A Strange Coming
From: An Apache Princess
With one orderly and a pair of Apache Yuma scouts, Neil Blakely had
set forth in hopes of making his way to Snow Lake, far up in the range
to the east. The orderly was all very well,--like most of his fellows,
game, true, and tried,--but few were the leaders who had any faith in
Apache Yumas. Of those Indians whom General Crook had successively
conquered, then turned to valuable use, the Hualpais had done well and
proved reliable; the Apache Mohaves had served since '73, and in scout
after scout and many a skirmish had proved loyal and worthy allies
against the fierce, intractable Tontos, many of whom had never yet
come in to an agency or accepted the bounty of the government. Even a
certain few of these Tontos had proffered fealty and been made useful
as runners and trailers against the recalcitrants of their own band.
But the Apache Yumas, their mountain blood tainted by the cross with
the slothful bands of the arid, desert flats of the lower Colorado,
had won a bad name from the start, and deserved it. They feared the
Tontos, who had thrashed them again and again, despoiled them of their
plunder, walked away with their young women, insulted and jeered at
their young men. Except when backed by the braves of other bands,
therefore, the Apache Yumas were fearful and timorous on the trail.
Once they had broken and run before a mere handful of Tontos, leaving
a wounded officer to his fate. Once, when scaling the Black Mesa
toward this very Snow Lake, they had whimpered and begged to be sent
home, declaring no enemy was there in hiding, when the peaks were
found alive with Tontos. The Red Rock country and the northward spurs
of the Mogollon seemed fraught with some strange, superstitious terror
in their eyes, and if the "nerve" of a dozen would desert them when
ordered east of the Verde, what could be expected of Blakely's two? No
wonder, then, the elders at Sandy were sorely troubled!
But the Bugologist had nothing else to choose from. All the reliable,
seasoned scouts were already gone with the various field columns. Only
Apache Yumas remained, and only the least promising of the Apache
Yumas at that. Bridger remembered how reluctantly these two had obeyed
the summons to go. "If they don't sneak away and come back swearing
they have lost the lieutenant, I'm a gopher," said he, and gave orders
accordingly to have them hauled before him should they reappear.
Confidently he looked to see or hear of them as again lurking about
the commissary storehouse after the manner of their people, beggars to
the backbone. But the week went by without a sign of them. "There's
only one thing to explain that," said he. "They've either deserted to
the enemy or been cut off and killed." What, then, had become of
Blakely? What fate had befallen Wren?
By this time, late Saturday night, acting for the department commander
now lost somewhere in the mountains, Byrne had re-enforced the guards
at the agency and the garrison at Sandy with infantry drawn from Fort
Whipple at Prescott, for thither the Apaches would never venture. The
untrammeled and sovereign citizen had his own way of treating the
obnoxious native to the soil.
By this time, too, further word should have come from some of the
field columns, Sanders's especially. But though runners had reached
the post bearing brief dispatches from the general, showing that he
and the troops from the more southerly posts were closing in on the
wild haunts of the Tontos about Chevlon's Fork, not a sign had come
from this energetic troop commander, not another line from Sergeant
Brewster or his men, and there were women at Camp Sandy now nearly mad
with sleepless dread and watching. "It means," said Byrne, "that the
hostiles are between us and those commands. It means that couriers
can't get through, that's all. I'm betting the commands are safe
enough. They are too strong to be attacked." But Byrne was silent as
to Blakely; he was dumb as to Wren. He was growing haggard with
anxiety and care and inability to assure or comfort. The belated
rations needed by Brewster's party, packed on mules hurried down from
Prescott, were to start at dawn for Sunset Pass under stout infantry
guard, and they, too, would probably be swallowed up in the
mountains. The ranch people down the valley, fearful of raiding
Apaches, had abandoned their homes, and, driving their stock before
them, had taken refuge in the emptied corrals of the cavalry. Even
Hart, the veteran trader, seemed losing his nerve under the strain,
for when such intrepid frontiersmen as Wales Arnold declared it
reckless to venture across the Sandy, and little scouting parties were
greeted with long-range shots from hidden foe, it boded ill for all
dwellers without the walls of the fort. For the first time in the
annals of Camp Sandy, Hart had sandbagged his lower story, and he and
his retainers practically slept upon their arms.
It was after midnight. Lights still burned dimly at the guard-house,
the adjutant's office, and over at the quarters of the commanding
officer, where Byrne and Plume were in consultation. There were
sleepless eyes in every house along the line. Truman had not turned in
at all. Pondering over his brief talk with the returned commander, he
had gone to the storehouse to expedite the packing of Brewster's
rations, and then it occurred to him to drop in a moment at the
hospital. In all the dread and excitement of the past two days, Pat
Mullins had been well-nigh forgotten. The attendant greeted him at the
entrance. Truman, as he approached, could see him standing at the
broad open doorway, apparently staring out through the starlight
toward the black and distant outlines of the eastward mountains.
Mullins at least was sleeping and seemed rapidly recovering, said he,
in answer to Truman's muttered query. "Major Plume," he added, "was
over to see him a while ago, but I told the major Pat was asleep."
Truman listened without comment, but noted none the less and lingered.
"You were looking out to the east," he said. "Seen any lights or
"Not I, sir. But the sentry there on No. 4 had the corporal out just
now. He's seen or heard something, and they've moved over toward No.
Truman followed. How happened it that when Byrne and Plume had so much
to talk of the latter could find time to come away over to the
hospital to inquire for a patient? And there! the call for half-past
twelve had started at the guard-house and rung out from the stables
and corrals. It was Four's turn to take it up now. Presently he did,
but neither promptly nor with confidence. There were new men on the
relief just down from Fort Whipple and strange to Sandy and its
surroundings; but surely, said Truman, they should not have been
assigned to Four and Five, the exposed or dangerous posts, so long as
there were other men, old-timers at Sandy, to take these stations. No.
4's "A-all's well" sounded more like a wail of remonstrance at his
loneliness and isolation. It was a new voice, too, for in those days
officers knew not only the face, but the voice, of every man in the
little command, and--could Truman be mistaken--he thought he heard a
subdued titter from the black shadows of his own quarters, and turned
his course thither to investigate. Five's shout went up at the
instant, loud, confident, almost boastful, as though in rebuke of
Four's timidity, and, as Truman half expected, there was the corporal
of the guard leaning on his rifle, close to the veranda steps, and so
absorbed he never heard the officer approach until the lieutenant
"Who's that on No. 4?"
"One of 'C' Company's fellers, sir," answered the watcher, coming to
his senses and attention at the instant. "Just down from Prescott, and
thinks he sees ghosts or Indians every minute. Nearly shot one of the
hounds a moment ago."
"You shouldn't put him on that post--"
"I didn't sir," was the prompt rejoinder. "'Twas the sergeant. He said
'twould do him good, but the man's really scared, lieutenant. Thought
I'd better stay near him a bit."
Across the black and desolate ruin of Blakely's quarters, and well out
on the northward mesa, they could dimly discern the form of the
unhappy sentry pacing uneasily along his lonely beat, pausing and
turning every moment as though fearful of crouching assailant. Even
among these veteran infantrymen left at Sandy, that northeast corner
had had an uncanny name ever since the night of Pat Mullins's
mysterious stabbing. Many a man would gladly have shunned sentry duty
at that point, but none dare confess to it. Partly as a precaution,
partly as protection to his sentries, the temporary commander had
early in the week sent out a big "fatigue" detail, with knives and
hatchets to slice away every clump of sage or greasewood that could
shelter a prowling Apache for a hundred yards out from the line. But
the man now on No. 4 was palpably nervous and distressed, in spite of
this fact. Truman watched him a moment in mingled compassion and
amusement, and was just turning aside to enter his open doorway when
the corporal held up a warning hand.
Through the muffling sand of the roadway in rear of the quarters, a
tall, dark figure was moving straight and swift toward the post of No.
4, and so far within that of No. 5 as to escape the latter's
challenge. The corporal sprung his rifle to the hollow of his arm and
started the next instant, sped noiselessly a few yards in pursuit,
then abruptly halted. "It's the major, sir," said he, embarrassed, as
Truman joined him again. "Gad, I hope No. 4 won't fire!"
Fire he did not, but his challenge came with a yell.
"W-whocomesthere?"--three words as one and that through chattering
"Commanding officer," they heard Plume clearly answer, then in lower
tone, but distinctly rebukeful. "What on earth's the matter, No. 4?
You called off very badly. Anything disturbing you out here?"
The sentry's answer was a mumble of mingled confusion and distress.
How could he own to his post commander that he was scared? No. 5 now
was to be seen swiftly coming up the eastward front so as to be within
supporting or hearing distance--curiosity, not sympathy, impelling;
and so there were no less than five men, four of them old and tried
soldiers, all within fifty yards of the angle made by the two sentry
beats, all wide awake, yet not one of their number could later tell
just what started it. All on a sudden, down in Sudsville, down among
the southward quarters of the line, the hounds went rushing forth,
barking and baying excitedly, one and all heading for the brink of the
eastward mesa, yet halting short as though afraid to approach it
nearer, and then, darting up and down, barking, sniffing, challenging
angrily, they kept up their fierce alarm. Somebody or something was
out there in the darkness, perhaps at the very edge of the bluff, and
the dogs dare go no further. Even when the corporal, followed by No.
5, came running down the post, the hounds hung back, bristling and
savage, yet fearful. Corporal Foote cocked his rifle and went
crouching forward through the gloom, but the voice of the major was
"Don't go out there, corporal. Call for the guard," as he hurried in
to his quarters in search of his revolver. Truman by this time had run
for his own arms and together they reappeared on the post of No. 5, as
a sergeant, with half a dozen men, came panting from across the
parade, swift running to the scene.
"No. 4 would have it that there were Indians, or somebody skulking
about him when I was examining him a moment ago," said Plume
hurriedly. "Shut up, you brutes!" he yelled angrily at the nearest
hounds. "Scatter your men forward there, sergeant, and see if we can
find anything." Other men were coming, too, by this time, and a
lantern was dancing out from Doty's quarters. Byrne, pyjama-clad and
in slippered feet, shuffled out to join the party as the guard, with
rifles at ready, bored their way out to the front, the dogs still
suspiciously sniffing and growling. For a moment or two no explanation
offered. The noise was gradually quieting down. Then from far out to
the right front rose the shout: "Come here with that lantern!" and all
hands started at the sound.
Old Shaughnessy, saddler sergeant, was the first on the spot with a
light. All Sudsville seemed up and astir. Some of the women, even, had
begun to show at the narrow doorways. Corporal Foote and two of the
guard were bending over some object huddled in the sand. Together they
turned it over and tugged it into semblance of human shape, for the
thing had been shrouded in what proved to be a ragged cavalry blanket.
Senseless, yet feebly breathing and moaning, half-clad in tattered
skirt and a coarsely made camisa such as was worn by peon women of
the humblest class, with blood-stained bandages concealing much of the
face and head, a young Indian woman was lifted toward the light. A
soldier started on the run for Dr. Graham; another to the laundresses'
homes for water. Others, still, with the lanterns now coming flitting
down the low bluff, began searching through the sands for further
sign, and found it within the minute--sign of a shod horse and of
moccasined feet,--moccasins not of Tonto, but of Yuma make, said
Byrne, after a moment's survey.
Rough, yet tender, hands bore the poor creature to the nearest
shelter--Shaughnessy's quarters. Keen, eager eyes and bending forms
followed hoof and foot prints to the ford. Two Indians, evidently, had
lately issued, dripping, from the stream; one leading an eager horse,
for it had been dancing sidewise as they neared the post, the other,
probably sustaining the helpless burden on its back. Two Indians had
then re-entered the swift waters, almost at the point of emergence,
one leading a reluctant, resisting animal, for it had struggled and
plunged and set its fore feet against the effort. The other Indian had
probably mounted as they neared the brink. Already they must be a good
distance away on the other side, rendering pursuit probably useless.
Already the explanation of their coming was apparent. The woman had
been hurt or wounded when far from her tribe, and the Indians with her
were those who had learned the white man's ways, knew that he warred
not on women and would give this stricken creature care and comfort,
food and raiment and relieve them of all such trouble. It was easy to
account for their bringing her to Sandy and dropping her at the white
man's door, but how came they by a shod horse that knew the spot and
strove to break from them at the stables--strove hard against again
being driven away? Mrs. Shaughnessy, volubly haranguing all within
hearing as the searchers returned from the ford, was telling how she
was lying awake, worrin' about Norah and Pat Mullins and the boys that
had gone afield (owing her six weeks' wash) when she heard a dull
trampin' like and what sounded like horses' stifled squeal (doubtless
the leading Indian had gripped the nostrils to prevent the eager
neigh), and then, said she, all the dogs roused up and rushed out,
And then came a cry from within the humble doorway, where merciful
hands were ministering to the suffering savage, and Plume started at
the sound and glared at Byrne, and men stood hushed and startled and
amazed, for the voice was that of Norah and the words were strange
"Fur the love of hivin, look what she had in her girdle! Shure it's
Leese's own scarf, I tell ye--the Frenchwoman at the major's!"
And Byrne thought it high time to enter and take possession.
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