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A Stop By Wire








From: An Apache Princess

Three days later the infantry guard of the garrison were in sole
charge. Wren and Sanders, with nearly fifty troopers apiece, had taken
the field in compliance with telegraphic orders from Prescott. The
general had established field headquarters temporarily at Camp
McDowell, down the Verde Valley, and under his somewhat distant
supervision four or five little columns of horse, in single file, were
boring into the fastnesses of the Mogollon and the Tonto Basin. The
runners had been unsuccessful. The renegades would not return. Half a
dozen little nomad bands, forever out from the reservation, had
eagerly welcomed these malcontents and the news they bore that two of
their young braves had been murdered while striving to defend Natzie
and Lola. It furnished all that was needed as excuse for instant
descent upon the settlers in the deep valleys north of the Rio Salado,
and, all unsuspecting, all unprepared, several of these had met their
doom. Relentless war was already begun, and the general lost no time
in starting his horsemen after the hostiles. Meantime the infantry
companies, at the scattered posts and camps, were left to "hold the
fort," to protect the women, children, and property, and Neil Blakely,
a sore-hearted man because forbidden by the surgeon to attempt to go,
was chafing, fuming, and retarding his recovery at his lonely
quarters. The men whom he most liked were gone, and the few among the
women who might have been his friends seemed now to stand afar off.
Something, he knew not what, had turned garrison sentiment against
him.

For a day or two, so absorbed was he in his chagrin over Graham's
verdict and the general's telegraphic orders in the case, Mr. Blakely
never knew or noticed that anything else was amiss. Then, too, there
had been no opportunity of meeting garrison folk except the few
officers who dropped in to inquire civilly how he was progressing. The
bandages were off, but the plaster still disfigured one side of his
face and neck. He could not go forth and seek society. There was
really only one girl at the post whose society he cared to seek. He
had his books and his bugs, and that, said Mrs. Bridger, was "all he
demanded and more than he deserved." To think that the very room so
recently sacred to the son and heir should be transformed into what
that irate little woman called a "beetle shop"! It was one of Mr.
Blakely's unpardonable sins in the eyes of the sex that he found so
much to interest him in a pursuit that neither interested nor included
them. A man with brains and a bank account had no right to live alone,
said Mrs. Sanders, she having a daughter of marriageable age, if only
moderately prepossessing. All this had the women to complain of in him
before the cataclysm that, for the time at least, had played havoc
with his good looks. All this he knew and bore with philosophic and
whimsical stoicism. But all this and more could not account for the
phenomenon of averted eyes and constrained, if not freezing, manner
when, in the dusk of the late autumn evening, issuing suddenly from
his quarters, he came face to face with a party of four young women
under escort of the post adjutant--Mrs. Bridger and Mrs. Truman
foremost of the four and first to receive his courteous, yet half
embarrassed, greeting. They had to stop for half a second, as they
later said, because really he confronted them, all unsuspected. But
the other two, Kate Sanders and Mina Westervelt, with bowed heads and
without a word, scurried by him and passed on down the line. Doty
explained hurriedly that they had been over to the post hospital to
inquire for Mullins and were due at the Sanders' now for music,
whereupon Blakely begged pardon for even the brief detention, and,
raising his cap, went on out to the sentry post of No. 4 to study the
dark and distant upheavals in the Red Rock country, where, almost
every night of late, the signal fires of the Apaches were reported.
Not until he was again alone did he realize that he had been almost
frigidly greeted by those who spoke at all. It set him to thinking.

Mrs. Plume was still confined to her room. The major had returned from
Prescott and, despite the fact that the regiment was afield and a
clash with the hostiles imminent, was packing up preparatory to a
move. Books, papers, and pictures were being stored in chests, big and
little, that he had had made for such emergencies. It was evident
that he was expecting orders for change of station or extended leave,
and they who went so far as to question the grave-faced soldier, who
seemed to have grown ten years older in the last ten days, had to be
content with the brief, guarded reply that Mrs. Plume had never been
well since she set foot in Arizona, and even though he returned, she
would not. He was taking her, he said, to San Francisco. Of this
unhappy woman's nocturnal expedition the others seldom spoke now and
only with bated breath. "Sleep-walking, of course!" said everybody, no
matter what everybody might think. But, now that Major Plume knew that
in her sleep his wife had wandered up the row to the very door--the
back door--of Mr. Blakely's quarters, was it not strange that he had
taken no pains to prevent a recurrence of so compromising an
excursion, for strange stories were afloat. Sentry No. 4 had heard and
told of a feminine voice, "somebody cryin' like" in the darkness of
midnight about Blakely's, and Norah Shaughnessy--returned to her
duties at the Trumans', yet worrying over the critical condition of
her trooper lover, and losing thereby much needed sleep--had gained
some new and startling information. One night she had heard, another
night she had dimly seen, a visitor received at Blakely's back door,
and that visitor a woman, with a shawl about her head. Norah told her
mistress, who very properly bade her never refer to it again to a
soul, and very promptly referred to it herself to several souls, one
of them Janet Wren. Janet, still virtuously averse to Blakely, laid
the story before her brother the very day he started on the warpath,
and Janet was startled to see that she was telling him no news
whatever. "Then, indeed," said she, "it is high time the major took
his wife away," and Wren sternly bade her hold her peace, she knew not
what she was saying! But, said Camp Sandy, who could it have been but
Mrs. Plume or, possibly, Elise? Once or twice in its checkered past
Camp Sandy had had its romance, its mystery, indeed its scandals, but
this was something that put in the shade all previous episodes; this
shook Sandy to its very foundation, and this, despite her brother's
prohibition, Janet Wren felt it her duty to detail in full to Angela.

To do her justice, it should be said that Miss Wren had striven
valiantly against the impulse,--had indeed mastered it for several
hours,--but the sight of the vivid blush, the eager joy in the sweet
young face when Blakely's new "striker" handed in a note addressed to
Miss Angela Wren, proved far too potent a factor in the undoing of
that magnanimous resolve. The girl fled with her prize, instanter, to
her room, and thither, as she did not reappear, the aunt betook
herself within the hour. The note itself was neither long nor
effusive--merely a bright, cordial, friendly missive, protesting
against the idea that any apology had been due. There was but one line
which could be considered even mildly significant. "The little net,"
wrote Blakely, "has now a value that it never had before." Yet Angela
was snuggling that otherwise unimportant billet to her cheek when the
creaking stairway told her portentously of a solemn coming. Ten
minutes more and the note was lying neglected on the bureau, and
Angela stood at her window, gazing out over dreary miles of almost
desert landscape, of rock and shale and sand and cactus, with eyes
from which the light had fled, and a new, strange trouble biting at
her girlish heart. Confound No. 4--and Norah Shaughnessy!

It had been arranged that when the Plumes were ready to start, Mrs.
Daly and her daughter, the newly widowed and the fatherless, should be
sent up to Prescott and thence across the desert to Ehrenberg, on the
Colorado. While no hostile Apaches had been seen west of the Verde
Valley, there were traces that told that they were watching the road
as far at least as the Agua Fria, and a sergeant and six men had been
chosen to go as escort to the little convoy. It had been supposed that
Plume would prefer to start in the morning and go as far as Stemmer's
ranch, in the Agua Fria Valley, and there rest his invalid wife until
another day, thus breaking the fifty-mile stage through the mountains.
To the surprise of everybody, the Dalys were warned to be in readiness
to start at five in the morning, and to go through to Prescott that
day. At five in the morning, therefore, the quartermaster's ambulance
was at the post trader's house, where the recently bereaved ones had
been harbored since poor Daly's death, and there, with their generous
host, was the widow's former patient, Blakely, full of sympathy and
solicitude, come to say good-bye. Plume's own Concord appeared almost
at the instant in front of his quarters, and presently Mrs. Plume,
veiled and obviously far from strong, came forth leaning on her
husband's arm, and closely followed by Elise. Then, despite the early
hour, and to the dismay of Plume, who had planned to start without
farewell demonstration of any kind, lights were blinking in almost
every house along the row, and a flock of women, some tender and
sympathetic, some morbidly curious, had gathered to wish the major's
wife a pleasant journey and a speedy recovery. They loved her not at
all, and liked her none too well, but she was ill and sorrowing, so
that was enough. Elise they could not bear, yet even Elise came in for
a kindly word or two. Mrs. Graham was there, big-hearted and brimming
over with helpful suggestion, burdened also with a basket of dainties.
Captain and Mrs. Cutler, Captain and Mrs. Westervelt, the Trumans
both, Doty, the young adjutant, Janet Wren, of course, and the ladies
of the cavalry, the major's regiment, without exception, were on hand
to bid the major and his wife good-bye. Angela Wren was not feeling
well, explained her aunt, and Mr. Neil Blakely was conspicuous by his
absence.

It had been observed that, during those few days of hurried packing
and preparation, Major Plume had not once gone to Blakely's quarters.
True, he had visited only Dr. Graham, and had begged him to explain
that anxiety on account of Mrs. Plume prevented his making the round
of farewell calls; but that he was thoughtful of others to the last
was shown in this: Plume had asked Captain Cutler, commander of the
post, to order the release of that wretch Downs. "He has been
punished quite sufficiently, I think," said Plume, "and as I was
instrumental in his arrest I ask his liberation." At tattoo,
therefore, the previous evening "the wretch" had been returned to
duty, and at five in the morning was found hovering about the major's
quarters. When invited by the sergeant of the guard to explain, he
replied, quite civilly for him, that it was to say good-by to Elise.
"Me and her," said he, "has been good friends."

Presumably he had had his opportunity at the kitchen door before the
start, but still he lingered, feigning professional interest in the
condition of the sleek mules that were to haul the Concord over fifty
miles of rugged road, up hill and down dale before the setting of the
sun. Then, while the officers and ladies clustered thick on one side
of the black vehicle, Downs sidled to the other, and the big black
eyes of the Frenchwoman peered down at him a moment as she leaned
toward him, and, with a whispered word, slyly dropped a little folded
packet into his waiting palm. Then, as though impatient, Plume shouted
"All right. Go on!" The Concord whirled away, and something like a
sigh of relief went up from assembled Sandy, as the first kiss of the
rising sun lighted on the bald pate of Squaw Peak, huge sentinel of
the valley, looming from the darkness and shadows and the mists of the
shallow stream that slept in many a silent pool along its massive,
rocky base. With but a few hurried, embarrassed words, Clarice Plume
had said adieu to Sandy, thinking never to see it again. They stood
and watched her past the one unlighted house, the northernmost along
the row. They knew not that Mr. Blakely was at the moment bidding
adieu to others in far humbler station. They only noted that, even at
the last, he was not there to wave a good-by to the woman who had once
so influenced his life. Slowly then the little group dissolved and
drifted away. She had gone unchallenged of any authority, though the
fate of Mullins still hung in the balance. Obviously, then, it was not
she whom Byrne's report had implicated, if indeed that report had
named anybody. There had been no occasion for a coroner and jury.
There would have been neither coroner nor jury to serve, had they been
called for. Camp Sandy stood in a little world of its own, the only
civil functionary within forty miles being a ranchman, dwelling seven
miles down stream, who held some Territorial warrant as a justice of
the peace.

But Norah Shaughnessy, from the gable window of the Trumans' quarters,
shook a hard-clinching Irish fist and showered malediction after the
swiftly speeding ambulance. "Wan 'o ye," she sobbed, "dealt Pat
Mullins a coward and cruel blow, and I'll know which, as soon as ever
that poor bye can spake the truth." She would have said it to that
hated Frenchwoman herself, had not mother and mistress both forbade
her leaving the room until the Plumes were gone.

Three trunks had been stacked up and secured on the hanging rack at
the rear of the Concord. Others, with certain chests and boxes, had
been loaded into one big wagon and sent ahead. The ambulance, with
the Dalys and the little escort of seven horsemen, awaited the rest of
the convoy on the northward flats, and the cloud of their combined
dust hung long on the scarred flanks as the first rays of the rising
sun came gilding the rocks at Boulder Point, and what was left of the
garrison at Sandy turned out for reveille.

That evening, for the first time since his injury, Mr. Blakely took
his horse and rode away southward in the soft moonlight, and had not
returned when tattoo sounded. The post trader, coming up with the
latest San Francisco papers, said he had stopped a moment to ask at
the store whether Schandein, the ranchman justice of the peace before
referred to, had recently visited the post.

That evening, too, for the first time since his dangerous wound,
Trooper Mullins awoke from his long delirium, weak as a little child;
asked for Norah, and what in the world was the matter with him--in bed
and bandages, and Dr. Graham, looking into the poor lad's dim,
half-opening eyes, sent a messenger to Captain Cutler's quarters to
ask would the captain come at once to hospital. This was at nine
o'clock.

Less than two hours later a mounted orderly set forth with dispatches
from the temporary post commander to Colonel Byrne at Prescott. A wire
from that point about sundown had announced the safe arrival of the
party from Camp Sandy. The answer, sent at ten o'clock, broke up the
game of whist at the quarters of the inspector general. Byrne, the
recipient, gravely read it, backed from the table, and vainly strove
not to see the anxious inquiry in the eyes of Major Plume, his guest.
But Plume cornered him.

"From Sandy?" he asked. "May I read it?"

Byrne hesitated just one moment, then placed the paper in his junior's
hand. Plume read, turned very white, and the paper fell from his
trembling fingers. The message merely said:

Mullins recovering and quite rational, though very weak. He
says two women were his assailants. Courier with dispatches
at once.

(Signed) CUTLER, Commanding.





Next: Fire!

Previous: A Carpet Knight Indeed



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