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Burglary At Blake's








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

The doctor started at the heels of the corporal, but was distanced long
before he reached the scene. The sergeant of the guard was hammering on
the front door of Blake's quarters; but, before the summons was answered
from within, Mrs. Ray, in long, loose wrapper, came hurrying forth from
her own--the adjoining--hallway. Her face was white with dread. "It is
I, Nannie. Let us in," she cried, and the door was opened by a terrified
servant, as the doctor came panting up the steps. Together he and Mrs.
Ray hurried in. "Robbers!" gasped the servant girl--"Gone--the back
way!" and collapsed on the stairs. Sergeant and corporal both tore
around to the west side and out of the rear gate. Not a sign of
fugitives could they see, and, what was worse, not a sign of sentry.
Number 5, of the third relief, should at that moment have been pacing
the edge of the bluff in rear of the northernmost quarters, and yet
might be around toward the flagstaff. "Find Number 5," were the
sergeant's orders, and back he hurried to the house, not knowing what to
expect. By that time others of the guard had got there and the
officer-of-the-day was coming,--the clink of his sword could be heard
down the road,--and more windows were uplifted and more voices were
begging for information, and then came Mrs. Dade, breathless but calm.

Within doors she found the doctor ministering to a stout female who
seemed to have gone off in an improvised swoon--Mrs. Blake's imported
cook. Up the stairs, to her own room again, Mrs. Blake was being led by
Marion Ray's encircling arm. Three women were speedily closeted there,
for Mrs. Dade was like an elder sister to these two sworn friends, and,
not until Mrs. Dade and they were ready, did that lady descend the
stairs and communicate the facts to the excited gathering in the parlor,
and they in turn to those on the porch in front. By this time Flint
himself, with the poet quartermaster, was on hand, and all Fort Frayne
seemed to rouse, and Mrs. Gregg had come with Mrs. Wilkins, and these
two had relieved the doctor of the care of the cook, now talking
volubly; and, partly through her revelations, but mainly through the
more coherent statements of Mrs. Dade, were the facts made public.
Margaret, the cook, had a room to herself on the ground floor adjoining
her kitchen. Belle, the maid, had been given the second floor back, in
order to be near to her young mistress. Bitzer, the Blakes'
man-of-all-work,--like McGann, a discharged soldier,--slept in the
basement at the back of the house, and there was he found, blinking,
bewildered and only with difficulty aroused from stupor by a wrathful
sergeant. The cook's story, in brief, was that she was awakened by Mrs.
Blake's voice at her door and, thinking Belle was sick, she jumped up
and found Mrs. Blake in her wrapper, asking was she, Margaret, up stairs
a moment before. Then Mrs. Blake, with her candle, went into the dining
room, and out jumped a man in his stocking feet from the captain's den
across the hall, and knocked over Mrs. Blake and the light, and made for
her, the cook; whereat she screamed and slammed her door in his face,
and that was really all she knew about it.

But Mrs. Blake knew more. Awakened by some strange consciousness of
stealthy movement about the house, she called Belle by name, thinking
possibly the girl might be ill and seeking medicine. There was sound of
more movement, but no reply. Mrs. Blake's girlhood had been spent on the
frontier. She was a stranger to fear. She arose; struck a light and,
seeing no one in her room or the guest chamber and hallway, hastened to
the third room, and was surprised to find Belle apparently quietly
sleeping. Then she decided to look about the house and, first, went down
and roused the cook. As she was coming out of the dining room, a man
leaped past her in the hall, hurling her to one side and dashing out the
light. Her back was toward him, for he came from Gerald's own premises
known as the den. In that den, directly opposite, was one of her
revolvers, loaded. She found it, even in the darkness and, hurrying
forth again, intending to chase the intruder and alarm the sentry at the
rear, encountered either the same or a second man close to the back
door, a man who sprang past her like a panther and darted down the
steps at the back of the house, followed by two shots from her Smith &
Wesson. One of these men wore a soldier's overcoat, for the cape, ripped
from the collar seam, was left in her hands. Another soldier's overcoat
was later found at the rear fence, but no boots, shoes or tracks
thereof, yet both these men, judging from the sound, had been in
stocking feet, or possibly rubbers, or perhaps--but that last suspicion
she kept to herself, for Mrs. Hay, too, was now among the arrivals in
the house, full of sympathy and genuine distress. The alarm, then, had
gone beyond the guard-house, and the creators thereof beyond the ken of
the guard, for not a sentry had seen or heard anything suspicious until
after the shots; then Number 8, Flint's latest addition, declared that
from his post at Hay's corral he had distinctly heard the swift
hoofbeats of a brace of ponies darting up the level bench to the
westward. Number 5 had turned up safely, and declared that at the moment
the scream was heard he was round by the flagstaff, listening to the
night chorus of a pack of yelping coyotes, afar out to the northwest,
and then he thought he heard scrambling and running down at the foot of
the bluff just as the shots were fired. Investigation on his part was
what took him out of sight for the moment, and later investigation
showed that one marauder, at least, had gone that way, for a capeless
greatcoat was found close down by the shore, where some fugitive had
tossed it in his flight. This overcoat bore, half erased from the soiled
lining, the name of Culligan, Troop "K;" but Culligan had served out
his time and taken his discharge a year before. The other overcoat was
even older, an infantry coat, with shorter cape, bearing a company
number "47," but no name. Both garments savored strongly of the stable.

Then, before quiet was restored, certain search was made about the
quarters. It was found the intruders had obtained admission through the
basement door at the back, which was never locked, for the sentry on
Number 5 had orders to call Bitzer at 5:30 A. M., to start the fires,
milk the cow, etc.,--Hogan, Ray's factotum, being roused about the same
time. The marauders had gone up the narrow stairway into the kitchen,
first lashing one end of a leather halter-strap about the knob of
Bitzer's door and the other to the base of the big refrigerator,--a
needless precaution, as it took sustained and determined effort, as many
a sentry on Number 5 could testify, to rouse Bitzer from even a nap.

It was no trick for the prowlers to softly raise the trap door leading
to the kitchen, and, once there, the rest of the house was practically
open. Such a thing as burglary or sneak thieving about the officers'
quarters had been unheard of at Frayne for many a year. One precaution
the visitors had taken, that of unbolting the back door, so that retreat
might not be barred in case they were discovered. Then they had gone
swiftly and noiselessly about their work.

But what had they taken? The silver was upstairs, intact, under Mrs.
Blake's bed; so was the little safe in which was kept her jewelry and
their valuable papers. Books, bric-a-brac,--everything down
stairs--seemed unmolested. No item was missing from its accustomed
place. Mrs. Blake thought perhaps the intruders had not entered her room
at all. In Gerald's den were "stacks," as he said, of relics, souvenirs,
trophies of chase and war, but no one thing of the intrinsic value of
fifty dollars. What could have been the object of their midnight search?
was the question all Fort Frayne was asking as people dispersed and went
home,--the doctor intimating it was high time that Mrs. Blake was
permitted to seek repose. Not until he had practically cleared the house
of all but her most intimate friends, Mrs. Dade and Mrs. Ray, would
Waller permit himself to ask a question that had been uppermost in his
mind ever since he heard her story.

"Mrs. Blake, someone has been ransacking Mr. Field's quarters for
letters or papers. Now,--was there anything of that kind left by the
captain that--someone may have needed?"

Nannie Blake's head was uplifted instantly from Marion's shoulder. She
had been beginning to feel the reaction. For one moment the three women
looked intently into each other's faces. Then up they started and
trooped away into Gerald's den. The doctor followed. The upper drawer of
a big, flat-topped desk stood wide open, and pretty Mrs. Blake opened
her eyes and mouth in emulation as she briefly exclaimed--

"It's gone!"

Then Waller went forthwith to the quarters of the commander and caught
him still in conference with his quartermaster and the guard, four or
five of the latter being grouped without. The major retired to his front
room, where, with Wilkins, he received the doctor.

"Major Flint," said Waller, "those overcoats belong to Mr. Hay's
stablemen,--Pete and Crapaud. Will you order their immediate arrest?"

"I would, doctor," was the answer, "but they are not at the corral. We
know how to account for the hoofbeats in the valley. Those scoundrels
have got nearly an hour's start, and we've nobody to send in chase."

Then it presently appeared that the post commander desired to continue
conference with his staff officer, for he failed to invite the post
surgeon to be seated. Indeed, he looked up into the doctor's kindling
eyes with odd mixture of impatience and embarrassment in his own, and
the veteran practitioner felt the slight, flushed instantly, and, with
much hauteur of manner, took prompt but ceremonious leave.

And when morning came and Fort Frayne awoke to another busy day, as if
the excitements of the night gone by had not been enough for it, a new
story went buzzing, with the first call for guard mount, about the
garrison; and, bigger even than yesterday, the two details, in soldier
silence, began to gather in front of the infantry quarters. Major Flint
had ordered sentries posted at the trader's home, with directions that
Mrs. Hay was not to be allowed outside her gate, and no one, man or
woman, permitted to approach her from without except by express
permission of the post commander. "General Harney" and "Dan," the two
best horses of the trader's stable, despite the presence of the sentry
at the front, had been abstracted sometime during the earlier hours of
the night, and later traced to the ford at Stabber's old camp, and with
Pete and Crapaud, doubtless, were gone.

That day the major wired to Omaha that he should be reinforced at once.
One half his little force, he said, was now mounted each day for guard,
and the men couldn't stand it. The general, of course, was in the field,
but his chief of staff remained at headquarters and was empowered to
order troops from post to post within the limits of the department.
Flint hoped two more companies could come at once, and he did not care
what post was denuded in his favor. His, he said, was close to the
Indian lands,--separated from them, in fact, only by a narrow and
fordable river. The Indians were all on the warpath and, aware of his
puny numbers, might be tempted at any moment to quit the mountains and
concentrate on him. Moreover, he was satisfied there had been frequent
communication between their leaders and the household of the post trader
at Fort Frayne. He was sure Mrs. Hay had been giving them valuable
information, and he expected soon to be able to prove very serious
charges against her. Meantime, he had placed her under surveillance.
(That she had been ever since his coming, although she never realized
it.) Fancy the sensation created at Omaha, where the Hays were well
known, when this news was received! Flint did not say "under arrest,"
guarded day and night by a brace of sentries who were sorely disgusted
with their duty. He had no doubt his appeals for more troops would be
honored, in view of his strenuous representations, but the day passed
without assurance to that effect and without a wired word to say his
action regarding Mrs. Hay had been approved. It began to worry him. At 3
P. M. Mrs. Hay sent and begged him to call upon her that she might
assure and convince him of her innocence. But this the major found means
to refuse, promising, however a meeting in the near future, after he had
received tidings from the front, which he was awaiting and expecting
every moment. He had reluctantly given permission to visit her to Mrs.
Dade, Mrs. Ray and two or three other women whose hearts were filled
with sympathy and sorrow, and their heads with bewilderment, over the
amazing order. Indeed, it was due to Mrs. Dade's advice that she so far
triumphed over pride and wrath as to ask to see the major and explain.
She had received tidings from her husband and Nanette. She was perfectly
willing to admit it,--to tell all about it,--and, now that Pete and
Crapaud had turned out to be such unmitigated rascals, to have them
caught and castigated, if caught they could be. But all this involved no
disloyalty. They had always been friendly with the Sioux and the Sioux
with them. Everybody knew it;--no one better than General Crook himself,
and if he approved why should a junior disapprove? Indeed, as she asked
her friends, what junior who had ever known Mr. Hay and her, or the
Indians either, would be apt to disapprove so long as the Indians, when
on the warpath, received no aid or comfort from either her husband or
herself? "And if they had," said she, further, waxing eloquent over her
theme, "could we have begun to give them half the aid or comfort--or a
thousandth part of the supplies and ammunition--they got day after day
through the paid agents of the Interior Department?"

But these were questions army people could not properly discuss,--their
mission in life being rather to submit to, than suggest, criticism.

And so another restless day went by and no more news came from either
front or rear--from the range to the north or Rock Springs at the south,
and Flint was just formulating another fervid appeal to that impassive
functionary, the adjutant general at Omaha, when toward evening word
came whistling down the line in the person of Master Sanford Ray, that
two couriers were in sight "scooting" in from Moccasin Ridge, and Flint
and fully half the soldier strength of Fort Frayne gathered on the
northward bluff like the "wan burghers" of ancient Rome, to watch and
speed their coming. Who could tell what the day might yet bring forth?

It was well nigh dark before the foremost reached the ford--a scout in
worn and tawdry buckskin, wearied and impassive. He gave his despatch to
the care of the first officer to accost him and took the way to the
store, briefly saying in reply to questions, that he was "too dry to
speak the truth." So they flocked, at respectful distance, about the
major as he read the hurried lines. The general bade the post commander
wire the entire message to Washington, and to take all precautions for
the protection of the few settlers about him. The columns under Colonel
Henry and Major Webb had united near the head waters of the Clear Fork
of the Powder; had had a rattling running fight with Lame Wolf's people;
had driven them into the mountains and were following hot on the trail,
but that Stabber's band and certain disaffected Sioux had cut loose from
the main body and gone south. Whistling Elk, a young chief of much
ambition had quarrelled with certain of the Red Cloud element, and
joined Stabber, with his entire band. "Look out for them and watch for
signals any day or night from Eagle Butte."

Flint read with sinking heart. Indian fighting was something far too
scientific for his martial education and too much for his skeleton
command. In the gathering dusk his face looked white and drawn, and old
Wilkins, breasting his way up the slope, puffed hard, as he begged for
news. There was still another despatch, however, which was evidently
adding to the major's perturbation, for it concerned him personally and
for the moment Wilkins went unheard.

The general desires that you send the couriers back within
twenty-four hours of their arrival, after you have had time to
scout the line of the Platte say twenty miles each way, giving full
report of every Indian seen or heard of. He enjoins vigilance and
hopes to keep the Sioux so busy that they can send no more in your
direction. Should they do so, however, he will pursue at once. He
trusts that you are doing everything possible to comfort and
reassure Mrs. Hay, and that you can send good news of Lieutenant
Field.

And this when he had just refused to remove the sentries or to visit
Mrs. Hay:--this when he had just been told by Dr. Waller that Lieutenant
Field was distinctly worse.

"He is simply fretting his heart out here," were the doctor's words to
him but a short time before, "and, while unable to mount a horse, he is
quite strong enough now to take the trip by ambulance, slowly, that is,
to Rock Springs. I fear his father is failing. I fear Field will fail if
not allowed to go. I recommend a seven days' leave, with permission to
apply to Omaha for thirty--he'll probably need it."

"I can't permit government teams and ambulances to be used for any such
purpose," said the major, stoutly. "It is distinctly against orders."

"Then, sir, he can go in my spring wagon and we'll hire mules from Mrs.
Hay," was the doctor's prompt reply. "He can do no good here, major. He
may do much good there."

But Flint was full of information and official zeal. The matter of
Field's going had been broached before, and, when told of it, the
Wilkins pair had been prompt with their protests. "Of course he'd be
wantin' to get away," said Wilkins, "wid all that money to account for,
let alone these other things." The Irishman was hot against the young
West Pointer who had derided him. He doubtless believed his own words.
He never dreamed how sorely the lad now longed to see his father,--how
deep was his anxiety on that father's account,--how filled with
apprehension on his own, for that rifled desk had brought him reason for
most painful thought. Wilkins and Field had been antagonistic from the
start. Neither could see good in the other and, egged on by his worthy
spouse's exhortations, the quartermaster had seized the opportunity to
fill the post commander's too receptive mind with all his own
suspicions--and this at a crucial time.

"I can't listen to it, Dr. Waller," said the major, sternly. "Here's a
matter of near a thousand dollars that young man has got to answer for
the moment he is well enough to stir. And if he can't account for
it--you well know what my duty will demand."





Next: A Slap For The Major

Previous: A Rifled Desk



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