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A Find In The Sands








From: An Apache Princess

The late afternoon of an eventful day had come to camp Sandy--just
such another day, from a meteorological viewpoint, as that on which
this story opened nearly twenty-four hours earlier by the shadows on
the eastward cliffs. At Tuesday's sunset the garrison was yawning with
the ennui born of monotonous and uneventful existence. As
Wednesday's sunset drew nigh and the mountain shadows overspread the
valley, even to the opposite crests of the distant Mogollon, the
garrison was athrill with suppressed excitement, for half a dozen
things had happened since the flag went up at reveille.

In the first place Captain Wren's arrest had been confirmed and Plume
had wired department headquarters, in reply to somewhat urgent query,
that there were several counts in his indictment of the captain, any
one of which was sufficient to demand a trial by court-martial, but he
wished, did Plume, for personal and official reasons that the general
commanding should send his own inspector down to judge for himself.

The post sergeant major and the three clerks had heard with sufficient
distinctness every word that passed between the major and the accused
captain, and, there being at Sandy some three hundred inquisitive
souls, thirsting for truth and light, it could hardly be expected of
this quartette that it should preserve utter silence even though
silence had been enjoined by the adjutant. It was told all over the
post long before noon that Wren had been virtually accused of being
the sentry's assailant as well as Lieutenant Blakely's. It was
whispered that, in some insane fury against the junior officer, Wren
had again, toward 3.30, breaking his arrest, gone up the row with the
idea of once more entering Blakely's house and possibly again
attacking him. It was believed that the sentry had seen and
interposed, and that, enraged at being balked by an enlisted man, Wren
had drawn a knife and stabbed him. True, no knife had been found
anywhere about the spot, and Wren had never been known to carry one.
But now a dozen men, armed with rakes, were systematically going over
the ground under the vigilant eye of Sergeant Shannon--Shannon, who
had heard the brief, emphatic interview between the major and the
troop commander and who had been almost immediately sent forth to
supervise this search, despite the fact that he had but just returned
from the conduct of another, the result of which he imparted to the
ears of only two men, Plume, the post commander, and Doty, his amazed
and bewildered adjutant. But Shannon had with him a trio of troopers,
one of whom, at least, had not been proof against inquisitive probing,
for the second sensation of the day was the story that one of the two
pairs of moccasin tracks, among the yielding sands of the willow
copse, led from where Mr. Blakely had been dozing to where the pony
Punch had been drowsing in the shade, for there they were lost, as the
maker had evidently mounted and ridden away. All Sandy knew that Punch
had no other rider than pretty Angela Wren.

A third story, too, was whispered in half a dozen homes, and was going
wild about the garrison, to the effect that Captain Wren, when accused
of being Mullins's assailant, had virtually declared that he had seen
other persons prowling on the sentry's post and that they, not he,
were the guilty ones; but when bidden to name or describe them, Wren
had either failed or refused; some said one, some said the other, and
the prevalent belief in Sudsville circles, as well as in the barracks,
was that Captain Wren was going crazy over his troubles. And now there
were women, ay, and men, too, though they spake with bated breath, who
had uncanny things to say of Angela--the captain's only child.

And this it was that led to sensation No. 4--a wordy battle of the
first magnitude between the next-door neighbor of the saddler sergeant
and no less a champion of maiden probity than Norah Shaughnessy--the
saddler sergeant's buxom daughter. All the hours since early morning
Norah had been in a state of nerves so uncontrollable that Mrs.
Truman--who knew of Norah's fondness for Mullins and marveled not that
Mullins always preferred the loneliness and isolation of the post on
No. 5--decided toward noon to send the girl home to her mother for a
day or so, and Norah thankfully went, and threw herself upon her
mother's ample breast and sobbed aloud. It was an hour before she
could control herself, and her agitation was such that others came to
minister to her. Of course there was just one explanation--Norah was
in love with Mullins and well-nigh crazed with grief over his untimely
taking off, for later reports from the hospital were most depressing.
This, at least, was sufficient explanation until late in the
afternoon. Then, restored to partial composure, the girl was sitting
up and being fanned in the shade of her father's roof-tree, when
roused by the voice of the next-door neighbor before mentioned--Mrs.
Quinn, long time laundress of Captain Sanders's troop and jealous as
to Wren's, was telling what she had heard of Shannon's discoveries,
opining that both Captain Wren and the captain's daughter deserved
investigation. "No wan need tell me there was others prowling about
Mullins's post at three in the marnin.' As for Angela--" But here Miss
Shaughnessy bounded from the wooden settee, and, with amazing vim and
vigor, sailed spontaneously into Mrs. Quinn.

"No wan need tell you--ye say! No wan need tell you, ye
black-tongued scandlum! Well, then, I tell ye Captain Wren did see
others prowlin' on poor Pat Mullins's post an' others than him saw
them too. Go you to the meejer, soon as ye like and say I saw them,
and if Captain Wren won't tell their names there's them that will."

The shrill tones of the infuriated girl were plainly audible all over
the flats whereon were huddled the little cabins of log and adobe
assigned as quarters to the few married men among the soldiery. These
were the halcyon days of the old army when each battery, troop, or
company was entitled to four laundresses and each laundress to one
ration. Old and young, there were at least fifty pairs of ears within
easy range of the battle that raged forthwith, the noise of which
reached even to the shaded precincts of the trader's store three
hundred yards away. It was impossible that such a flat-footed
statement as Norah's should not be borne to the back doors of "The
Row" and, repeated then from lip to lip, should soon be told to
certain of the officers. Sanders heard it as he came in from stable
duty, and Dr. Graham felt confident that it had been repeated under
the major's roof when at 6 P. M. the post commander desired his
professional services in behalf of Mrs. Plume, who had become
unaccountably, if not seriously, ill.

Graham had but just returned from a grave conference with Wren, and
his face had little look of the family physician as he reluctantly
obeyed the summons. As another of the auld licht school of Scotch
Presbyterians, he also had conceived deep-rooted prejudice to that
frivolous French aide-de-camp of the major's wife. The girl did dance
and flirt and ogle to perfection, and half a dozen strapping sergeants
were now at sword's points all on account of this objectionable Eliza.
Graham, of course, had heard with his ears and fathomed with his
understanding the first reports of Wren's now famous reply to his
commanding officer; and though Wren would admit no more to him than
he had to the major, Graham felt confident that the major's wife was
one of the mysterious persons seen by Wren, and declared by Norah, in
the dim starlight of the early morning, lurking along the post of No.
5. Graham had no doubt that Elise was the other. The man most
concerned in the case, the major himself, was perhaps the only one at
sunset who never seemed to suspect that Mrs. Plume could have been in
any way connected with the affair. He met the doctor with a world of
genuine anxiety in his eyes.

"My wife," said he, "is of a highly sensitive organization, and she
has been completely upset by this succession of scandalous affairs.
She and Blakely were great friends at St. Louis three years ago;
indeed, many people were kind enough to couple their names before our
marriage. I wish you could--quiet her," and the sounds from aloft,
where madame was nervously pacing her room, gave point to the
suggestion. Graham climbed the narrow stairs and tapped at the north
door on the landing. It was opened by Elise, whose big, black eyes
were dilated with excitement, while Mrs. Plume, her blonde hair
tumbling down her back, her peignoir decidedly rumpled and her
general appearance disheveled, was standing in mid-floor, wringing her
jeweled hands. "She looks like sixty," was the doctor's inward remark,
"and is probably not twenty-six."

Her first question jarred upon his rugged senses.

"Dr. Graham, when will Mr. Blakely be able to see--or read?"

"Not for a day or two. The stitches must heal before the bandages can
come off his eyes. Even then, Mrs. Plume, he should not be disturbed,"
was the uncompromising answer.

"Is that wretch, Downs, sober yet?" she demanded, standing and
confronting him, her whole form quivering with strong, half-suppressed
emotion.

"The wretch is sobering," answered Graham gravely. "And now, madame,
I'll trouble you to take a chair. Do you," with a glance of grim
disfavor, "need this girl for the moment? If not, she might as well
retire."

"I need my maid, Dr. Graham, and I told Major Plume distinctly I did
not need you," was the impulsive reply, as the lady strove against the
calm, masterful grasp he laid on her wrist.

"That's as may be, Mrs. Plume. We're often blind to our best
interests. Be seated a moment, then I'll let you tramp the soles of
your feet off, if you so desire." And so he practically pulled her
into a chair; Elise, glaring the while, stood spitefully looking on.
The antipathy was mutual.

"You've slept too little of late, Mrs. Plume," continued the doctor,
lucklessly hitting the mark with a home shot instantly resented, for
the lady was on her feet again.

"Sleep! People do nothing but sleep in this woebegone hole!" she
cried. "I've had sleep enough to last a lifetime. What I want is to
wake--wake out of this horrible nightmare! Dr. Graham, you are a
friend of Captain Wren's. What under heaven possessed him, with his
brutal strength, to assault so sick a man as Mr. Blakely? What
possible pretext could he assert?" And again she was straining at her
imprisoned hand and seeking to free herself, Graham calmly studying
her the while, as he noted the feverish pulse. Not half an hour
earlier he had been standing beside the sick bed of a fair young girl,
one sorely weighted now with grave anxieties, yet who lay patient and
uncomplaining, rarely speaking a word. They had not told the half of
the web of accusation that now enmeshed her father's feet, but what
had been revealed to her was more than enough to banish every thought
of self or suffering and to fill her fond heart with instant and
loving care for him. No one, not even Janet, was present during the
interview between father and child that followed. Graham found him
later locked in his own room, reluctant to admit even him, and
lingering long before he opened the door; but even then the
tear-stains stood on his furrowed face, and the doctor knew he had
been sobbing his great heart out over the picture of his child--the
child he had so harshly judged and sentenced, all unheard. Graham had
gone to him, after seeing Angela, with censure on his tongue, but he
never spoke the words. He saw there was no longer need.

"Let the lassie lie still the day," said he, "with Kate, perhaps, to
read to her. Your sister might not choose a cheering book. Then
perhaps we'll have her riding Punch again to-morrow." But Graham did
not smile when meeting Janet by the parlor door.

He was thinking of the contrast in these two, his patients, as with
professional calm he studied the troubled features of the major's wife
when the voice of Sergeant Shannon was heard in the lower hall,
inquiring for the major, and in an instant Plume had joined him. In
that instant, too, Elise had sped, cat-like, to the door, and Mrs.
Plume had followed. Possibly for this reason the major led the
sergeant forth upon the piazza and the conversation took place in
tones inaudible to those within the house; but, in less than a minute,
the doctor's name was called and Graham went down.

"Look at this," said Plume. "They raked it out of the sand close to
where Mullins was lying." And the major held forth an object that
gleamed in the last rays of the slanting sunshine. It was Blakely's
beautiful watch.





Next: Woman-walk-in-the-night

Previous: The Captain's Defiance



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