Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Privacy
 
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


A Night Encounter








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

Comforted by abundant food, refreshed and stimulated by more than two or
three enthusiastic toasts to the health of the major the men so loved,
Trooper Kennedy, like a born dragoon and son of the ould sod, bethought
him of the gallant bay that had borne him bravely and with hardly a halt
all the long way from Beecher to Frayne. The field telegraph had indeed
been stretched, but it afforded more fun for the Sioux than aid to the
outlying posts on the Powder and Little Horn, for it was down ten days
out of twelve. Plodder, lieutenant colonel of infantry commanding at
Beecher, had been badly worried by the ugly demonstrations of the
Indians for ten days past. He was forever seeing in mind's eye the
hideous details of the massacre at Fort Phil Kearny, a few miles further
on around the shoulder of the mountains, planned and carried out by Red
Cloud with such dreadful success in '67. Plodder had strong men at his
back, whom even hordes of painted Sioux could never stampede, but they
were few in number, and there were those ever present helpless,
dependent women and children. His call for aid was natural enough, and
his choice of Kennedy, daring, dashing lad who had learned to ride in
Galway, was the best that could be made. No peril could daunt the
light-hearted fellow, already proud wearer of the medal of honor; but,
duty done, it was Kennedy's creed that the soldier merited reward and
relaxation. If he went to bed at "F" Troop's barracks there would be no
more cakes and ale, no more of the major's good grub and rye. If he went
down to look after the gallant steed he loved--saw to it that Kilmaine
was rubbed down, bedded, given abundant hay and later water--sure then,
with clear conscience, he could accept the major's "bid," and call again
on his bedward way and toast the major to his Irish heart's and
stomach's content. Full of pluck and fight and enthusiasm, and only
quarter full, he would insist, of rye, was Kennedy as he strode
whistling down the well-remembered road to the flats, for he, with
Captain Truscott's famous troop, had served some months at Frayne before
launching forth to Indian story land in the shadows of the Big Horn
range. Kennedy, in fact, essayed to sing when once out of earshot of the
guard-house, and singing, he strolled on past the fork of the winding
road where he should have turned to his right, and in the fulness of his
heart went striding southward down the slope, past the once familiar
haunt the store, now dark and deserted, past the big house of the post
trader, past the trader's roomy stables and corral, and so wended his
moonlit way along the Rawlins trail, never noting until he had chanted
over half a mile and most of the songs he knew, that Frayne was well
behind him and the rise to the Medicine Bow in front. Then Kennedy
began to laugh and call himself names, and then, as he turned about to
retrace his steps by a short cut over the bottom, he was presently
surprised, but in no wise disconcerted, to find himself face to face
with a painted Sioux. There by the path side, cropping the dewy grass,
was the trained pony. Here, lounging by the trail, the thick black
braids of his hair interlaced with beads, the quill gorget heaving at
his massive throat; the heavy blanket slung negligently, gracefully
about his stalwart form; his nether limbs and feet in embroidered
buckskin, his long-lashed quirt in hand; here stood, almost confronting
him, as fine a specimen of the warrior of the Plains as it had ever been
Trooper Kennedy's lot to see, and see them he had--many a time and oft.

In that incomparable tale, "My Lord the Elephant," the great Mulvaney
comes opportunely upon a bottle of whiskey and a goblet of water. "The
first and second dhrink I didn't taste," said he, "bein' dhry, but the
fourth and fifth took hould, an' I began to think scornful of
elephants." At no time stood Kennedy in awe of a Sioux. At this time he
held him only in contempt.

"How, John," said he, with an Irishman's easy insolence, "Lookin' for a
chance to steal somethin'--is it?" And then Kennedy was both amazed and
enraptured at the prompt reply in the fervent English of the far
frontier.

"Go to hell, you pock-marked son-of-a-scut! Where'd you steal your
whiskey?"

For five seconds Kennedy thought he was dreaming. Then, convinced that
he was awake, an Irishman scorned and insulted, he dashed in to the
attack. Both fists shot out from the brawny shoulders; both missed the
agile dodger; then off went the blanket, and with two lean, red, sinewy
arms the Sioux had "locked his foeman round," and the two were straining
and swaying in a magnificent grapple. At arms' length Pat could easily
have had the best of it, for the Indian never boxes; but, in a bear hug
and a wrestle, all chances favored the Sioux. Cursing and straining,
honors even on both for a while, Connaught and wild Wyoming strove for
the mastery. Whiskey is a wonderful starter but a mighty poor stayer of
a fight. Kennedy loosed his grip from time to time to batter wildly with
his clinched fists at such sections of Sioux anatomy as he could reach;
but, at range so close, his blows lacked both swing and steam, and fell
harmless on sinewy back and lean, muscular flanks. Then he tried a
Galway hitch and trip, but his lithe antagonist knew a trick worth ten
of that. Kennedy tried many a time next day to satisfactorily account
for it, but never with success. He found himself speedily on the broad
of his back, gasping for breath with which to keep up his vocal
defiance, staring up into the glaring, vengeful black eyes of his
furious and triumphant foeman. And then in one sudden, awful moment he
realized that the Indian was reaching for his knife. Another instant it
gleamed aloft in the moonlight, and the poor lad shut his eyes against
the swift and deadly blow. Curses changed to one wordless prayer to
heaven for pity and help. He never saw the glittering blade go spinning
through the air. Vaguely, faintly he heard a stern young voice ordering
"Hold there!" then another, a silvery voice, crying something in a
strange tongue, and was conscious that an unseen power had loosed the
fearful grip on his throat; next, that, obedient to that same
power,--one he dare not question,--the Indian was struggling slowly to
his feet, and then for a few seconds Kennedy soared away into cloudland,
knowing naught of what was going on about him. When he came to again, he
heard a confused murmur of talk about him, and grew dimly aware that his
late antagonist was standing over him, panting still and slightly
swaying, and that an officer, a young athlete, was saying rebukeful
words. Well he knew him, as what trooper of the ----th did
not?--Lieutenant Beverly Field; but, seeing the reopened eyes it was the
Indian again who sought to speak. With uplifted hand he turned from the
rescuer to the rescued.

"You're saved this time, you cur of a Mick," were, expurgated of
unprintable blasphemy, the exact words of the semi-savage lord of the
frontier, "but by the God that made us both I'll get you before another
moon, dash dash you, and when I do I'll cut out your blackguard heart
and eat it." Then bounding on his pony, away he sped at mad gallop,
westward.

For a moment no further word was spoken. The officer presently helped
the soldier to his feet and stayed him, for the latter's legs seemed
wobbly. Field let his salvage get its breath before asking questions.
Yet he was puzzled, for the man's face was strange to him. "Who are
you?" he asked, at length, "and what on earth are you doing out here
this time of night?"

"Kennedy, sir. Captain Truscott's troop, at Fort Beecher. I got in with
despatches an hour ago--"

"What!" cried Field. "Despatches! What did you do--"

"Gave 'em to the major, sir. Beg pardon; they was lookin' for the
adjutant, sir, an' Sergeant Hogan said he wasn't home."

Even in the moonlight the Irishman saw the color fade from the young
officer's face. The hand that stayed him dropped nerveless. With utter
consternation in his big blue eyes, Field stood for a moment, stunned
and silent. Then the need of instant action spurred him. "I must go--at
once," he said. "You are all right now--You can get back? You've been
drinking, haven't you?"

"The major's health, sir--just a sup or two."

"I've no time now to listen to how you came to be out here. I'll see you
by and by." But still the young officer hesitated. One hand grasped the
rein of his horse. He half turned to mount, then turned again.
"Kennedy," he faltered, "you'd have been a dead man if we--if I--hadn't
reached you at that moment."

"I know it, sir," burst in Pat, impetuously. "I'll never forget it--"

"Hush, Kennedy, you must forget--forget that you saw--spoke with
me--forget that you saw or heard--any other soul on earth out here
to-night. Can you promise?"

"I'll cut my tongue out before I ever spake the word that'll harm the
lieutenant, or the--the--or any one he says, sir. But never will I
forget! It ain't in me, sir."

"Let it go at that then. Here, shake hands, Kennedy. Now, good-night!"
Another instant and Field was in saddle and speeding away toward the
post where lights were now dancing about the quartermaster's corral, and
firefly lamps were flitting down the slope toward the stables on the
flats. Ray's men were already up and doing. Slowly, stiffly following,
Pat Kennedy rubbed his aching head, with a hand that shook as never did
his resolution. His bewildered brain was puzzling over a weighty
problem. "The lieutenant's safe all right," he muttered, "but what's
gone wid the squaw that was shoutin' Sioux at that murdherin' buck?"

Meantime all Fort Frayne had seemed to wake to life. No call had sounded
on the trumpet. No voice had been raised, save the invariable call of
the sentries, passing from post to post the half hours of the night; but
the stir at the guard-house, the bustle over at the barracks, the swift
footsteps of sergeants or orderlies on the plank walk or resounding
wooden galleries, speedily roused first one sleeper, then another, and
blinds began to fly open along the second floor fronts, and white-robed
forms to appear at the windows, and inquiring voices, male and female,
hailed the passerby with "What's the matter, sergeant?" and the answer
was all sufficient to rouse the entire garrison.

"Captain Ray's troop ordered out, sir," or "ma'am," as the case might
be. No need to add the well-worn cause of such night excursions--"Indians."

The office was brightly lighted, and there, sleepy-eyed and silent, were
gathered many of the officers about their alert commander. Ray was down
at his stables, passing judgment on the mounts. Only fifty were to go,
the best half hundred in the sorrel troop, for it was to be a forced
march. Neither horse nor man could be taken unless in prime condition,
for a break down on part of either on the way meant delay to the entire
command, or death by torture to the hapless trooper left behind. Small
hope was there of a march made unobserved, for Stabber's band of
Ogalallas had been for weeks encamped within plain view. Less hope was
there of Stabber's holding aloof now that his brethren at the Big Horn
had declared for war. He was a recalcitrant of the first magnitude, a
sub-chief who had never missed the warpath when the Sioux were afield,
or the consolation trip to Washington between times. Where Stabber went
his young men followed unquestioning. It was a marvel that Kennedy had
succeeded in getting through. It meant that the Indian runners, or the
Indian smokes and signals, had not at once so covered the country with
scouts that couriers could by no possibility slip between them. But now
the signal fire was gleaming at Eagle Butte, and an answering blaze had
flared from Stabber's camp. Invisible from Fort Frayne, they had both
been seen by shrewd non-commissioned officers, sent scouting up the
Platte by Major Webb within half an hour of the coming of the alarm.

"Ray will push ahead at once," said Webb, to his silent subordinates.
"You see Colonel Plodder has only two troops up there, and he will need
all his infantry to defend the post. I've wired to Laramie and to
Department Headquarters, and further orders will come before noon. Let
all the cavalry be ready. Then if we push out, Dade, we leave Fort
Frayne to you. They'll hardly venture south of the Platte this time."

"Is--Mr. Field going with Captain Ray?" presently ventured young Ross,
who knew Ray had but one subaltern for duty at the moment, and whose
soul was burning with eagerness to accompany the first troop to take the
field.

"No," said the major, shortly. "Captain Ray needs no more."

"I only asked because Field isn't here, and I thought--maybe--" stumbled
Ross, ingloriously, but the mischief was done.

"Mr. Field is--busy," answered the major, still more shortly, then
reddened to his bushy brows, for at the doorway, in riding dress, and
with a face the color of parchment, stood the officer in question. It
was a moment that threatened panic, but Webb met the crisis with marked
aplomb.

"Oh, Field," he cried, "there's another matter. I want two good men to
slip out at once and see how many of Stabber's people start or have
started. It may be daybreak before they can tell. Sergeant Schreiber
would be a tiptop man for one--and little Duffy. You 'tend to it."

And so, mercifully, he sent the lad away until the crowd should have
dispersed. Only Blake and Ray were with him when, after awhile, Mr.
Field returned and stood silently before them. Well he knew that the
post commander could hardly overlook the absence of his adjutant at such
a time.

"Have you anything to tell me, Field?" was the major's only query, his
tone full of gentle yet grave reproach.

"I was restless. I could not sleep, sir. I went out--purposely."

"You know no horse can be taken from the stables at night except in
presence of the sergeant or corporal of the guard."

"I took none, sir," was the answer, and now both faces were white. "I
rode one of--Mr. Hay's."

For one moment there was no sound but the loud ticking of the big office
clock. Then came the question.

"Who rode the others, Field? The sentries say they heard three."

There was another moment of silence. Ray stepped on tiptoe to the door
as though he wanted not to hear. Blake looked blankly out of the window.
Then the young soldier spoke.

"I--cannot tell you, sir."

For full ten seconds the post commander sat with grave, pallid face,
looking straight into the eyes of his young staff officer. White as his
senior, but with eyes as unflinching, Field returned the gaze. At last
the major's voice was heard again, sad and constrained.

"Field, Captain Ray starts on a forced march at once for Fort Beecher.
I--wish you to go with him."





Next: The Sign Of The Bar Shoe

Previous: Absent From Duty



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 492