Steel Making.ca - Learn about the process of making steel. Visit Steel Making.caInformational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


A Woman's Plot








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

Woman's intuition often far outstrips the slower mental process of the
other sex. The mother who has to see a beloved daughter's silent
suffering, well knowing another girl to be, however indirectly, the
cause of it, sees all manner of other iniquities in that other girl.
Kind, charitable and gentle was Mrs. Dade, a wise mother, too, as well
as most loving, but she could look with neither kindness nor charity on
Miss Flower. She had held her peace; allowed no word of censure or
criticism to escape her when the women were discussing that young lady;
but all the more vehement was her distrust, because thus pent up and
repressed. With the swiftness of feminine thought, for no man had yet
suspected, she fathomed the secret of the trader's sudden going; and,
carried away by the excitement of the moment and the belief that none
but her husband could hear, she had made that startling announcement.
And her intuition was unerring. Nanette Flower was indeed gone.

Yet for nearly an hour she stood alone in her conviction. Her husband
quickly cautioned silence, and, going forth, gave instructions to the
couriers that sent them speeding for the Rawlins road. But at seven
o'clock Mrs. Hay herself appeared and asked to see the general, who was
taking at the moment his accustomed bracer, tonic and stimulant,--the
only kind he was ever known to use--a cold bath. So it was to Mrs. Dade,
in all apparent frankness and sincerity, the trader's wife began her
tale.

Everyone at Frayne well knew that her anxiety as to the outcome of the
battle on the Elk had well nigh equalled that of the wives and
sweethearts within the garrison. While her niece, after the first day's
excitement, kept to her room, the aunt went flitting from house to
house, full of sympathy and suggestion, but obviously more deeply
concerned than they had ever seen her. Now, she seemed worried beyond
words at thought of her husband's having to go at just this time. It was
mainly on Nanette's account, she said. Only last night, with the mail
from Laramie, had come a letter posted in San Francisco the week before,
telling Miss Flower that her dearest friend and roommate for four years
at school, who had been on an extended bridal tour, would pass through
Rawlins, eastward bound, on Friday's train, and begging Nanette to meet
her and go as far at least as Cheyenne. Her husband, it seems, had been
hurriedly recalled to New York, and there was no help for it. Nanette
had expected to join her, and go all the way East in late October or
early November; had given her promise, in fact, for she was vastly
excited by the news, and despite headache and lassitude that had
oppressed her for two days past, she declared she must go, and Uncle
Will must take her. So, with only a small trunk, hastily packed, of her
belongings, and an iron-bound chest of the trader's, the two had started
before dawn in Uncle Bill's stout buckboard, behind his famous four mule
team, with Pete to drive, and two sturdy ranchmen as outriders, hoping
to reach the Medicine Bow by late afternoon, and rest at Brenner's
Ranch.

Confidentially, Mrs. Hay told Mrs. Dade that her husband was glad of the
excuse to take the route up the Platte instead of the old, rough trail
southeastward over the mountains to Rock Creek, for he had a large sum
in currency to get to the bank, and there were desperados along the
mountain route who well knew he would have to send that money in, and
were surely on lookout to waylay him--or it. Ever since pay-day two or
three rough characters had been hanging about the store, and Hay
suspected they were watching his movements, with the intention of
getting word to their comrades in crime the moment he started, and it
was almost as much to steal a march on them, as to oblige Nanette, he so
willingly left before it was light. The Rawlins road followed the Platte
Valley all the way to Brenner's, and, once there, he would feel safe,
whereas the Rock Creek trail wound through gulch, ravine and forest most
of the distance, affording many a chance for ambuscade. Of course, said
Mrs. Hay, if her husband had for a moment supposed the general would
wish to see him, he would not have gone, adding, with just a little
touch of proper, wifelike spirit, that on the general's previous visits
he had never seemed to care whether he saw Mr. Hay or not.

All this did Mrs. Dade accept with courteous yet guarded interest. They
were seated in the little army parlor, talking in low tone; for, with
unfailing tact, Mrs. Hay had asked for Esther, and expressed her
sympathy on hearing of her being unnerved by the excitement through
which they had passed. Well she knew that Field's serious condition had
not a little to do with poor Esther's prostration, but that was
knowledge never to be hinted at. Dade himself she did not wish to meet
just now. He was too direct a questioner, and had said and looked things
about Nanette that made her dread him. She knew that, however austere
and commanding he might be when acting under his own convictions, he was
abnormally susceptible to uxorial views, and the way to win the
captain's sympathies or avert his censure, was to secure the kindly
interest of his wife. Mrs. Hay knew that he had sent couriers off by the
Rawlins road--a significant thing in itself--and that couriers had come
in from the north with further news from Webb. She knew he had gone to
the office, and would probably remain there until summoned for
breakfast, and now was her time, for there was something further to be
spoken of, and while gentle and civil, Mrs. Dade had not been receptive.
It was evident to the trader's wife that her lord and master had made a
mistake in leaving when he did. He knew the general was on the way. He
knew there was that money business to be cleared up, yet she knew there
were reasons why she wanted him away,--reasons hardest of all to
plausibly explain. There were reasons, indeed, why she was glad Nanette
was gone. All Fort Frayne was devoted to Esther Dade and, however
unjustly, most of Fort Frayne,--men, women and children,--attributed
Field's defection, as they chose to call it, to Nanette--Nanette who had
set at naught her aunt's most ardent wishes, in even noticing Field at
all. Money, education, everything she could give had been lavished on
that girl, and now, instead of casting her net for that well-to-do and
distinguished bachelor, the major, thereby assuring for herself the
proud position of first lady of Fort Frayne, the wife of the commanding
officer, Nanette had been deliberately throwing herself away at a
beardless, moneyless second lieutenant, because he danced and rode well.
Mrs. Hay did not blame Mrs. Dade at that moment for hating the girl, if
hate she did. She could have shaken her, hard and well, herself, yet was
utterly nonplussed to find that Nanette cared next to nothing how badly
Field was wounded. What she seemed to care to know was about the
casualties among the Sioux, and, now that Stabber's village, the last
living trace of it, old men, squaws, children, pappooses, ponies and
puppies and other living creatures had, between two days, been whisked
away to the hills, there were no more Indians close at hand to whisper
information.

She was glad Nanette was gone, because Field, wounded and present, would
have advantages over possible suitors absent on campaign--because all
the women and a few of the men were now against her, and because from
some vague, intangible symptoms, Mrs. Hay had satisfied herself that
there was something in the wind Nanette was hiding even from her--her
benefactress, her best friend, and it seemed like cold-blooded
treachery. Hay had for two days been disturbed, nervous and unhappy, yet
would not tell her why. He had been cross-questioning Pete, "Crapaud"
and other employees, and searching about the premises in a way that
excited curiosity and even resentment, for the explanation he gave was
utterly inadequate. To satisfy her if possible, he had confided, as he
said, the fact that certain money for which Lieutenant Field was
accountable, had been stolen. The cash had been carefully placed in his
old-fashioned safe; the missing money, therefore, had been taken while
still virtually in his charge. "They might even suspect me," he said,
which she knew would not be the case. "They forbade my speaking of it to
anybody, but I simply had to tell you." She felt sure there was
something he was concealing; something he would not tell her; something
concerning Nanette, therefore, because she so loved Nanette, he shrank
from revealing what might wound her. Indeed, it was best that Nanette
should go for the time, at least, but Mrs. Hay little dreamed that
others would be saying--even this kindly, gentle woman before her--that
Nanette should have stayed until certain strange things were thoroughly
and satisfactorily explained.

But the moment she began, faltering not a little, to speak of matters
at the post, as a means of leading up to Nanette--matters concerning
Lieutenant Field and his financial affairs,--to her surprise Mrs. Dade
gently uplifted her hand and voice. "I am going to ask you not to tell
me, Mrs. Hay," said she. "Captain Dade has given me to understand there
was something to be investigated, but preferred that I should not ask
about it. Now, the general will be down in fifteen or twenty minutes. I
suggest that we walk over the hospital and see how Mr. Field is getting
on. We can talk, you know, as we go. Then you will breakfast with us.
Indeed, may I not give you a cup of coffee now, Mrs. Hay?"

But Mrs. Hay said no. She had had coffee before coming. She would go and
see if there was anything they could do for Field, and would try again
to induce Mrs. Dade to listen to certain of her explanations.

But Mrs. Dade was silent and preoccupied. She was thinking of that story
of Nanette's going, and wondering whether it could be true. She was
wondering if Mrs. Hay knew the couriers had gone to recall Hay, and that
if he and Nanette failed to return it might mean trouble for both. She
could accord to Mrs. Hay no confidences of her own, and had been
compelled to decline to listen to those with which Mrs. Hay would have
favored her. She was thinking of something still more perplexing. The
general, as her husband finally told her, had asked first thing to see
Hay, and later declared that he wished to talk with Mrs. Hay and see
Nanette. Was it possible he knew anything of what she knew--that
between Hay's household and Stabber's village there had been
communication of some kind--that the first thing found in the Indian
pouch brought home by Captain Blake, was a letter addressed in Nanette
Flower's hand, and with it three card photographs, two of them of
unmistakable Indians in civilized garb, and two letters, addressed, like
hers, to Mr. Ralph Moreau,--one care of the Rev. Jasper Strong,
Valentine, Nebraska, the other to the general delivery, Omaha?

Yes, that pouch brought in by Captain Blake had contained matter too
weighty for one woman, wise as she was, to keep to herself. Mrs. Blake,
with her husband's full consent, had summoned Mrs. Ray, soon after his
departure on the trail of Webb, and told her of the strange discovery.
They promptly decided there was only one thing to do with the
letter;--hand or send it, unopened, to Miss Flower. Then, as Blake had
had no time to examine further, they decided to search the pouch. There
might be more letters in the same superscription.

But there were not. They found tobacco, beeswax, an empty flask that had
contained whiskey, vaseline, Pond's Extract, salve, pigments, a few
sheets of note paper, envelopes and pencil--odd things to find in the
possession of a Sioux--a burning glass, matches, some quinine pills,
cigars, odds and ends of little consequence, and those letters addressed
to R. Moreau. The first one they had already decided should go to Miss
Flower. The others, they thought, should be handed unopened to the
commanding officer. They might contain important information, now that
the Sioux were at war and that Ralph Moreau had turned out probably to
be a real personage. But first they would consult Mrs. Dade. They had
done so the very evening of Blake's departure, even as he, long miles
away, was telling Kennedy his Irish heart was safe from the designs of
one blood-thirsty Sioux; and Mrs. Dade had agreed with them that
Nanette's letter should be sent to her forthwith, and that, as Captain
Blake had brought it in, the duty of returning the letter devolved upon
his wife.

And so, after much thought and consultation, a little note was written,
saying nothing about the other contents or about the pouch itself. "Dear
Miss Flower:" it read. "The enclosed was found by Captain Blake some
time this morning. He had no time to deliver it in person. Yours
sincerely. N. B. Blake."

She would enter into no explanation and would say nothing of the
consultation. She could not bring herself to sign her name as usually
she signed it, Nannie Bryan Blake. She had, as any man or woman would
have had, a consuming desire to know what Miss Flower could be writing
to a Mr. Moreau, whose correspondence turned up in this remarkable way,
in the pouch of a painted Sioux. But she and they deemed it entirely
needless to assure Miss Flower no alien eye had peered into the
mysterious pages. (It might have resulted in marvellous developments if
Miss Flower thought they had.) Note and enclosure were sent first thing
next morning by the trusty hand of Master Sanford Ray, himself, and by
him delivered in person to Miss Flower, who met him at the trader's
gate. She took it, he said; and smiled, and thanked him charmingly
before she opened it. She was coming out for her customary walk at the
hour of guard mounting, but the next thing he knew she had "scooted"
indoors again.

And from that moment Miss Flower had not been seen.

All this was Mrs. Dade revolving in mind as she walked pityingly by the
side of the troubled woman, only vaguely listening to her flow of words.
They had thought to be admitted to the little room in which the wounded
officer lay, but as they tiptoed into the wide, airy hall and looked
over the long vista of pink-striped coverlets in the big ward beyond,
the doctor himself appeared at the entrance and barred the way.

"Is there nothing we can do?" asked Mrs. Dade, with tears in her voice.
"Is he--so much worse?"

"Nothing can be done just now," answered Waller, gravely. "He has had
high fever during the night--has been wakeful and flighty again.
I--should rather no one entered just now."

And then they noted that even the steward who had been with poor Field
was now hovering about the door of the dispensary and that only Dr.
Waller remained within the room. "I am hoping to get him to sleep again
presently," said he. "And when he is mending there will be a host of
things for you both to do."

But that mending seemed many a day off, and Mrs. Hay, poor woman, had
graver cares of her own before the setting sun. Avoiding the possibility
of meeting the general just now, and finding Mrs. Dade both silent and
constrained at mention of her niece's name, the trader's wife went
straightway homeward from the hospital, and did not even see the post
commander hurrying from his office, with an open despatch in his hand.
But by this time the chief and his faithful aide were out on the
veranda, surrounded by anxious wives and daughters, many of whom had
been earnestly bothering the doctor at the hospital before going to
breakfast. Dade much wished them away, though the news brought in by
night riders was both stirring and cheery. The Indians had flitted away
from Webb's front, and he counted on reaching and rescuing the Dry Fork
party within six hours from the time the courier started. They might
expect the good news during the afternoon of Thursday. Scouts and
flankers reported finding travois and pony tracks leading westward
from the scene of Ray's fierce battle, indicating that the Indians had
carried their dead and wounded into the fastnesses of the southern
slopes of the Big Horn, and that their punishment had been heavy. Among
the chiefs killed or seriously wounded was this new, vehement leader
whom Captains Blake and Ray thought might be Red Fox, who was so
truculent at the Black Hills conference the previous year. Certain of
the men, however, who had seen Red Fox at that time expressed doubts.
Lieutenant Field, said Webb, had seen him, and could probably say.

Over this despatch the general pondered gravely. "From what I know of
Red Fox," said he, "I should think him a leader of the Sitting Bull
type,--a shrew, intriguing, mischief-making fellow, a sort of Sioux
walking delegate, not a battle leader; but according to Blake and Ray
this new man is a fighter."

Then Mrs. Dade came out and bore the general off to breakfast, and
during breakfast the chief was much preoccupied. Mrs. Dade and the
aide-de-camp chatted on social matters. The general exchanged an
occasional word with his host and hostess, and finally surprised neither
of them, when breakfast was over and he had consumed the last of his
glass of hot water, by saying to his staff officer, "I should like to
see Mrs. Hay a few minutes, if possible. We'll walk round there first.
Then--let the team be ready at ten o'clock."

But the team, although ready, did not start northward at ten, and the
general, though he saw Mrs. Hay, had no speech with her upon the
important matters uppermost in his mind during the earlier hours of the
day. He found that good lady in a state of wild excitement and alarm.
One of the two outriders who had started with her husband and niece at
dawn, was mounted on a dun-colored cow pony, with white face and feet.
One of the two troopers sent by Dade to overtake and bring them back,
was turning a blown and exhausted horse over to the care of Hay's
stablemen, as he briefly told his story to the wild-eyed, well nigh
distracted woman. Six miles up stream, he said, they had come suddenly
upon a dun-colored cow pony, dead in his tracks, with white feet in air
and white muzzle bathed in blood; bridle, saddle and rider gone; signs
of struggle in places--but no signs of the party, the team and wagon,
anywhere.

"And no cavalry to send out after them!" said Dade, when he reached the
spot. Old Crabb was called at once, and mustered four semi-invalided
troopers. The infantry supplied half a dozen stout riders and, with a
mixed escort, the general, accompanied by Dade and the aide-de-camp,
drove swiftly to the scene. Six miles away they found the dead pony.
Seven miles away they encountered the second trooper, coming back. He
had followed the trail of the four mule team as far as yonder point,
said he, and there was met by half a dozen shots from unseen foe, and so
rode back out of range. But Dade threw his men forward as skirmishers;
found no living soul either at the point or on the banks of the rocky
ford beyond; but, in the shallows, close to the shore, lay the body of
the second outrider, shot and scalped. In a clump of willows lay another
body, that of a pinto pony, hardly cold, while the soft, sandy shores
were cut by dozens of hoof tracks--shoeless. The tracks of the mules and
wagon lay straight away across the stream bed--up the opposite bank and
out on the northward-sweeping bench beyond. Hay's famous four, and
well-known wagon, contents and all, therefore, had been spirited away,
not toward the haunts of the road agents in the mountains of the
Medicine Bow, but to those of the sovereign Sioux in the fastnesses of
the storied Big Horn.





Next: Night Prowling At Frayne

Previous: A Vanished Heroine



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 508