VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.fictionstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


A Vanished Heroine








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

Within forty-eight hours of the coming of Trooper Kennedy with his
"rush" despatches to Fort Frayne, the actors in our little drama had
become widely separated. Webb and his sturdy squadron, including Ray and
such of his troop as still had mounts and no serious wounds, were
marching straight on for the Dry Fork of the Powder. They were two
hundred fighting men; and, although the Sioux had now three times that
many, they had learned too much of the shooting powers of these seasoned
troopers, and deemed it wise to avoid close contact. The Indian fights
well, man for man, when fairly cornered, but at other times he is no
true sportsman. He asks for odds of ten to one, as when he wiped out
Custer on the "Greasy Grass," or Fetteman at Fort Phil Kearny,--as when
he tackled the Gray Fox,--General Crook--on the Rosebud, and Sibley's
little party among the pines of the Big Horn. Ray's plucky followers had
shot viciously and emptied far too many saddles for Indian equanimity.
It might be well in any event to let Webb's squadron through and wait
for further accessions from the agencies at the southeast, or the big,
turbulent bands of Uncapapas and Minneconjous at Standing Rock, or the
Cheyennes along the Yellowstone.

So back went Lame Wolf and his braves, bearing Stabber with them,
flitting northward again toward the glorious country beyond the
"Chakadee," and on went Webb, with Blake, Gregg, Ray and their juniors,
with Tracy to take care of such as might be wounded on the way; and,
later still, the old post surgeon reached the Elk with guards and
hospital attendants, and on the morrow row began his homeward march with
the dead and wounded,--a sad and solemn little procession. Only twenty
miles he had to go, but it took long hours, so few were the ambulances,
so rough the crossings of the ravines; and, not until near nightfall was
the last of the wounded,--Lieutenant Field,--borne in the arms of
pitying soldiers into the old post hospital, too far gone with fever,
exhaustion and some strong mental excitement to know or care that his
strange plea had been, perforce, disregarded;--to know or care later
that the general himself, the commander they loved and trusted, was
bending over him at dawn the following day. Ordering forward all
available troops from the line of the railway, "the Chief" had stopped
at Laramie only long enough for brief conference with the post
commander; then, bidding him come on with all his cavalry, had pushed
ahead for Frayne. It couldn't be a long campaign, perhaps, with winter
close at hand, but it would be a lively one. Of that the chief felt well
assured.

Now, there was something uncanny about this outbreak on the part of the
Sioux, and the general was puzzled. Up to September the Indians had been
busy with the annual hunt. They were fat, well-fed, prosperous,--had got
from the government pretty much everything that they could ask with any
show of reason and, so they said, had been promised more. The rows
between the limited few of their young men and some bullies among the
"rustlers" had been no more frequent nor serious than on previous
summers, when matters had been settled without resort to arms; but this
year the very devil seemed to have got into the situation. Something, or
probably somebody, said the general, had been stirring the Indians up,
exciting--exhorting possibly, and almost the first thing the general did
as he climbed stiffly out of his stout Concord wagon, in the paling
starlight of the early morning, was to turn to Dade, now commanding the
post, and to say he should like, as soon as possible, to see Bill Hay.
Meantime he wished to go in and look at the wounded.

It was not yet five o'clock, but Dr. Waller was up and devoting himself
to the needs of his patients, and Dade had coffee ready for the general
and his single aide-de-camp, but not a sip would the general take until
he had seen the stricken troopers. He knew Field by reputation, well and
favorably. He had intimately known Field's father in the old days, in
the old army, when they served together on the then wild Pacific shores
"where rolls the Oregon." The great civil war had divided them, for
Field had cast his soldier fortune with his seceding State, but all that
was a thing of the past. Here was the son, a loyal soldier of the flag
the father had again sworn allegiance to when he took his seat in the
House of Representatives. The general thought highly of Field, and was
sore troubled at his serious condition. He knew what despatches would be
coming from the far South when the telegraph line began the busy
clicking of the morning. He was troubled to find the lad in high fever
and to hear that he had been out of his head. He was more than troubled
at the concern, and something like confusion, in the old doctor's face.

"You don't think him dangerously wounded, do you?" he asked.

"Not dangerously, general," was the reply. "It's--well, he seems to have
something on his mind." And more than this the doctor would not say. It
was not for him to tell the chief what Webb had confided ere he left the
post--that most of the currency for which Field was accountable was so
much waste paper. Field lay muttering and tossing in restless misery,
unconscious most of the time, and sleeping only when under the influence
of a strong narcotic. Dade, with sadness and constraint apparent in his
manner, hung back and did not enter the bare hospital room where, with
only a steward in attendance, the young soldier lay. The doctor had gone
with the general to the bedside, but the captain remained out of earshot
at the door.

First call for reveille was just sounding on the infantry bugles as the
trio came forth. "I have sent for Hay already, general," Dade was
saying, as they stood on the wooden veranda overlooking the valley of
the murmuring river; "but will you not come now and have coffee? He can
join us over at my quarters."

Already, however, the orderly was hurrying back. They met him when not
half way over to the line of officers' quarters. The few men for duty in
the two companies of infantry, left to guard the post, were gathering in
little groups in front of their barracks, awaiting the sounding of the
assembly. They knew the chief at a glance, and were curiously watching
him as he went thoughtfully pacing across the parade by the side of the
temporary commander. They saw the orderly coming almost at a run from
the direction of the guard-house, saw him halt and salute, evidently
making some report, but they could not guess what made him so suddenly
start and run at speed toward the southward bluff, the direction of the
trader's corral and stables, while Captain Dade whirled about and
signalled Sergeant Crabb, of the cavalry, left behind in charge of the
few custodians of the troop barracks. Crabb, too, threw dignity to the
winds, and ran at the beck of his superior officer.

"Have you two men who can ride hard a dozen miles or so--and carry out
their orders?" was the captain's sharp demand.

"Certainly, sir," answered Crabb, professionally resentful that such
question should be asked of men of the ----th Cavalry.

"Send two to report to me at once, mounted. Never mind breakfast."

And by this time, apparently, the chief, the post commander and possibly
even the aide-de-camp had forgotten about the waiting coffee. They still
stood there where they had halted in the centre of the parade. The
doctor, coming from hospital, was signalled to and speedily joined them.
The bugle sounded, the men mechanically formed ranks and answered to
their names, all the while watching from the corner of their eyes the
group of officers, now increased by two infantry subalterns, Lieutenants
Bruce and Duncan, who raised their caps to the preoccupied general, such
salutation being then a fashion, not a regulation of the service, and
stood silently awaiting instructions, for something of consequence was
surely at hand. Then the orderly again appeared, returning from his
mission, out of breath and speaking with difficulty.

"Craps--I mean the Frenchman, sir, says it was after four, perhaps half
past, when they started, Pete drivin'. He didn't see who was in it.
'Twas the covered buckboard he took, sir--the best one."

And then, little by little, it transpired that Hay, the post trader whom
the general had need to see, had taken his departure by way of the
Rawlins road, and without so much as a whisper of his purpose to any
one.

"I knew he had thought of going. He told Major Webb so," said Dade,
presently. "But that was before the outbreak assumed proportions. He had
given up all idea of it yesterday and so told me."

"Has anything happened to--start him since then?" demanded the bearded
general, after a moment's thought.

Dade and the doctor looked into each other's eyes, and the latter turned
away. It was not his affair.

"W-ell, something has happened, general," was Dade's slow, constrained
reply. "If you will step this way--I'll see you later, gentlemen--" this
to his subalterns--"I'll explain as far as I can."

And while Dr. Waller fell back and walked beside the aide-de-camp,
gladly leaving to the post commander the burden of a trying explanation,
the general, slowly pacing by the captain's side, gave ear to his story.

"Hay cleaned up quite a lot of money," began the veteran, "and had
intended starting it to Cheyenne when this Indian trouble broke out. The
courier reached us during the night, as you know, and the major ordered
Ray to start at dawn and Field to go with him."

"Why, I thought Field was post adjutant!" interposed the general.

"He was, but--well--I beg you to let Major Webb give you his own
reasons, general," faltered Dade, sorely embarrassed. "He decided that
Field should go----"

"He asked to go, I suppose--It runs in the blood," said the general,
quickly, with a keen look from his blue-gray eyes.

"I think not, sir; but you will see Webb within a few days and he will
tell you all about it. What I know is this, that Field was ordered to go
and that he gave the major an order on Hay for two packages containing
the money for which he was accountable. Field and Wilkins had had a
falling out, and, instead of putting the cash in the quartermaster's
safe, Field kept it at Hay's. At guard mounting Hay brought the package
to the major, who opened both in presence of the officers of the day.
Each package was supposed to contain three or four hundred dollars.
Neither contained twenty. Some paper slips inserted between five dollar
bills made up the packages. Field was then far to the north and past
conferring with. Hay was amazed and distressed--said that someone must
have duplicate keys of his safe as well as of his stables."

"Why the stables?" asked the chief, pausing at the gate and studying the
troubled face of the honored soldier he so well knew and so fully
trusted. He was thinking, too, how this was not the first occasion that
the loss of public money had been hidden for the time in just that
way--slips inserted between good currency.

"Because it transpires that some of his horses were out that very night
without his consent or ken. No one for a moment, to my knowledge, has
connected Field with the loss of the money. Hay thought, however, it
threw suspicion on him, and was mightily upset."

"Then his sudden departure at this time, without a word to anybody
looks--odd," said the general, thoughtfully. "But he had no need of
money. He's one of the wealthiest men in Wyoming. And she--his
wife,--needs nothing. He gives her all she can possibly want." By this
time they were at the door. A lamp still burned dimly in the hallway,
and Dade blew it out, as he ushered the general into the cosily lighted
dining-room.

"You'll excuse Mrs. Dade and Esther, I hope, sir. They are not yet
up--quite overcome by anxiety and excitement,--there's been a lot about
Frayne the last two days.--Take this chair, General. Coffee will be
served at once. No, sir, as you say, the Hays have no need of money--he
and his wife, that is."

"But you suspect--whom?" asked the general, the blue-gray eyes intent on
the troubled face before him, for Dade's very hesitancy told of some
untold theory. The doctor and the aide had taken seats at the other end
of the table and dutifully engaged in low-toned conversation.

"That is a hard question for me to answer, General," was the answer. "I
have no right to suspect anybody. We had no time to complete the
investigation. There are many hangers-on, you know, about Hay's store,
and indeed, his house. Then his household, too, has been increased, as
perhaps you did not know. Mrs. Hay's niece--a very brilliant young
woman--is visiting them, and she and Field rode frequently together."

The general's face was a study. The keen eyes were reading Dade as a
skilled physician would interpret the symptoms of a complicated case.
"How old--and what is she like, Dade?" he asked.

"The women can answer that better than I, sir. They say she must be
twenty-four;--Mrs. Hay says nineteen--She is very dark and very
handsome--at times. Most of our young men seem to think so, at least.
She certainly rides and dances admirably, and Mr. Field was constantly
her partner."

The general began to see light. "Field was constantly with her, was he?
Riding just by themselves or with others when they went out?" he asked.

"By themselves, sir. I doubt if any other of our equestriennes would
care to ride at her pace. She rather outstrips them all. The major told
me they seemed to go--well, every time he saw them, at least,--up to
Stabber's village, and that was something he disapproved of, though I
dare say she was simply curious to see an Indian village, as an Eastern
girl might be."

"Possibly," said the general. "And what did you tell me--she is Mrs.
Hay's niece? I don't remember his having any niece when they were at
Laramie in '66, though I knew something of Mrs. Hay, who was then but a
short time married. She spoke Sioux and patois French better than
English in those days. What is the young lady's name?"

"Miss Flower, sir. Nanette Flower."

The chief dropped his head on his hand and reflected. "It's a good
twenty years, and I've been knocking about all over the West since then,
but, I'd like to see Mrs. Hay and that young woman, Dade, whether we
overhaul Bill or not. I must go on to Beecher at once."

"You will wait for the cavalry from Laramie, will you not, sir?" asked
the captain, anxiously.

"I can't. I'll get a bath and breakfast and forty winks later; then see
Mrs. Hay and Bill, if he is back. They ought to catch him before he
reaches Sage Creek. There are your couriers now," he added, at the sound
of spurred heels on the front piazza.

The captain stepped forth into the hallway. A trooper stood at the front
door, his hand lifted in salute. Another, in saddle, and holding the
reins of his comrade's horse, was at the gate. A rustle of feminine
drapery swept downward from the upper floor, and Dade glanced up, half
dreading to see Esther's face. But it was his wife who peered over the
balustrade. "I shall be down in ten minutes," she said, in low tone.
"Esther is sleeping at last. How did--he--seem this morning?"

"Sleeping, too, but only fitfully. Dr. Waller is here," and then Dade
would have ended the talk. He did not wish to speak further of Field or
his condition. But she called again, low-toned, yet dominant, as is many
a wife in and out of the army.

"Surely you are not letting the general start with only two men!"

"No, he goes by and by." And again Dade would have escaped to the
piazza, but once again she held him.

"Then where are you sending these?"

"After Mr. Hay. He--made an early start--not knowing perhaps, the
general was coming."

"Start!" she cried, all excitement now. "Start!--Start for where?" and
the dressing sacque in aspen-like agitations came in full view at the
head of the stairs.

"Rawlins, I suppose. I don't know what it means."

"But I do!" exclaimed his better half, in emotion uncontrollable. "I
do! It means that she has made him,--that she has gone, too--I mean
Nanette Flower!"





Next: A Woman's Plot

Previous: Wounded Body And Soul



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 439