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A Return To Command








From: An Apache Princess

With but a single orderly at his back, Mr. Blakely had left Camp Sandy
late at night; had reached the agency, twenty miles up stream, two
hours before the dawn and found young Bridger waiting for him. They
had not even a reliable interpreter now. Arahawa, "Washington
Charley," had been sent to the general at Camp McDowell. Lola's
father, with others of her kin, had taken Apache leave and gone in
search of the missing girl. But between the sign language and the
patois of the mountains, a strange mixture of Spanish, English, and
Tonto Apache, the officers had managed, with the aid of their men, to
gather explanation of the fierce excitement prevailing all that
previous day among the Indians at the agency. There had been another
fight, a chase, a scattering of both pursuers and pursued. Most of the
troops were at last accounts camping in the rocks near Sunset Pass.
Two had been killed, several were wounded, three were missing, lost to
everybody. Even the Apaches swore they knew not where they were--a
sergeant, a trumpeter, and "Gran Capitan" himself--Captain Wren.

In the paling starlight of the coming day Blakely and Bridger plied
the reluctant Indians with questions in every form possible with
their limited knowledge of the sign language. Blakely, having spent so
many years on staff duty, had too little knowledge of practical
service in the field. Bridger was but a beginner at best. Together
they had decided on their course. A wire was sent to Sandy saying that
from all they could gather the rumors were probably true, but urging
that couriers be sent for Dick, the Cherry Creek settler, and Wales
Arnold, another pioneer who had lived long in Apache land and owned a
ranch on the little Beaver. They could get more out of the Indians
than could these soldiers. It would be hours after dawn before either
Dick or his fellow frontiersman could arrive. Meanwhile Sandy must
bear the suspense as well as it might. The next wire came from Bridger
at nine o'clock:

Arnold arrived hour ago. Examined six. Says stories probably
true. Confident Wren not killed.

For answer Byrne wired that a detachment of a dozen men with three
packers had marched at five o'clock to report to Blakely for such duty
as he might require, and the answer came within the minute:

Blakely gone. Started for Snow Lake 4.30. Left orders
detachment follow. Took orderly and two Apache Yuma scouts.

Byrne, Cutler, and Graham read with grave and anxious faces, but said
very little. It was Blakely's way.

And that was the last heard of the Bugologist for as much as a week.

Meantime there was a painful situation at Fort Whipple, away up in
"the hills." Major Plume, eager on his wife's account to get her to
the seashore--"Monterey or Santa Barbara," said the sapient medical
director--and ceaselessly importuned by her and viciously nagged by
Elise, found himself bound to the spot. So long as Mullins stuck to
his story Plume knew it would never do for him to leave. "A day or two
more and he may abate or amend his statement," wrote Graham. Indeed,
if Norah Shaughnessy were not there to prompt--to prop--his memory,
Graham thought it like enough that even now the soldier would have
wavered. But never a jot or tittle had Mullins been shaken from the
original statement.

"There was two women," he said, "wid their shawls over their heads,"
and those two, refusing to halt at his demand, had been overtaken and
one of them seized, to his bitter cost, for the other had driven a
keen-bladed knife through his ribs, even as he sought to examine his
captive. "They wouldn't spake," said he, "so what could I do but pull
the shawl from the face of her to see could she be recognized?" Then
came the fierce, cat-like spring of the taller of the two. Then the
well-nigh fatal thrust. What afterwards became of the women he could
say no more than the dead. Norah might rave about its being the
Frenchwoman that did it to protect the major's lady--this he spoke in
whispered confidence and only in reply to direct question--but it
wouldn't be for the likes of him to preshume. Mullins, it seems, was a
soldier of the old school.

Then came fresh and dire anxiety at Sandy. Four days after Blakely's
start there appeared two swarthy runners from the way of Beaver Creek.
They bore a missive scrawled on the paper lining of a cracker box, and
it read about as follows:

CAMP IN SUNSET PASS, November 3d.

COMMANDING OFFICER, CAMP SANDY:


Scouting parties returning find no trace of Captain Wren and
Sergeant Carmody, but we shall persevere. Indians lurking
all about us make it difficult. Shall be needing rations in
four days. All wounded except Flynn doing fairly well. Hope
couriers sent you on 30th and 31st reached you safely.

The dispatch was in the handwriting of Benson, a trooper of good
education, often detailed for clerical work. It was signed "Brewster,
Sergeant."

Who then were the couriers, and what had become of them? What fate had
attended Blakely in his lonely and perilous ride? What man or pair of
men could pierce that cordon of Indians lurking all around them and
reach the beleaguered command? What need to speculate on the fate of
the earlier couriers anyway? Only Indians could hope to outwit Indians
in such a case. It was madness to expect white men to get through. It
was madness for Blakely to attempt it. Yet Blakely was gone beyond
recall, perhaps beyond redemption. From him, and from the detachment
that was sent by Bridger to follow his trail, not a word had come of
any kind. Asked if they had seen or heard anything of such parties,
the Indian couriers stolidly shook their heads. They had followed the
old Wingate road all the way until in sight of the valley. Then,
scrambling through a rocky labyrinth, impossible for hoof or wheel,
had made a short cut to the head waters of the Beaver. Now Blakely,
riding from the agency eastward slowly, should have found that Wingate
trail before the setting of the first day's sun, and his followers
could not have been far behind. It began to look as though the
Bugologist had never reached the road. It began to be whispered about
the post that Wren and his luckless companions might never be found at
all. Kate Sanders had ceased her song. She was now with Angela day and
night.

One hope, a vague one, remained beside that of hearing from the
baker's dozen that rode on Blakely's trail. Just as soon as Byrne
received the Indian story concerning Wren's disappearance, he sent
runners eastward on the track of Sanders's troop, with written advice
to that officer to drop anything he might be doing along the Black
Mesa and, turning northward, to make his way through a country
hitherto untrod by white man, between Baker's Butte at the south and
the Sunset Mountains at the north. He was ordered to scout the canon
of Chevlon's Fork, and to look for sign on every side until, somewhere
among the "tanks" in the solid rock about the mountain gateway known
as Sunset Pass, he should join hands with the survivors of Webb's
troop, nursing their wounded and guarding the new-made graves of their
dead. Under such energetic supervision as that of Captain Sanders it
was believed that even Apache Yuma scouts could be made to accomplish
something, and that new heart would be given Wren's dispirited men.
By this time, too, if Blakely had not fallen into the hands of the
Apaches, he should have been joined by the intended escort, and, thus
strengthened, could either push on to the pass, or, if surrounded,
take up some strong position among the rocks and stand off his
assailants until found by his fellow-soldiers under Sanders. Moreover,
Byrne had caused report of the situation to be sent to the general via
Camp McDowell, and felt sure he would lose no time in directing the
scouting columns to head for the Sunset country. Scattered as were the
hostile Apaches, it was apparent that they were in greater force
northward, opposite the old reservation, than along the Mogollon Range
southeast of it. There was hope, activity, animation, among the little
camps and garrisons toward the broad valley of the Gila as the early
days of November wore away. Only here at Sandy was there suspense as
well as deep despond.

It was a starlit Sunday morning that Blakely rode away eastward from
the agency. It was Wednesday night when Sergeant Brewster's runners
came, and never a wink of sleep had they or their inquisitors until
Thursday was ushered in. It was Saturday night again, a week from the
night Neil Blakely strove to see and say good-by to Angela Wren. It
was high time other runners came from Brewster, unless they, too, had
been cut off, as must have been the fate of their forerunners. All
drills had been suspended at Sandy; all duty subordinated to guard.
Cutler had practically abolished the daily details, had doubled his
sentries, had established outlying pickets, and was even bent on
throwing up intrenchments or at least digging rifle pits, lest the
Apaches should feel so "cocky" over their temporary successes as to
essay an attack on the post. Byrne smiled and said they would hardly
try that, but he approved the pickets. It was noted that for nearly a
week,--not since Blakely's start from the agency,--no signal fires had
been seen in the Red Rock country or about the reservation. Mr.
Truman, acting as post quartermaster, had asked for additional men to
protect his little herd, for the sergeant in charge declared that,
twice, long-distance shots had come from far away up the bouldered
heights to the west. The daily mail service had been abandoned, so
nervous had the carrier become, and now, twice each week, a corporal
and two men rode the rugged trail, thus far without seeing a sign of
Apaches. The wire, too, was undisturbed, but an atmosphere of alarm
and dread clung about the scattered ranches even as far as the Agua
Fria to the west, and the few officials left at Prescott found it
impossible to reassure the settlers, who, quitting their new homes,
had either clustered about some favored ranch for general defense or,
"packing" to Fort Whipple, were clamoring there for protection with
which to return to and occupy their abandoned roofs.

And all this, said Byrne, between his set teeth, because a bumptious
agent sought to lay forceful hands upon the daughter of a chief. Poor
Daly! He had paid dearly for that essay. As for Natzie, and her shadow
Lola, neither one had been again seen. They might indeed have dropped
back from Montezuma Well after the first wild stampede, but only
fruitless search had the soldiers made for them. Even their own
people, said Bridger, at the agency, were either the biggest liars
that ever lived or the poorest trailers. The Apaches swore the girls
could not be found. "I'll bet Sergeant Shannon could nail them," said
Hart, the trader, when told of the general denial among the Indians.
But Shannon was far away from the field column, leading his moccasined
comrades afoot and in single file long, wearisome climbs up jagged
cliffs or through deep canons, where unquestionably the foe had been
in numbers but the day before, yet now they were gone. Shannon might
well be needed at the far front, now that most of the Apache scouts
had proved timid or worthless, but Byrne wished he had him closer
home.

It was the Saturday night following the coming of the runners with
confirmation of the grewsome Indian stories. Colonel Byrne, with
Graham, Cutler, and Westervelt, had been at the office half an hour in
consultation when, to the surprise of every soul at Sandy, a four-mule
team and Concord wagon came bowling briskly into the post, and Major
Plume, dust-covered and grave, marched into the midst of the
conference and briefly said: "Gentlemen, I return to resume command."

Nobody had a word to say beyond that of welcome. It was manifestly the
proper thing for him to do. Unable, in face of the stories afloat, to
take his wife away, his proper place in the pressing emergency was at
his post in command.

To Colonel Byrne, who guardedly and somewhat dubiously asked, "How
about Mrs. Plume and that--French thing?" the major's answer was
prompt:

"Both at Fort Whipple and in--good hands," said he. "My wife realizes
that my duty is here, and, though her recovery may be retarded, she
declares she will remain there or even join me. She, in fact, was so
insistent that I should bring her back with me that it embarrassed me
somewhat. I vetoed it, however."

Byrne gazed at him from under his shaggy eyebrows. "H'm," said he, "I
fancied she had shaken the dust of Sandy from her shoes for good and
all--that she hoped never to come back."

"I, too," answered Plume ingenuously. "She hated the very mention of
it,--this is between ourselves,--until this week. Now she says her
place is here with me, no matter how she may suffer," and the major
seemed to dwell with pride on this new evidence of his wife's
devotion. It was, indeed, an unusual symptom, and Byrne had to try
hard to look credulous, which Plume appreciated and hurried on:

"Elise, of course, seemed bent on talking her out of it, but, with
Wren and Blakely both missing, I could not hesitate. I had to come.
Oh, captain, is Truman still acting quartermaster?" this to Cutler.
"He has the keys of my house, I suppose."

And so by tattoo the major was once more harbored under his old roof
and full of business. From Byrne and his associates he quickly
gathered all particulars in their possession. He agreed with them
that another day must bring tidings from the east or prove that the
Apaches had surrounded and perhaps cut down every man of the command.
He listened eagerly to the details Byrne and others were able to give
him. He believed, by the time "taps" came, he had already settled on a
plan for another relief column, and he sent for Truman, the
quartermaster.

"Truman," said he, "how much of a pack train have you got left?"

"Hardly a mule, sir. Two expeditions out from this post swallows up
pretty much everything."

"Very true; yet I may have to find a dozen packs before we get half
through this business. The ammunition is in your hands, too, isn't it?
Where do you keep it?" and the major turned and gazed out in the
starlight.

"Only place I got, sir--quartermaster's storehouse," and Truman eyed
his commander doubtfully.

"Well, I'm squeamish about such things as that," said the major,
looking even graver, "especially since this fire here. By the way, was
much of Blakely's property--er--rescued--or recovered?"

"Very little, sir. Blakely lost pretty much everything, except some
papers in an iron box--the box that was warped all out of shape."

"Where is it now?" asked Plume, tugging at the strap of a dressing
case and laying it open on the broad window-seat.

"In my quarters, under my bed, sir."

"Isn't that rather--unsafe?" asked Plume. "Think how quick he was
burned out."

"Best I can do, sir. But he said it contained little of value, mainly
letters and memoranda. No valuables at all, in fact. The lock wouldn't
work, so the blacksmith strap-ironed it for him. That prevents it
being opened by anyone, you know, who hasn't the proper tools."

"I see," said Plume reflectively. "It seems rather unusual to take
such precaution with things of no value. I suppose Blakely knows his
own business, however. Thank you very much Truman. Good-night."

"I suppose he did, at least, when he had the blacksmith iron that
box," thought Truman, as he trudged away. "He did, at any rate, when
he made me promise to keep it with the utmost care. Not even you can
have it, Major Plume, although you are the post commander."





Next: A Strange Coming

Previous: A Call For Help



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