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A Call For Help

From: An Apache Princess

That night the wire across the mountains to Prescott was long alive
with news, and there was little rest for operator, adjutant, or
commanding officer at Sandy. Colonel Byrne, it seems, had lost
telegraphic touch with his chief, who, quitting Camp McDowell, had
personally taken the field somewhere over in the Tonto Basin beyond
the Matitzal Range, and Byrne had the cares of a continent on his
hands. Three of the five commands out in the field had had sharp
encounters with the foe. Official business itself was sufficiently
engrossing, but there were other matters assuming grave proportions.
Mrs. Plume had developed a feverish anxiety to hie on to the Pacific
and out of Arizona just at a time when, as her husband had to tell
her, it was impossible for him, and impolitic for her, to go. Matters
at Sandy, he explained, were in tangled shape. Mullins partially
restored, but still, as Plume assured her, utterly out of his head,
had declared that his assailants were women; and other witnesses,
Plume would not give names, had positively asserted that Elise had
been seen along the sentry post just about the time the stabbing
occurred. Everything now, said he, must depend on Captain Wren, who
was known to have seen and spoken to Elise, and who could probably
testify that she returned to their roof before the tragic affair of
the night. But Wren was now away up in the mountains beyond Snow Lake
and might be going far over through Sunset Pass to the Colorado
Chiquito. Meantime he, Plume, was responsible for Elise, in duty bound
to keep her there to face any accuser. In her nervous, semi-hysterical
state the wife could not well be told how much she, too, was involved.
It was not necessary. She knew--all Fort Whipple, as Prescott's
military post was called, knew all about the fire that had destroyed
the "beetle shop" and Blakely's belongings. Elise, in wild excitement,
had rushed to her mistress with that news and the further information
that Downs was gone and could not be found. This latter fact, indeed,
they learned before Plume ever heard of it--and made no mention of it
in his presence.

"I shall have to run down to Sandy again," said Byrne, to Plume. "Keep
up your heart and--watch that Frenchwoman. The jade!" And with the
following day he was bounding and bumping down the stony road that led
from the breezy, pine-crested heights about headquarters to the sandy
flats and desert rocks and ravines fifty miles to the east and
twenty-five hundred feet below. "Shall be with you after dark," he
wired Cutler, who was having a bad quarter of an hour on his own
account, and wishing all Sandy to the devil. It had transpired that
Strom's rival ranchman, a little farther down the valley, was short
just one horse and set of horse equipments. He had made no complaint.
He had accused nobody. He had never failed in the past to appear at
Sandy with charge of theft and demand for damages at the expense of
the soldiery whenever he missed an item, big or little--and sometimes
when he didn't miss a thing. But now he came not at all, and Cutler
jumped at the explanation: he had sold that steed, and Downs, the
deserter, was the purchaser. Downs must have had money to aid in his
escape. Downs must have received it from someone eager to get him out
of the way. It might well be Elise, for who else would trust him? and
Downs must be striking for the south, after wide detour. No use now
to chase him. The wire was the only thing with which to round him up,
so the stage stations on the Gila route, and the scattered army posts,
were all notified of the desertion, and Downs's description, with all
his imperfections, was flashed far and wide over the Territory. He
could no more hope to escape than fly on the wings of night. He would
be cut off or run down long before he could reach Mexico; that is, he
would be if only troopers got after him. The civil list of Arizona
in 1875 was of peculiar constitution. It stood ready at any time to
resolve itself into a modification of the old-day underground
railways, and help spirit off soldier criminals, first thoughtfully
relieving them of care and responsibility for any surplus funds in
their possession.

And with Downs gone one way, Wren's troop gone another, and Blakely
here clamoring to follow, Cutler was mentally torn out of shape. He
believed it his duty to hold Blakely at least until the colonel came,
and he lacked the "sand" to tell him so.

From Wren not another word had been received direct, but Bridger at
the agency had sent word that the Indians there were constantly in
receipt of news from the hostiles that filled them with excitement.
Wren, at last accounts, had gone into the mountains south of Sunset
Pass toward Chevlon's Fork, and his trail was doubtless watched to
head off couriers or cut down stragglers. Blakely's appeal to be
allowed to follow and join his troop had been declared foolish, and
the attempt foolhardy, by Captain Cutler. This and not the real reason
was given, coupled of course, with the doctor's dictum. But even
Graham had begun to think Blakely would be the better for anything
that would take him away from a station where life had been one swift
succession of ills and mishaps.

And even Graham did not dream how sorely Blakely had been hit. Nor
could he account for the access of nervous irritability that possessed
his patient all the livelong day, while waiting, as they all were, for
the coming of Colonel Byrne. Mrs. Sanders declared to Mrs. Graham her
private impression that he was on the verge of prostration, although,
making an effort, Blakely had appeared at breakfast after an early
morning walk, had been most courteous, gentle, and attentive to her
and to her wholesome, if not actually homely, Kate. How the mother's
heart yearned over that sweet-natured, sallow-faced child! But after
breakfast Blakely had wandered off again and was out on the mesa,
peering through a pair of borrowed glasses over the dreary eastward
landscape and up and down the deep valley. "How oddly are we
constituted!" said Mrs. Sanders. "If I only had his money, I'd never
be wearing my heart out in this desert land." She was not the only
army wife and mother that should have married a stockbroker--anything
rather than a soldier.

The whole post knew by noon that Byrne was coming, and waited with
feverish impatience. Byrne was the power that would put an end to the
doubts and distractions, decide who stabbed Pat Mullins, who set fire
to the "beetle shop," where Epsom Downs had gone, and could even
settle, possibly, the long-doubtful question, "Who struck Billy
Patterson?" Sandy believed in Byrne as it did in no one since the days
of General Crook. With two exceptions, all Sandy society was out on
the parade, the porticoes, or the northward bluff, as the sun went
down. These two were the Misses Wren. "Angela," said Miss Janet, "is
keeping her room to-day, and pretending to keep her temper"--this to
Kate Sanders, who had twice sought admission, despite a girlish awe
of, if not aversion to, this same Aunt Janet.

"But don't you think she'd like to see me just a little while, Miss
Wren?" the girl inquired, her hand caressing the sleek head of one of
the big hounds as she spoke. Hounds were other objects of Miss Wren's
disfavor. "Lazy, pilfering brutes," she called them, when after hours
of almost incredible labor and ingenious effort they had managed to
tear down, and to pieces, a haunch of venison she had slung to the
rafters of the back porch. "You can come in, Kate, provided you keep
out the dogs," was her ungracious answer, "and I'll go see. I think
she's sleeping now, and ought not to be disturbed."

"Then I won't disturb her," was Miss Sanders's prompt reply, as she
turned away and would have gone, but the elder restrained her. Janet
did not wish the girl to go at all. She knew Angela had asked for her,
and doubtless longed to see her; and now, having administered her
feline scratch and made Kate feel the weight of her disapproval, she
was quite ready to promote the very interview she had verbally
condemned. Perhaps Miss Sanders saw and knew this and preferred to
worry Miss Wren as much as possible. At all events, only with
reluctance did she obey the summons to wait a minute, and stood with a
pout on her lips as the spinster vanished in the gloom of the hallway.
Angela could not have been asleep, for her voice was audible in an
instant. "Come up, Kate," she feebly cried, just as Aunt Janet had
begun her little sermon, and the sermon had to stop, for Kate Sanders
came, and neither lass was in mood to listen to pious exhortation.
Moreover, they made it manifest to Aunt Janet that there would be no
interchange of confidences until she withdrew. "You are not to talk
yourselves into a pitch of excitement," said she. "Angela must sleep
to-night to make up for the hours she lost--thanks to the abominable
remarks of that hardened young man." With that, after a pull at the
curtain, a soothing thump or two at Angela's pillow, and the muttered
wish that the coming colonel were empowered to arrest recalcitrant
nieces as well as insubordinate subs, she left them to their own
devices. They were still in eager, almost breathless chat when the
crack of whip and sputter of hoofs and wheels through gravelly sands
told that the inspector's ambulance had come. Was it likely that
Angela could sleep until she heard the probable result of the
inspector's coming?

He was closeted first with Cutler. Then Dr. Graham was sent for, and
the three walked over to the hospital, just as the musicians were
forming for tattoo. They were at Mullins's bedside, with the steward
and attendants outside, when taps went wailing out upon the night.
There were five minutes of talk with that still bewildered patient.
Then Byrne desired to see Mr. Blakely at once and alone. Cutler
surrendered his office to the department inspector, and thither the
lieutenant was summoned. Mrs. Sanders, with Mrs. Truman, was keeping
little Mrs. Bridger company at the moment, and Blakely bowed
courteously to the three in passing by.

"Even in that rough dress," said Mrs. Sanders reflectively, as her
eyes followed the tall, straight figure over the moonlit parade, "he
is a most distinguished looking man."

"Yes," said Mrs. Bridger, still unappeased. "If he were a Sioux, I
suppose they'd call him 'Man-In-Love-With-His-Legs.'" Blakely heard
the bubble of laughter that followed him on his way, and wished that
he, too, felt in mood as merry. The acting sergeant major, a clerk,
and young Cassidy, the soldier telegraph operator, seated at the
westward end of the rough board porch of the adjutant's office, arose
and saluted as he entered. Byrne had sent every possible hearer out of
the building.

Five minutes the conference lasted, no sound coming from within.
Cutler and Graham, with Captain Westervelt, sat waiting on the porch
of the doctor's quarters, Mrs. Graham being busy with her progeny
aloft. Others of the officers and families were also on the piazzas,
or strolling slowly up and down the pathway, but all eyes wandered
from time to time toward the dim light at the office. All was dark at
the barracks. All was hushed and still about the post. The sentry call
for half-past ten was still some minutes' distant, when one of the
three seated figures at the end of the office porch was seen to rise.
Then the other two started to their feet. The first hastened to the
door and began to knock. So breathless was the night that over on the
verandas the imperative thumping could be distinctly heard, and
everyone ceased talk and listened. Then, in answer to some query from
within, the voice of young Cassidy was uplifted.

"I beg pardon, sir, but that's the agency calling me, and it's hurry."

They saw the door open from within; saw the soldier admitted and the
door closed after him; saw the two men waiting standing and expectant,
no longer content to resume their chat. For three minutes of suspense
there came no further sound. Then the door was again thrown open, and
both Byrne and Blakely came hurrying out. In the memory of the
earliest inhabitant never had Sandy seen the colonel walk so fast.
Together they came striding straight toward Cutler's, and the captain
arose and went to meet them, foreboding in his soul. Graham and
Westervelt, restrained by discipline, held back. The women and younger
officers, hushed by anxiety, gazed at the swift-coming pair in dread
and fascination. There was a moment of muttered conference with the
commanding officer, some hurried words, then Blakely was seen to
spring away, to be recalled by Cutler, to start a second time, only to
be again recalled. Then Cutler, shouting, "Mr. Doty, I need you!"
hurried away toward the office, and Blakely, fairly running, sped
straight for the barracks of Wren's troop. Only Byrne was left to
answer the storm of question that burst upon him all at once, women
thronging about him from all along the line.

"We have news from the agency," said he. "It is from Indian runners,
and may not be reliable--some rumor of a sharp fight near Sunset

"Are there particulars, colonel--anybody killed or wounded?" It was
Mrs. Sanders who spoke, her face very pale.

"We cannot know--as yet. It is all an Indian story. Mr. Blakely is
going at once to investigate," was the guarded answer. But Mrs.
Sanders knew, as well as a dozen others, that there were
particulars--that somebody had been killed or wounded, for Indian
stories to that effect had been found singularly reliable. It was
Wren's troop that had gone to Sunset Pass, and here was Wren's sister
with question in her eye, and at sight of her the colonel turned and
hurried back to headquarters, following the post commander.

Another moment and Blakely, in the broad light streaming suddenly from
the office room of Wren's troop, came speeding straight across the
parade again in the direction of Sanders's quarters, next to the last
at the southward end of the row. They sought, of course, to intercept
him, and saw that his face was pale, though his manner was as composed
as ever. To every question he had but one thing to say: "Colonel Byrne
and the captain know all that I do--and more. Ask them." But this he
said with obvious wish to be questioned no further,--said it gently,
but most firmly,--and then, with scant apology, passed on. Five
minutes more and Nixon was lugging out the lieutenant's field kit on
the Sanders's porch, and Blakely, reappearing, went straight up the
row to Wren's. It was now after 10.30, but he never hesitated. Miss
Janet, watching him from the midst of her friends, saw him stride,
unhesitatingly, straight to the door and knock. She followed
instantly, but, before she could reach the steps, Kate Sanders, with
wonder in her eyes, stood faltering before him.

"Will you say to Miss Angela that I have come as I promised? I am
going at once to--join the troop. Can I see her?" he asked.

"She isn't well, Mr. Blakely. She hasn't left her room to-day." And
Miss Sanders began herself to tremble, for up the steps came the
resolute lady of the house, whom seeing, Mr. Blakely honored with a
civil bow, but with not a word.

"I will hear your message, Mr. Blakely," said Miss Wren, pallid, too,
and filled with wordless anxiety, but determined none the less.

"Miss Sanders has heard it, madam," was the uncompromising answer.
"Will you see Miss Angela, please?" This again to Kate--and, without
another word, she went.

"Mr. Blakely," began the lady impressively, "almost the last thing my
brother said to me before leaving the post was that he wished no
meetings between you and Angela. Why do you pursue her? Do you wish to
compel me to take her away?"

For a moment he was silent. Then, "It is I who must go, Miss Wren,"
was the answer, and she, who expected resentment, looked at him in
surprise, so gentle, so sorrowing was his tone. "I had hoped to bear
her message, but shall intrude no more. If the news that came to-night
should be confirmed--and only in that event--say to her, if you
please, that I shall do my best to find her father."

Next: A Return To Command

Previous: Aunt Janet Braved

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