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Blood Will Tell








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

As Webb had predicted, even before nine o'clock, came prompt, spirited
response from Laramie, where the colonel had ordered the four troops to
prepare for instant march, and had bidden the infantry to be ready for
any duty the general might order. From Omaha,--department
headquarters,--almost on the heels of the Laramie wire came cheery word
from their gallant chief: "Coming to join you noon train to-day.
Cheyenne 1:30 to-morrow. Your action in sending Ray's troop approved.
Hold others in readiness to move at a moment's notice. Wire further news
North Platte, Sidney or Cheyenne to meet me."

So the note of preparation was joyous throughout the barracks on the
eastward side and mournful among the married quarters elsewhere. But
even through the blinding tears with which so many loving women wrought,
packing the field and mess kits of soldier husbands whose duties kept
them with their men at barracks or stables, there were some, at least,
who were quick to see that matters of unusual moment called certain of
the major's stanchest henchmen to the office, and that grave and earnest
consultation was being held, from which men came with sombre faces and
close-sealed lips. First to note these indications was the indomitable
helpmate of old Wilkins, the post quartermaster. She had no dread on his
account, for rheumatism and routine duties, as the official in charge of
Uncle Sam's huge stack of stores and supplies, exempted her liege from
duty in the field; and, even while lending a helping hand where some
young wife and mother seemed dazed and broken by the sudden call to
arms, she kept eyes and ears alert as ever, and was speedily confiding
to first one household, then another, her conviction that there was a
big sensation bundled up in the bosom of the post commander and his
cronies, and she knew, she said, it was something about Field.
Everybody, of course, was aware by eight o'clock that Field had gone
with Ray, and while no officer presumed to ask if it was because Ray, or
Field, had applied for the detail, no woman would have been restrained
therefrom by any fear of Webb. Well he realized this fact and, dodging
the first that sought to waylay him on the walk, he had later intrenched
himself, as it were, in his office, where Dade, Blake and the old post
surgeon had sat with him in solemn conclave while Bill Hay brought his
clerk, bar-keeper, store-keeper, Pete, the general utility man, and even
"Crapaud," the halfbreed, to swear in succession they had no idea who
could have tampered with either the safe or the stables. Closely had
they been cross-examined; and, going away in turn, they told of the
nature of the cross-examination; yet to no one of their number had been
made known what had occurred to cause such close questioning. Hay had
been forbidden to speak of it, even to his household. The
officers-of-the-day were sworn to secrecy. Neither Wilkins nor the
acting adjutant was closeted with the council, and neither, therefore,
could do more than guess at the facts. Yet that somebody knew, in part
at least, the trend of suspicion, was at once apparent to Webb and his
councilors when, about nine o'clock, he took Blake and Dade to see those
significant "bar shoe" hoof prints. Every one of them had disappeared.

"By Jove!" said Webb, "I know now I should have set a sentry with
orders to let no man walk or ride about here. See! He's used his foot to
smear this--and this--and here again!"

There in a dozen places were signs old Indian trailers read as they
would read an open book. Places where, pivoting on the heel, a heavy
foot had crushed right and left into the yielding soil of the roadway,
making concentric, circular grooves and ridges of sandy earth, where,
earlier in the morning Dan's and Harney's dainty hoof prints were the
only new impressions. For nearly fifty yards had this obliterating
process been carried on, and in a dozen spots, until the road dipped
over the rounding edge and, hard and firm now, went winding down to the
flats. Here Webb, with Dade and Hay, returned, while Blake meandered on,
musing over what he had been told. "It's a government heel, not a
cowboy's," had Hay said, hopefully, of the print of that pivoting lump
of leather.

"That gives no clue to the wearer," answered Blake. "Our men often sell
their new boots, or give their old ones, to these hangers-on about the
post. So far as I'm concerned, the care with which the print has been
erased is proof to me that the major saw just what he said. Somebody
about Hay's place was mighty anxious to cover his tracks."

But a dozen "somebodies" besides the stablemen hung there at all hours
of the day, infesting the broad veranda, the barroom and stores,
striving to barter the skin of coyote, skunk or beaver, or, when they
had nothing to sell, pleading for an unearned drink. Half a dozen of
these furtive, beetle-browed, swarthy sons of the prairie lounged there
now, as the elder officers and the trader returned, while Blake went on
his way, exploring. With downcast eyes he followed the road to and
across a sandy watercourse in the low ground, and there, in two or three
places found the fresh imprint of that same bar shoe, just as described
by Webb. Then with long, swift strides he came stalking up the hill
again, passing the watchful eyes about the corral without a stop, and
only checking speed as he neared the homestead of the Hays, where, once
again, he became engrossed in studying the road and the hard pathways at
the side. Something that he saw, or fancied that he saw, perhaps a dozen
yards from the trader's gate, induced him to stop, scrutinize, turn,
and, with searching eyes, to cross diagonally the road in the direction
of the stables, then again to retrace his steps and return to the
eastward side. Just as he concluded his search, and once more went
briskly on his way, a blithe voice hailed him from an upper window, and
the radiant face and gleaming white teeth of Nanette Flower appeared
between the opening blinds. One might have said he expected both the
sight and question.

"Lost anything, Captain Blake?"

"Nothing but--a little time, Miss Flower," was the prompt reply as,
without a pause, the tall captain, raising his forage-cap, pushed
swiftly on. "But I've found something," muttered he to himself, between
his set teeth, and within five minutes more was again closeted with the
post commander.

"You saw it?" asked Webb.

"Yes. Three or four places--down in the arroyo. More than that--Where's
Hay?" he broke off suddenly, for voices were sounding in the adjoining
room.

"Here, with Dade and the doctor."

"Then--" But Blake got no further. Breathless and eager, little Sandy
Ray came bounding through the hallway into the presence of the officers.
He could hardly gasp his news:

"Major, you told me to keep watch and let you know. There's a courier
coming--hard! Mother saw him--too, through the--spyglass. She says
they--see him, too at Stabber's--and she's afraid----"

"Right!" cried Webb. "Quick, Blake; rush out half a dozen men to meet
him. Those devils may indeed cut him off. Thank you, my little man," he
added, bending down and patting the dark curly head, as Blake went
bounding away. "Thank you, Sandy. I'll come at once to the bluff. We'll
save him. Never you fear."

In less than no time, one might say, all Fort Frayne seemed hurrying to
the northward bluff. The sight of tall Captain Blake bounding like a
greyhound toward his troop barracks, and shouting for his first
sergeant,--of Major Webb almost running across the parade toward the
flagstaff,--of Sandy rushing back to his post at the telescope,--of the
adjutant and officer of the day tearing away toward the stables, where
many of the men were now at work, were signs that told unerringly of
something stirring, probably across the Platte. As luck would have it,
in anticipation of orders to move, the troop horses had not been sent
out to graze, and were still in the sunshiny corrals, and long before
the news was fully voiced through officers' row, Blake and six of his
men were in saddle and darting away for the ford, carbines advanced the
instant they struck the opposite bank.

From the bluff Webb had shouted his instructions. "We could see him a
moment ago," for half a dozen field glasses were already brought to
bear, "six miles out,--far east of the road. Feel well out to your left
to head off any of Stabber's people. Three of them have been seen
galloping out already."

"Aye, aye, sir," came the answering shout, as Blake whirled and tore
away after his men. There had been a time in his distant past when the
navy, not the army, was his ambition, and he still retained some of the
ways of the sea. Just as Webb feared, some few of Stabber's young
warriors had been left behind, and their eagle-eyed lookout had sighted
the far-distant courier almost as soon as Sandy's famous telescope. Now
they were hastening to head him off.

But he seemed to have totally vanished. Level as appeared the northward
prairie from the commanding height on which stood the throng of eager
watchers, it was in reality a low, rolling surface like some lazily
heaving sea that had become suddenly solidified. Long, broad, shallow
dips or basins lay between broad, wide, far-extending, yet slight,
upheavals. Through the shallows turned and twisted dozens of dry
arroyos, all gradually trending toward the Platte,--the drainage system
of the frontier. Five miles out began the ascent to the taller divides
and ridges that gradually, and with many an intervening dip, rose to the
watershed between the Platte and the score of tiny tributaries that
united to form the South Cheyenne. It was over Moccasin, or Ten Mile,
Ridge, as it was often called, and close to the now abandoned stage
road, Ray's daring little command had disappeared from view toward eight
o'clock. It was at least two, possibly three, miles east of the
stage-road that the solitary courier had first been sighted, and when
later seen by the major and certain others of the swift gathering
spectators, he was heading for Frayne, though still far east of the
highroad.

And now Mrs. Ray, on the north piazza, with Webb by her side and Nannie
Blake, Mrs. Dade and Esther in close attendance, was briefly telling the
major what she had seen up stream. One glance through Sandy's glass had
told her the little fellow had not watched in vain.

Then, with the ready binocular, she had turned to the Indian encampment
up the Platte, and almost instantly saw signs of commotion,--squaws and
children running about, ponies running away and Indian boys pursuing.
Then, one after another, three Indians,--warriors, presumably,--had
lashed away northward and she had sent Sandy on the run to tell the
major, even while keeping watch on this threatening three until they
shot behind a long, low ridge that stretched southward from the
foothills. Beyond doubt they were off in hopes of bagging that solitary
horseman, speeding with warning of some kind for the shelter of Fort
Frayne.

By this time there must have been nearly two hundred men, women and
children lining the crest of the bluff, and speaking in low, tense
voices when they spoke at all, and straining their eyes for the next
sight of the coming courier or the swift dash of the intercepting Sioux.
Well out now, and riding at the gallop, Blake and his half dozen, widely
separating so as to cover much of the ground, were still in view, and
Dade and his officers breathed more freely. "See what a distance those
beggars of Stabber's will have to ride," said the veteran captain to the
little group about him. "They dare not cross that ridge short of three
miles out. It's my belief they'll see Blake and never cross at all."

Then up rose a sudden shout. "There he is!" "There he comes!" "See!"
"See!" and fifty hands pointed eagerly northeastward where a little
black dot had suddenly popped into view out of some friendly, winding
watercourse, four miles still away, at least count, and far to the right
and front of Blake's easternmost trooper. Every glass was instantly
brought to bear upon the swiftly coming rider, Sandy's shrill young
voice ringing out from the upper window. "It isn't one of papa's men.
His horse is a gray!" Who then could it be? and what could it mean, this
coming of a strange courier from a direction so far to the east of the
travelled road? Another moment and up rose another shout.
"Look!"--"There they are!" "Sioux for certain!" And from behind a little
knob or knoll on the meridian ridge three other black dots had swept
into view and were shooting eastward down the gradual slope. Another
moment and they were swallowed up behind still another low divide, but
in that moment they had seen and been seen by the westernmost of Blake's
men, and now, one after another as the signals swept from the left, the
seven swerved. Their line of direction had been west of north. Now,
riding like mad, they veered to the northeast, and a grand race was on
between the hidden three and the would-be rescuers;--all heading for
that part of the low-rolling prairie where the lone courier might next
be expected to come into view;--friends and foes alike, unconscious of
the fact that, following one of those crooked arroyos with its stiff and
precipitous banks, he had been turned from his true course full three
quarters of a mile, and now, with a longer run, but a clear field ahead,
was steering straight for Frayne.

Thus the interest of the on-lookers at the bluff became divided. Women
with straining eyes gazed at the lonely courier, and then fearfully
scanned the ridge line between him and the northward sky; praying with
white lips for his safety; dreading with sinking hearts that at any
moment those savage riders should come darting over the divide and
swooping down upon their helpless prey. Men, with eyes that snapped and
fists that clinched, or fingers that seemed twitching with mad desire to
clasp pistol butt or sabre hilt, or loud barking carbine, ran in sheer
nervous frenzy up and down the bluffs, staring only at Blake's
far-distant riders, swinging their hats and waving them on, praying only
for another sight of the Sioux in front of the envied seven, and craving
with all their soldier hearts to share in the fight almost sure to
follow. On the Rays' piazza, with pallid face and quivering lips, Esther
Dade clung to her mother's side. Mrs. Ray had encircled with her arm the
slender waist of Nannie Blake, whose eyes never for an instant quit
their gaze after the swift-speeding dots across the distant prairie. All
her world was there in one tall, vehement horseman. Other troopers,
mounting at the stables, had spurred away under Captain Gregg, and were
splashing through the ford. Other denizens of Fort Frayne, hearing of
the excitement, came hurrying to the bluff, hangers-on from the trader's
store and corral, the shopman himself, even the bar-keeper in his white
jacket and apron; two or three panting, low-muttering halfbreeds, their
eyes aflame, their teeth gleaming in their excitement; then Hay himself,
and with him,--her dark face almost livid, her hair disordered and lips
rigid and almost purple, with deep lines at the corners of her
mouth,--Nanette Flower. Who that saw could ever forget her as she forced
her way through the crowd and stood at the very brink, saying never a
word, but swiftly focussing her ready glasses? Hardly had she reached
the spot when wild, sudden, exultant, a cheer burst fiercely from the
lips of the throng. "Look!" "Look!" "By God, they've got 'em!" yelled
man after man, in mad excitement. Three black dots had suddenly swept
into view, well to the right of Blake's men, and came whirling down
grade straight for the lone courier on the gray. Theirs had been the
short side, ours the long diagonal of the race. Theirs was the race,
perhaps, but not the prize, for he had turned up far from the expected
point. Still they had him, if only,--if only those infernal troopers
failed to see them. There was their hope! Plainly in view of the high
bluff at the fort, they were yet hidden by a wave of the prairie from
sight of the interceptors, still heading for the ridge the warriors had
just left behind. Only for a second or two, however. A yell of fierce
rejoicing went up from the crowd on the bluff as the easternmost of
Blake's black specks was seen suddenly to check, then to launch out
again, no longer to the north, but straight to his right, followed
almost immediately by every one of the seven. Then, too, swerved the
would-be slayers, in long, graceful circles, away from the wrath to
come. And, while the unconscious courier still rode, steadily loping
toward the desired refuge, away for the breaks and ravines of the
Sleeping Bear lashed the thwarted Sioux,--away in hopeless stern chase
spurred the pursuers, and while women sobbed and laughed and screamed,
and men danced and shouted and swore with delight, one dark face, livid,
fearsome, turned back from the bluff, and Dr. Tracy, hastening to the
side of his enchantress, caught, in amaze, these words, almost hissed
between set and grinding teeth.

"Seven to three--Shame!"





Next: More Strange Discoveries

Previous: First Sight Of The Foe



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