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A Grave Discovery








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

Only an hour was the major away from his post. He came back in time for
guard mounting and the reports of the officers-of-the-day. He had reason
to be on the parade at the "assembly of the details," not so much to
watch the work of the post adjutant pro tempore, as the effect of the
sudden and unlooked for change on certain of the customary spectators.
He had swiftly ridden to the camp of the recreant Stabber and purposely
demanded speech with that influential chieftain. There had been the
usual attempt on part of the old men left in charge to hoodwink and to
temporize, but when sharply told that Stabber, with his warriors, had
been seen riding away toward Eagle Butte at three in the morning, the
sages calmly confessed judgment, but declared they had no other purpose
than a hunt for a drove of elk reported seen about the famous Indian
race course in the lower hills of the Big Horn. Circling the camp,
however, Webb had quickly counted the pony tracks across the still dewy
bunchgrass of the bench, and found Schreiber's estimate substantially
correct. Then, stopping at the lodge of Stabbers's uncle, old "Spotted
Horse," where that superannuated but still sagacious chief was squatted
on his blanket and ostentatiously puffing a long Indian pipe, Webb
demanded to know what young men remained in the village. Over a hundred
strong, old men, squaws and children, they thronged about him, silent,
big-eyed and attentive, Schreiber interpreting as best he could,
resorting to the well-known sign language when the crafty Sioux
professed ignorance of the meaning of his words:--

"No young men. All gone," was the positive declaration of the venerable
head of the bailiwick, when compelled at last to answer. But Schreiber
had studied the pony herd and knew better. Moreover, not more than six
of their ponies had been led along with the war party that set forth in
the early hours of the moonlit morning. Others, both men and mounts,
unavoidably left behind, would surely be sent forward at the first
possible opportunity, and, much as Webb might wish to turn back to
capture the party, well as he might know that other bands were in revolt
and Stabber gone to help them, he was powerless under his orders to
interfere until by some openly hostile act these laggards of the little
band invited his reprisal. The rule of the road, as prescribed by the
civil authorities, to which the soldier had sworn obedience, being
practically, "Don't defend until you are hit. Don't shoot until you are
shot."

Webb came cantering back assured that these frowsy, malodorous lodges
concealed, perhaps, half a score of fighting men who were a menace to
the neighborhood and who could be counted on to make it more than
interesting for any couriers that might have to be sent between the fort
and the forces at the front. Calling Schreiber to his side, as, with
long easy stride their trained mounts went loping swiftly homeward, he
gave instructions the veteran heard with kindling eyes. Then, parting
from him at the corrals, the commander rode on and dismounted at his
quarters just as the trumpeters were forming on the broad, grassy level
of the parade.

Even without a band young Field had managed to make his guard mount a
pretty and attractive ceremony. Frayne was a big post and needed a daily
guard of twenty-four men, with the usual quota of non-commissioned
officers. Cowboys, herders, miners, prospectors, rustlers (those pirates
of the plains) and occasional bands of Indians, Sioux or Arapahoe, were
forever hovering about its borders in search of supplies, solid or
fluid, and rarely averse to the conversion of public property to
personal use. Like many a good citizen of well-ordered municipalities
within the confines of civilization, they held that what belonged to the
government belonged to them, and the fact that some officer would have
to pay for whatsoever they stole, from a horse to a hammer, cut no
figure in their deliberations. Frayne had long been a favorite place for
fitting out depleted stock, animal, vegetable or mineral, and there had
been times when Webb found as many as forty men almost too small a
guard, and so gave it to be understood that sentries whose carbines were
unlawfully discharged at night, without the formality of preliminary
challenge or other intimation of business intentions, would be held
blameless, provided they had something to show for their shot. A
remarkable feature of the winter's depredation had been that Hay's
corral was never molested, although unguarded by the garrison and quite
as much exposed as the most remote of the government shops, shanties or
stables.

Field mounted his guard, except in cold or stormy weather, in full
uniform, and the daily "march past" in review brought many of the
garrison ladies, most of the children and all of the dogs to the scene.
Some of the households breakfasted just before,--some just after--guard
mounting, but, as a rule, no one sat at table when almost everybody else
was gathered along the westward edge of the broad parade. It was there
the plans for the social day were discussed and determined. Rides,
drives, hunts or picnics away from the post; dances, dinners, croquet or
tennis within the garrison limits. It was the hour when all the girls
were out, looking fair and fresh as daisies, and while the mothers
sedately gossiped along the row of broad verandas, their daughters
blithely chatted in little groups, or, as might often be, paced slowly
with downcast eyes and mantling cheeks at the side of some young gallant
who had no thought for other duty than that of the thrilling moment. And
here they were, well nigh a dozen of them, of all ages from twelve to
twenty, as the major sent his mount to the stables and made quick survey
of the scene, and a moment's glance was sufficient to show that among
them all there was stir and excitement beyond that which would be
caused by so common an incident as the sending forth of a troop on
scout.

It was the fact that Field had gone and that young Ross was acting in
his place that set them all to speculating on the cause. One of their
number, promenading with Lieutenant Hartley, glanced up at Major Webb as
they passed him by, with such a world of mingled question and reproach
in her soft blue eyes that his heart for the moment smote him. He had
never seen Esther Dade looking so languid or so wan, yet more of her
and for her had he been thinking during the week gone by than of any
other girl in or out of the army. To-day, however, there was another he
eagerly sought to see, and, with something akin to keen disappointment,
noted that she was not among the strollers along the board walk or the
chatting groups about the steps and gateways. Not once during her brief
visit had she as yet missed guard mounting. Now her absence was
significant. In the very eyes of the little party hastening toward
him--three young girls and a brace of subalterns--he read question and
cross-question, and was thankful to see Hay, the trader, trudging up the
walk to join him. So seldom did the old frontiersman enter the
quadrangle that people remarked upon his coming;--remarked still more
when Webb hurried down to meet him.

"You're right about the horses, major," said Hay, mopping a moist and
troubled face with a big bandana. "My racer and my best single footer,
Dan, were out last night. Dan's saddle cloth was wet and so was
Harney's. Some one outside has got false keys,--I'll put new padlocks on
at once,--but for the life of me I can't think who would play me such a
trick. To steal the horses,--run 'em off to Rawlins or up the
Sweetwater or off to the Hills--I could understand that! but to borrow
them for an hour or two,--why, it beats me hollow!" And Hay in deep
perplexity leaned against the low fence and almost imploringly gazed
into the major's face. They all leaned on Webb.

"Any idea who they were?" asked the commander.

"Not the skin of a shadow, 'cept that one man rode shorter stirrups'n I
do. They forgot to set 'em back. They had my California saddle on Dan
and that light Whitman of mine on Harney."

"Sure it was two men?" queried Webb, looking straight into the trader's
eyes.

"What else could it be?" demanded Hay, in no little excitement.

"Well, I thought possibly Miss Flower might have been moved to take a
moonlight ride. No reason why she shouldn't, you know, and not wishing
to disturb you----"

"Then she would have used her own side-saddle. What's she doing with a
man's? Besides, she'd have told me!"

"Oh! You've seen her then this morning? I thought perhaps she wasn't
up," hazarded Webb.

"Up? Why, hang it, she was up at daybreak--up hours ago, my wife says.
Haven't you seen her? She's over here somewhere?"

No, Webb had not seen her, and together the two started in search, first
to the flagstaff, and there at the point of bluff beyond the
Rays',--there she stood, gazing up the Platte toward the Indian village
through a pair of signal glasses that weighed heavily in her daintily
gloved hands. Captain Tracy, a bachelor assistant surgeon, stood
faithfully by her side, listening to her lively chatter, with ears that
absorbed and eyes that worshipped.

"Come away," said Webb. "I have an order on you for Field's currency in
your safe. When are you going to try to get your cash to bank?" And Webb
keenly eyed his man as he asked the question.

"To-morrow or next day sure,--even if I have to go part way with the
stage myself. When do you want this money?" said Hay, tapping the
envelope Webb had given him.

"Well, now, if agreeable to you. I prefer to keep such funds at the
quartermaster's. Oh--Good morning, Mrs. Ray!" he cheerily called,
lifting his cap, at sight of a young matron at an upper window. "Can you
see them still?" he added, for the elder of the two boys was peering
through a long telescope, perched on its brass tripod upon a little
shelf projecting from the sill. Many a time had the "Rays' spyglass"
been the last to discern some departing troop as it crossed the low
divide ten miles away to the north. Many a time had the first
announcement of "courier coming" reached headquarters through Master
Sandy, the first born of their olive branches. There were unshed tears
in the gentle voice that answered. There was wordless anxiety in the
sweet, pallid face that smiled so bravely through its sorrow. "The troop
passed out of sight quarter of an hour ago, major," said Mrs. Ray. "But
Sandy could see the flankers on their left until within the last five
minutes."

"Way out on their left, major!" interposed that young gentleman, big
with importance. "If old Stabber tries any of his tricks with that
troop he'll--he'll get his belly full!" and Master Sandy plainly
intimated both in tone and manner, not to mention the vernacular of the
soldier, that Stabber might take liberties with any other troop or
company at the post, but would best beware of Daddy's. And yet, not
three months agone he had stoutly taken up the cudgels for the Frayne
garrison, as a whole, against the field, the wordy battle with the son
and heir of the colonel commanding at Laramie culminating in a combat
only terminated by the joint efforts of the stable sergeant and sentry,
for both youngsters were game as their sires. What Sandy Ray was now
praying to see was an attack by Stabber's band upon the isolated troop,
but Stabber, it may be said, knew a trick worth ten of that. There was
no sense in pitching into the sorrel troop on even terms when by waiting
another day, perhaps, and the answer of Lame Wolf to the appeal of his
speedy messenger, he might outnumber and overwhelm them with five to
one.

"We should be hearing from Omaha and Laramie by ten o'clock, Mrs. Ray,"
said the major, reassuringly, "and I will send you word at once. And, of
course, Corporal Ray," he continued, and now with martial formality
addressing the lad at the telescope, "I can rely upon you to report at
once in case you see anything suspicious toward the Big Horn."

"Yes, sir," answered the boy, straightening up to attention. Then,
scrupulously exchanging salutes, the old soldier and the young parted
company, and the major returned to receive the reports of the old and
new officers of the day. These gentlemen were still with him, Captain
Chew, of the Infantry, and the senior first lieutenant for duty with the
----th, when Hay came hurrying up the board walk from the direction of
the store. For reasons of his own, Webb had sent his orderly to the
guard-house to say to the officers in question that he would await them
at his quarters instead of the little building known as the adjutant's
office, in which were the offices of the commander, the record room in
which were placed the desks of the sergeant-major and his three clerks,
and the sleeping rooms of the special duty soldiers. It had happened
more than once in the past that garrison stories of matters not supposed
to be known outside the office had been traced back to that desk room,
and now Webb's questions of his old officer of the day, and his
instructions to the new were not things he cared to have bruited about
the post. He was listening intently to the captain's report of the
sentries' observations during the night gone by when Hay reached the
gate and stopped, not wishing to intrude at such a moment.

"Come in, Mr. Hay," said the commander, cordially. "This all will
interest you," and, thus bidden, the trader joined the soldiers three on
the veranda, and some of the young people of the garrison, setting up
their croquet arches on the parade, looked curiously toward the group,
and wondered what should keep the old officer-of-the-day so long.
Sauntering down the walk, smiling radiantly upon the occupants of the
various verandas that she passed, then beaming between times into the
face of her smitten escort, her black eyes and white teeth flashing in
the rare sunshine, Nanette Flower was gradually nearing the major's
quarters. She was barely twenty yards away when, in obedience to some
word of the major, Mr. Hay held forth two white packages that, even at
the distance, could be recognized, so far as the outer covering was
concerned, as official envelopes. She was too far away, perhaps, to hear
what was said.

"It seems," began Webb, to his officers, as he mechanically opened the
first packet, "that Field took fire at Wilkins's growls about the bother
of keeping his funds, so the youngster stowed his money with Hay. He
insisted on turning over everything before he left, so I receipted to
him. Let's see," he continued, glancing at the memorandum in his hand.
"Three hundred and seventy-two dollars and eighty-five cents post fund,
and four hundred belonging to various enlisted men. I may as well count
it in your presence."

By this time the long, lean fingers had ripped open the package marked
four hundred, and were extracting the contents,--a sheet of official
paper with figures and memoranda, and then a flat package, apparently,
of currency. Topmost was a five dollar treasury note; bottom-most
another of the same denomination. Between them, deftly cut, trimmed and
sized, were blank slips of paper to the number of perhaps thirty and the
value of not one cent. With paling faces the officers watched the
trembling fingers slash open the second, its flap, as was that of the
first envelope, securely gummed,--not sealed. A nickel or two and a few
dimes slid out before the packet came. It was of like consistency with
the first--and of about the same value. Webb lifted up his eyes and
looked straight into the amazed,--almost livid, face of the trader.

"My God! Major Webb," cried Hay, aghast and bewildered. "Don't look at
me like that! No man on earth has ever accused me of a crime. This means
that not only my stable but my safe has been robbed,--and there is a
traitor within my gates."

Dr. Tracy, absorbed in contemplation of Miss Flower's radiant face, and
in the effort to make his own words eloquent, had no ears for those of
others. He never heeded the trader's excited outburst. He only saw her
suddenly flinch, suddenly pale, then sway. His ready arm was round her
in a twinkling. In a twinkling she twisted free from the undesired
clasp.

"Just--my foot turned!--a pebble!" she gasped.

But when, all assiduity, Tracy would have seated her on the horseblock
and examined the delicate ankle, she refused straightway, and with
almost savage emphasis, and with rigid lips from which all loveliness
had fled, bade him lead on home, where, despite protest and appeal,
personal and professional, she dismissed him curtly.





Next: First Sight Of The Foe

Previous: The Sign Of The Bar Shoe



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