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Behind The Bars








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

In the whirl and excitement following the startling outcry from the
flats, all Fort Frayne was speedily involved. The guard came rushing
through the night, Corporal Shannon stumbling over a prostrate
form,--the sentry on Number Six, gagged and bound. The steward shouted
from the hospital porch that Eagle Wing, the prisoner patient, had
escaped through the rear window, despite its height above the sloping
ground. A little ladder, borrowed from the quartermaster's corral, was
found a moment later. An Indian pony, saddled Sioux fashion, was caught
running, riderless, toward the trader's back gate, his horsehair bridle
torn half way from his shaggy head. Sergeant Crabb, waiting for no
orders from the major, no sooner heard that Moreau was gone, than he
rushed his stable guard to the saddleroom, and in fifteen minutes had,
not only his own squad, but half a dozen "casual" troopers circling the
post in search of the trail, and in less than half an hour was hot in
chase of two fleeing horsemen, dimly seen ahead through the starlight,
across the snowy wastes. That snowfall was the Sioux's undoing. Without
it the trail would have been invisible at night. With it, the pursued
were well-nigh hopeless from the start. Precious time had been lost in
circling far out south of the post before making for the ford, whither
Crabb's instinct sent him at once, to the end that he and two of his
fellows ploughed through the foaming waters, barely five hundred yards
behind the chase, and, as they rode vehemently onward through the
starlight, straining every nerve, they heard nothing of the happenings
about the Fosters' doorway, where by this time post commander, post
surgeon, post quartermaster and acting post adjutant, post ordnance,
quartermaster and commissary sergeants, many of the post guard and most
of the post laundresses had gathered--some silent, anxious and
bewildered, some excitedly babbling; while, within the sergeant's
domicile, Esther Dade, very pale and somewhat out of breath, was trying
with quiet self possession to answer the myriad questions poured at her,
while Dr. Waller was ministering to the dazed and moaning sentry, and,
in an adjoining tenement, a little group had gathered about an
unconscious form. Someone had sent for Mrs. Hay, who was silently,
tearfully chafing the limp and almost lifeless hands of a girl in Indian
garb. The cloak and skirts of civilization had been found beneath the
window of the deserted room, and were exhibited as a means of bringing
to his senses a much bewildered major, whose first words on entering the
hut gave rise to wonderment in the eyes of most of his hearers, and to
an impulsive reply from the lips of Mrs. Hay.

"I warned the general that girl would play us some Indian trick, but he
ordered her release," said Flint, and with wrathful emphasis came the
answer.

"The general warned you this girl would play you a trick, and, thanks
to no one but you, she's done it!"

Then rising and stepping aside, the long-suffering woman revealed the
pallid, senseless face,--not of the little Indian maid, her shrinking
charge and guest,--but of the niece she loved and had lived and lied for
many and trying years--Nanette La Fleur, a long-lost sister's only
child.

So Blake knew what he was talking about that keen November morning among
the pines at Bear Cliff. He had unearthed an almost forgotten legend of
old Fort Laramie.

But the amaze and discomfiture of the temporary post commander turned
this night of thanksgiving, so far as he was concerned, into something
purgatorial. The sight of his sentry, bound, gagged and bleeding,--the
discovery of the ladder and of the escape of the prisoner, for whom he
was accountable, had filled him with dismay, yet for the moment failed
to stagger his indomitable self esteem. There had been a plot, of
course, and the instant impulse of his soul was to fix the blame on
others and to free himself. An Indian trick, of course, and who but the
little Indian maid within the trader's gates could be the instrument!
Through her, of course, the conspirators about the post had been enabled
to act. She was the general's protegee, not his, and the general must
shoulder the blame. Even when Flint saw Nanette, self convicted through
her very garb and her presence at the scene of the final struggle,--even
when assured it was she and not the little Ogalalla girl who had been
caught in the act,--that the latter, in fact, had never left the
trader's house, his disproportioned mind refused to grasp the situation.
Nanette, he declared, with pallid face, "must have been made a victim."
"Nothing could have been farther from her thoughts than complicity in
the escape of Eagle Wing." "She had every reason to desire his
restoration to health, strength and to the fostering care of the good
and charitable body of Christian people interested in his behalf." "All
this would be endangered by his attempt to rejoin the warriors on the
warpath." The major ordered the instant arrest of the sentry stationed
at the door of the hospital room--shut out by the major's own act from
all possibility of seeing what was going on within. He ordered under
arrest the corporal of the relief on post for presumable complicity,
and, mindful of a famous case of Ethiopian skill then new in the public
mind, demanded of Dr. Waller that he say in so many words that the gag
and wrist thongs on the prostrate sentry had not been self applied.
Waller impassively pointed to the huge lump at the base of the
sufferer's skull, "Gag and bonds he might have so placed, after much
assiduous practice," said he, "but no man living could hit himself such
a blow at the back of the head."

"Who could have done it, then?" asked Flint. It was inconceivable to
Waller's mind that any one of the soldiery could have been tempted to
such perfidy for an Indian's sake. There was not at the moment an
Indian scout or soldier at the post, or an Indian warrior, not a
prisoner, unaccounted for. There had been halfbreeds hanging about the
store prior to the final escapade of Pete and Crapaud, but these had
realized their unpopularity after the battle on the Elk, and had
departed for other climes. Crapaud was still under guard. Pete was still
at large, perchance, with Stabber's braves. There was not another man
about the trader's place whom Flint or others could suspect. Yet the
sergeant of the guard, searching cautiously with his lantern about the
post of Number Six, had come upon some suggestive signs. The snow was
trampled and bloody about the place where the soldier fell, and there
were here and there the tracks of moccasined feet,--those of a young
woman or child going at speed toward the hospital, running, probably,
and followed close by a moccasined man. Then those of the man, alone,
went sprinting down the bluff southeastward over the flats some distance
south of the Foster's doorway and up the opposite bluff, to a point
where four ponies, shoeless, had been huddled for as much, perhaps, as
half an hour. Then all four had come scampering down close together into
the space below the hospital, not fifty yards from where the sentry
fell, and the moccasined feet of a man and woman had scurried down the
bluff from the hospital window, to meet them west of Foster's shanty.
Then there had been confusion,--trouble of some kind: One pony, pursued
a short distance, had broken away; the others had gone pounding out
southeastward up the slope and out over the uplands, then down again, in
wide sweep, through the valley of the little rivulet and along the low
bench southwest of the fort, crossing the Rock Springs road and
striking, further on, diagonally, the Rawlins trail, where Crabb and his
fellows had found it and followed.

But all this took hours of time, and meanwhile, only half revived,
Nanette had been gently, pityingly borne away to a sorrowing woman's
home, for at last it was found, through the thick and lustrous hair,
that she, too, had been struck a harsh and cruel blow; that one reason,
probably, why she had been able to oppose no stouter resistance to so
slender a girl as Esther Dade was that she was already half dazed
through the stroke of some blunt, heavy weapon, wielded probably by him
she was risking all to save.

Meantime the major had been pursuing his investigations. Schmidt, the
soldier sentry in front of Moreau's door, a simple-hearted Teuton of
irreproachable character, tearfully protested against his incarceration.
He had obeyed his orders to the letter. The major himself had brought
the lady to the hospital and showed her in. The door that had been open,
permitting the sentry constant sight of his prisoner, had been closed by
the commanding officer himself. Therefore, it was not for him, a private
soldier, to presume to reopen it. The major said to the lady he would
return for her soon after ten, and the lady smilingly (Schmidt did not
say how smilingly,--how bewitchingly smilingly, but the major needed no
reminder) thanked him, and said, by that time she would be ready. In a
few minutes she came out, saying, (doubtless with the same bewitching
smile) she would have to run over home for something, and she was gone
nearly half an hour, and all that time the door was open, the prisoner
on the bed in his blankets, the lamp brightly burning. It was near
tattoo when she returned, with some things under her cloak, and she was
breathing quick and seemed hurried and shut the door after thanking him,
and he saw no more of her for fifteen minutes, when the door opened and
out she came, the same cloak around her, yet she looked different,
somehow, and must have tiptoed, for he didn't hear her heels as he had
before. She didn't seem quite so tall, either, and that was all, for he
never knew anything more about it till the steward came running to tell
of the escape.

So Schmidt could throw but little light upon the situation, save to
Flint himself, who did not then see fit to say to anyone that at no time
was it covenanted that Miss Flower should be allowed to go and come
unattended. In doing so she had deluded someone beside the sentry.

It was late in the night when Number Six regained his senses and could
tell his tale, which was even more damaging. Quite early in the
evening, so he said,--as early as nine o'clock,--he was under the
hospital corner, listening to the music further up along the bluff. A
lady came from the south of the building as though she were going down
to Sudstown. Mrs. Foster had gone down not long before, and Hogan, with
a lantern, and two officers' ladies. But this one came all alone and
spoke to him pleasant-like and said she was so sorry he couldn't be at
the dance. She'd been seeing the sick and wounded in hospital, she said,
and was going to bring some wine and jellies. If he didn't mind, she'd
take the path around the quartermaster's storehouse outside, as she was
going to Mr. Hay's, and didn't care to go through by the guard-house. So
Six let her go, as he "had no orders agin it" (even though it dawned
upon him that this must be the young lady that had been carried off by
the Sioux). That made him think a bit, he said, and when she came back
with a basket nicely covered with a white napkin, she made him take a
big chicken sandwich. "Sure I didn't know how to refuse the lady, until
she poured me out a big tumbler of wine--wine, she said, she was taking
in to Sergeant Briggs and Corporal Turner that was shot at the Elk, and
she couldn't bear to see me all alone out there in the cold." But Six
said he dasn't take the wine. He got six months "blind" once for a
similar solecism, and, mindful of the major's warning (this was
diplomatic) Six swore he had sworn off, and had to refuse the repeated
requests of the lady. He suspicioned her, he said, because she was so
persistent. Then she laughed and said good-night and went on to the
hospital. What became of the wine she had poured out? (This from the
grim and hitherto silent doctor, seated by the bedside.) She must have
tossed it out or drunk it herself, perhaps, Six didn't know. Certainly
no trace of it could be found in the snow. Then nothing happened for as
much as twenty minutes or so, and he was over toward the south end of
his post, but facing toward the hospital when she came again down the
steps, and this time handed him some cake and told him he was a good
soldier not to drink even wine, and asked him what were the lights away
across the Platte, and he couldn't see any, and was following her
pointing finger and staring, and then all of a sudden he saw a million
lights, dancing, and stars and bombs and that was all he knew till they
began talking to him here in hospital. Something had hit him from
behind, but he couldn't tell what.

Flint's nerve was failing him, for here was confirmation of the
general's theory, but there was worse to come and more of it.

Miss McGrath, domestic at the trader's, had told a tale that had reached
the ears of Mistress McGann, and 'twas the latter that bade the major
summon the girl and demand of her what it was she had seen and heard
concerning "Crappo" and the lady occupant of the second floor front at
the trader's home. Then it was that the major heard what others had
earlier conjectured--that there had been clandestine meetings, whispered
conferences and the like, within the first week of the lovely niece's
coming to Fort Frayne. That notes had been fetched and carried by
"Crappo" as well as Pete; that Miss Flower was either a somnambulist or
a good imitation of one, as on two occasions the maid had "peeked" and
seen her down-stairs at the back door in the dead hours of the night, or
the very early morning. That was when she first came. Then, since the
recapture, Miss McGrath felt confident that though never again detected
down stairs, Miss Flower had been out at night, as Miss McGrath believed
her to have been the night, when was it? "when little Kennedy had his
scrap wid the Sioux the boys do be all talkin' about"--the night, in
fact, that Stabber's band slipped away from the Platte, Ray's troop
following at dawn. Questioned as to how it was possible for Miss Flower
to get out without coming down stairs, Miss McGrath said she wasn't good
at monkeyshines herself, but "wimmen that could ride sthraddle-wise"
were capable of climbs more difficult than that which the vine trellis
afforded from the porch floor to the porch roof. Miss McGrath hadn't
been spying, of course, because her room was at the back of the house,
beyond the kitchen, but how did the little heel tracks get on the
veranda roof?--the road dust on the matting under the window? the vine
twigs in that "quare" made skirt never worn by day? That Miss Flower
could and did ride "asthraddle" and ride admirably when found with the
Sioux at Bear Cliff, everybody at Frayne well knew by this time. That
she had so ridden at Fort Frayne was known to no officer or lady of the
garrison then present, but believed by Miss McGrath because of certain
inexpressibles of the same material with the "quare" made skirt; both
found, dusty and somewhat bedraggled, the morning Captain Blake was
having his chase after the Indians, and Miss Flower was so "wild excited
like." All this and more did Miss McGrath reveal before being permitted
to return to the sanctity of her chamber, and Flint felt the ground
sinking beneath his feet. It might even be alleged of him now that he
had connived at the escape of this most dangerous and desperate
character, this Indian leader, of whom example, prompt and sharp, would
certainly have been made, unless the general and the ends of justice
were defeated. But what stung the major most of all was that he had been
fairly victimized, hoodwinked, cajoled, wheedled, flattered into this
wretched predicament, all through the wiles and graces of a woman. No
one knew it, whatever might be suspected, but Nanette had bewitched him
quite as much as missives from the East had persuaded and misled.

And so it was with hardened and resentful heart that the major sought
her on the morrow. The general and the commands afield would soon be
coming home. Such Indians as they had not "rounded up" and captured were
scattered far and wide. The campaign was over. Now for the disposition
of the prisoners. It was to tell Mrs. Hayand Nanette, especially
Nanette, why the sentries were re-established about their home and that,
though he would not place the trader's niece within a garrison cell, he
should hold her prisoner beneath the trader's roof to await the action
of superior authority on the grievous charges lodged at her door. She
was able to be up, said Miss McGrath,--not only up but down--down in the
breakfast room, looking blither and more like herself than she had been
since she was brought home.

"Say that Major Flint desires to see her and Mrs. Hay," said Flint, with
majesty of mien, as, followed by two of his officers, he was shown into
the trader's parlor.

And presently they came--Mrs. Hay pale and sorrowing; Miss Flower, pale,
perhaps, but triumphantly defiant. The one sat and covered her face with
her hands as she listened to the major's few words, cold, stern and
accusing. The other looked squarely at him, with fearless, glittering
eyes:--

"You may order what you like so far as I'm concerned," was the utterly
reckless answer of the girl. "I don't care what you do now that I know
he is safe--free--and that you will never lay hands on him again."

"That's where you are in error, Miss Flower," was the major's calm,
cold-blooded, yet rejoiceful reply. It was for this, indeed, that he had
come. "Ralph Moreau was run down by my men soon after midnight, and he's
now behind the bars."





Next: A Soldier Entangled

Previous: Thanksgiving At Frayne



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