he opened and then read with starting eyes.
"My heaven, Folsom!" he cried. "I ought to have known something was coming when I got orders to have every mule and wheel ready. Everything's to be rushed to the Big Horn at once. Just as you predicted, Red Cloud's band has broken loose. There's been a devil of a fight not eighty miles from Frayne!"
And now indeed came for Marshall Dean a time in which he could see a divided duty. A camp of woodchoppers in one of the deep, sequestered valleys of the mountains had been suddenly set upon by a host of mounted Indians that seemed, like the warriors born of the dragon's teeth, to spring up from the earth, and yelling like fiends bore down upon the little guard. Happily for the woodchoppers, but unluckily for Lo, the commander was a cool-headed veteran of the late war who had listened time and again to yells as frantic and had withstood charge after charge ten times as determined. Most unluckily for Lo the infantry company was armed with the new Springfield breech-loader, and when the band came exultantly on, having, as they supposed, drawn the fire when full four hundred yards away, they were confounded by the lively crackle and sputter of rifles along the timber in front of them, toppling many a dashing warrior to earth and strewing the ground with slaughtered ponies. That charge failed, but they rallied in furious force. There were only forty soldiers: they had five hundred braves, so on they came again from three different points, and again did Powell's sheltered blue coats scatter them like red autumn leaves before the storm. Thrice and four times did they essay to stampede the soldiers and sweep off their own dead and wounded, and each time were they soundly thrashed, thanks to cool courage and the new breech-loaders. And Red Cloud, cursing his medicine men, drew off his baffled braves and the hills that night resounded to their vengeful war-whoops and echoed back the wailing of the Indian women mourning over the slain. "All well enough so far, lads," cried Folsom, when he heard the news. "Machpealota is unmasked. It's war to the knife now, so for God's sake send all the troops you can muster to the aid of those already up there in the Big Horn. Next time he hits he'll have all the Northern Sioux at his back, you mark my words!"
But, who the devil is John Folsom? said the Bureau again. Arrest Red Cloud. Bring his band in prisoners, were the orders to the agents, and the agents called for troops to go and do their bidding. It's one thing, as I've had occasion to say before, to stand off with breech-loaders a thousand Indians armed only with old percussion cap muskets, squirrel rifles, bows, clubs and lances; it's another thing for soldiers armed even with the best the market affords, to march into an Indian position and arrest an Indian chief. There were not soldiers enough north of the Platte to do it, and the War Department knew it if the Bureau didn't. Hence the mustering in force along the river, and the mounting in hot haste of perhaps ten more troops and companies, nowhere near enough for the work in hand, but all the nation had within a month's march that could possibly be spared from other work and work more important.
And there was wrath at Emory, where the colonel found himself ordered to send all his transportation to Frayne forthwith, and all his remaining troops except one of foot. "Damnation! I've only got two companies of foot," he screamed, in the shrill treble of piping senility. "And they mean to rob me of my cavalry, too! 'C' troop is ordered to be held in readiness for special service."
The transportation, consisting of three wagons and two ambulances, with the somber company of infantry, started next day, however, and Dean, with eager expectancy kept his men in camp, cooked rations ready, ammunition pouches filled, arms and equipments overhauled and in perfect order, horses examined and reshod, ready for the word that might come any minute and carry him—he knew not whither. Folsom and the girls had to drive back to dinner without him. Despite the permission sent by the colonel, he would not leave his troop and go in town. So back they came in the soft moonlight and spent a long, lovely summer evening with him, while the band played melodiously in the fort inclosure, and the stars twinkled over the peaks of the Rockies in the southern skies. Folsom spent the hours wiring to Omaha and conferring with such officers as he could reach. They thought the lesson given Red Cloud would end the business. He knew it would only begin it. Burleigh, saying that he must give personal attention to the selection of the teams and wagons, spent the early evening in his corral, but sent word to Folsom that he hoped to see him in the morning on business of great importance. He had other hopes, too, one of them being that now the order to send that big sum in currency to the new stockade would be revoked. He had lost no time in suggesting to the chief quartermaster of the department the extreme hazard. He quoted Folsom as saying that before we could send one hundred men to Warrior Gap Red Cloud could call five thousand, and the chief quartermaster, being a man of method and a stranger to the frontier said, as said the Bureau "Who the devil is John Folsom? Do as you are told." But that answer only came the following day. Meantime there was respite and hope.
Long lived that beautiful evening in the memory of four young hearts. A sweet south wind had been gently playing all day and left the night warm and fragrant of the pines and cedars in the mountain parks. All Fort Emory seemed made up of women and children now, for such few soldiers as were left, barring the bandsmen, were packing or helping pack and store about the barracks. From soon after eight until nearly ten the musicians occupied their sheltered wooden kiosk on the parade, and filled the air with sweet strains of waltz or song or stirring martial melody.
For an hour, with Elinor Folsom on his arm, young Dean was strolling up and down the moonlit walk, marveling over the beauty of her dark, yet winsome face, and Loomis and Jessie, stanch friends already, sauntered after them. For a time the merry chat went on unbroken. They were talking of that never-to-be-forgotten visit to the Point—Pappoose's first—and of the hop to which the tall cadet captain took the timid schoolgirl, and of her hop card and the distinguished names it bore, as names ran in the old days of the battalion; of Ray, who danced so beautifully and rode so well—he was with the —th cavalry now somewhere along the U. P., said Dean—and of Billings the cadet adjutant; he was with a light battery in Louisiana. "Where this Captain Newhall is stationed," interrupted Pappoose, with quick, upward look. "I wonder if he knows him, Mr. Dean."
"He doesn't like him, I'll venture to say," said Dean, "if Newhall doesn't suit you and Jessie, and I'm sure I shan't." And then they went on to talk of the lovely dance music they had at the Point that summer, and how bewitchingly Elsen used to play that pretty galop—"Puckwudjies"—the very thing for a moonlit night. One could almost see the Indian fairies dancing about their tiny fires.
"It was that galop—my first at West Point—that I danced with Cadet Captain Dean," said Pappoose, looking blithely up into his steadfast eyes. "You've no idea what a proud girl I was!" They were at the upper end of the parade at the moment. The kiosk was only fifty yards away, its band lights sparkling under the canopy, the moonlight glinting on the smooth surface of the dancing floor that an indulgent post commander had had placed there. Half a dozen young garrison girls, arm in arm and by twos, were strolling about its waxen face awaiting the next piece; and some of them had been importuning the leader, for at the moment, soft and rippling, sweet and thrilling, quick and witching, the exquisite opening strains of "Puckwudjies" floated out upon the night.
"Oh, Jess! Listen!" cried Elinor in ecstasy and surprise, as she turned back with quickly beating heart.
"No, no, indeed!" replied her soldier escort, with a throb in his breast that echoed and overmastered that in her own. "No time to listen—come! It was your first galop at the Point—let it be our first in Wyoming." And in a moment more the tall, lithe, supple, slender forms were gliding about the dancing-floor in perfect time to the lovely music, but now her dark eyes could not meet the fire in the blue. Following their lead, Loomis and Jessie joined the dance. Other couples from along the row hastened to the scene. In five minutes a lively hop was on at Emory, and when at last, breathing a little hurriedly and with heightened color, Elinor Folsom glanced up into his joyous and beaming face—"You had forgotten that galop, Mr. Dean," she archly said, but down went the dark eyes again at his fervent reply.
"Yes, I admit it; but so long as I live I'll never forget this."
Small wonder was it that when Burleigh came driving out at tattoo for a brief conference with the colonel, his sallow face took on a darker shade as he suddenly caught sight of that couple standing at the moment apart from the dancers, seeing neither them nor him, hearing for the moment no music but that which trembled in the tones of his deep voice, for Elinor was strangely silent.
"Marshall Dean," whispered Jessie that night, as she hugged him before being lifted to her seat, "tell me true, wasn't Pappoose's picture in your heart pocket? Didn't that bullet crease it?"
"Promise on your honor not to tell, Jess," he whispered.
She nodded delightedly.
"Yes, and what's more, it's there now!"
Early on the morrow came further news. Troops from Steele and Bridger were on the move, but no word came for the cavalry at Emory, and Marshall Dean, hitherto most eager for field service, learned with joy he felt ashamed to own that he had still another day to spend in the society of Jessie and her friend. But how much of that elation Jessie could have claimed as due to her every sister whose brother is in love can better tell than I. At eight they came driving out to hear the band at guard-mounting, though to old Pecksniff's pathetic sorrow he could mount only twelve men all told. That ceremony over, they watched with kindling eyes the sharp drill of Marshall's troop; that soldierly young commander, one may feel well assured, showing his men, his horses, and himself off to the best of his ability, as who would not have done under such scrutiny as that. Loomis was with them, but Elinor drove, for her father had urgent business, he said, and must remain at his office. Major Burleigh, he added, was to meet him, whereat the girls were silent.
"If you could have beard the major pleading with that cantankerous old fool at the fort in Marshall's behalf you would get over your wrath at Burleigh just as I did," said Folsom, to both, apparently, and still neither answered. Burleigh was evidently persona non grata in the eyes of both. "He tells me Captain Newhall is still here, waiting for a train to be made up to run back to Cheyenne. I'm afraid I'll have to ask him to bring the captain to dinner to-day. Do you think Mr. Dean will care to come?" he asked.
"I think he would rather not leave camp," said Jessie slowly. "Orders may come any minute, he says."
"Yes, I suppose so," answered Folsom, vaguely relieved. Something told him there was antagonism between the young fellow and Burleigh that would be apt to involve Newhall, too. "I'll ask them both, if you don't very much mind," he went on, whispering to Elinor. "And will you tell Mrs. Fletcher? How is she this morning?"
"Just as usual, papa. She says she has rather violent headaches once in a while, and she thinks it prudent to keep her room to-day. But I can attend to everything." Indeed, thought the daughter, she wished she had it all to do.
And so Folsom had gone to meet Burleigh, and the girls had planned, at least Jessie had, that Marshall after drill should ride beside them into town and have a chat in the parlor while she wrote to mother in the library. But a thing happened that no one could have foreseen. Just before drill was over and while they were still watching it from their seats in the covered wagon, a buggy drove up alongside and Major Burleigh jumped out, gave the reins to his companion and bade him come to him as soon as he had finished what he wished to do at the sutler's. The major's face was perturbed, that of his companion looked black and ugly. It was Captain Newhall, and something was amiss. The latter barely tipped his hat in driving away, the former heaved a sigh of relief, then turned to greet the girls.
Ten minutes passed in constraint and awkwardness. Burleigh felt that he was unwelcome, but his eyes were fixed in fascination on Elinor Folsom, and he could not go. Presently drill was dismissed, and Dean, all aglow, came galloping up, his orderly trumpeter following. Not until he had joyously greeted both the girls did he see who was standing by the forward wheel on the opposite side.
"Good-morning, Mr. Dean," said Burleigh affably. "I never saw that troop look so well."
"Good-morning, sir," said Dean coldly. Then turned to speak again to Miss Folsom when the buggy came whirring back.
"He isn't here, Burleigh," said the occupant petulantly. "He's in town, and you've got to find him right off. Come on!"
Burleigh turned livid. "Captain Newhall," he said, "you fail to notice I am with friends."
"They are friends who will be glad to get rid of you, then," replied the stranger thickly, and it was easy to see that he had been drinking. All the same Burleigh went.
Another day Dean and Troop "C" were held in camp awaiting orders for special service, and no orders came. "Old Pecksniff" had an eye for pretty girls, a trait by no means rare in soldiers old or young, and prettier girls than Pappoose and Jessie he had never met. Mrs. Stevens was accordingly bidden to invite them to luncheon that very day, and Dean and Loomis were of the party, as were other young people of the post, and, despite the rising war clouds in the north and the recent unpleasantness at Emory and an odd manner indicative of suppressed excitement on part of both Dean and Loomis, a very joyous time they had until the damsels Had to drive home to dress for dinner. Folsom had named six as the hour. Burleigh, Newhall and the two boys were mentioned as his guests. Burleigh accepted for self and partner, Loomis for himself, with mental reservation. Dean at once had begged to be excused. After the morning's disappearance of Burleigh and "Surly," as Miss Folsom promptly named the pair, Marshall had ridden into Gate City at the side of the Folsom carriage, and was welcomed by the old trader himself, who looked pained when told he could not attend the dinner. "Surely Colonel Stevens will let you off," said Folsom, but that obviously was not the reason.
"I'm the only officer with my troop," said Dean, "and so cannot ask."
But when Folsom took his daughter in his arms a little later and inquired whether there were not some graver cause behind the one assigned, Elinor calmly answered that she thought there was, and that the cause was Major Burleigh.
"But, daughter dear," said he, "that's just one reason I wish to bring them together. Then Dean could see how pleasantly disposed the major is," and he was amazed when she replied:
"Major Burleigh may be pleasantly disposed, but Mr. Dean is not, by any means, nor would I be were I in his place, papa."
"My child," said he, "what do you know about it?"
"Everything that Jessie knows, besides what we heard on the train. Mar—Mr. Dean told her of several things Major Burleigh had said and done to his discredit, and no wonder he declines to dine with a man who has deliberately maligned him."
"I wish I had thought of that," said Folsom, his knotty hands deep in the pockets of his loose-fitting trousers. "I saw Burleigh this morning on some business, and he seemed to want to help Dean along. What took him out to the fort, do you suppose?"