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Fire!








From: An Apache Princess

"It was not so much his wounds as his weakness," Dr. Graham was
saying, later still that autumn night, "that led to my declaring
Blakely unfit to take the field. He would have gone in spite of me,
but for the general's order. He has gone now in spite of me, and no
one knows where."

It was then nearly twelve o'clock, and "the Bugologist" was still
abroad. Dinner, as usual since his mishap, had been sent over to him
from the officers' mess soon after sunset. His horse, or rather the
troop horse designated for his use, had been fed and groomed in the
late afternoon, and then saddled at seven o'clock and brought over to
the rear of the quarters by a stable orderly.

There had been some demur at longer sending Blakely's meals from mess,
now reduced to an actual membership of two. Sandy was a "much married"
post in the latter half of the 70's, the bachelors of the commissioned
list being only three, all told,--Blakely, and Duane of the Horse, and
Doty of the Foot. With these was Heartburn, the contract doctor, and
now Duane and the doctor were out in the mountains and Blakely on sick
report, yet able to be about. Doty thought him able to come to mess.
Blakely, thinking he looked much worse than he felt, thanks to his
plastered jowl, stood on his rights in the matter and would not go.
There had been some demur on part of the stable sergeant of Wren's
troop as to sending over the horse. Few officers brought eastern-bred
horses to Arizona in those days. The bronco was best suited to the
work. An officer on duty could take out the troop horse assigned to
his use any hour before taps and no questions asked; but the sergeant
told Mr. Blakely's messenger that the lieutenant wasn't for duty, and
it might make trouble. It did. Captain Cutler sent for old Murray, the
veteran sergeant, and asked him did he not know his orders. He had
allowed a horse to be sent to a sick man--an officer not on duty--and
one the doctor had warned against exercise for quite a time, at least.
And now the officer was gone, so was the horse, and Cutler, being
sorely torn up by the revelations of the evening and dread of ill
befalling Blakely, was so injudicious as to hint to a soldier who had
worn chevrons much longer than he, Cutler, had worn shoulder-straps,
that the next thing to go would probably be his sergeant's bars,
whereat Murray went red to the roots of his hair--which "continued the
march" of the color,--and said, with a snap of his jaws, that he got
those chevrons, as he did his orders, from his troop commander. A
court might order them stricken off, but a captain couldn't, other
than his own. For which piece of impudence the veteran went
straightway to Sudsville in close arrest. Corporal Bolt was ordered to
take over his keys and the charge of the stables until the return of
Captain Wren, also this order--that no government horse should be sent
to Lieutenant Blakely hereafter until the lieutenant was declared by
the post surgeon fit for duty.

There were left at the post, of each of the two cavalry troops, about
a dozen men to care for the stables, the barracks, and property. Seven
of these had gone with the convoy to Prescott, and, when Cutler
ordered half a dozen horsemen out at midnight to follow Blakely's
trail and try to find him, they had to draw on both troop stables, and
one of the designated men was the wretch Downs,--and Downs was not in
his bunk,--not anywhere about the quarters or corrals. It was nearly
one by the time the party started down the sandy road to the south,
Hart and his buckboard and a sturdy brace of mules joining them as
they passed the store. "We may need to bring him back in this," said
he, to Corporal Quirk.

"An' what did ye fetch to bring him to wid?" asked the corporal.
Hart touched lightly the breast of his coat, then clucked to his team.
"Faith, there's more than wan way of tappin' it then," said Quirk, but
the cavalcade moved on.

The crescent moon had long since sunk behind the westward range, and
trailing was something far too slow and tedious. They spurred,
therefore, for the nearest ranch, five miles down stream, making their
first inquiry there. The inmates were slow to arise, but quick to
answer. Blakely had neither been seen nor heard of. Downs they didn't
wish to know at all. Indians hadn't been near the lower valley since
the "break" at the post the previous week. One of the inmates declared
he had ridden alone from Camp McDowell within three days, and there
wasn't a 'Patchie west of the Matitzal. Hart did all the questioning.
He was a business man and a brother. Soldiers, the ranchmen didn't
like--soldiers set too much value on government property.

The trail ran but a few hundred yards east of the stream, and close to
the adobe walls of the ranch. Strom, the proprietor, got out his
lantern and searched below the point where the little troop had turned
off. No recent hoof-track, southbound, was visible. "He couldn't have
come this far," said he. "Better put back!" Put back they did, and by
the aid of Hart's lantern found the fresh trail of a government-shod
horse, turning to the east nearly two miles toward home. Quirk said a
bad word or two; borrowed the lantern and thoughtfully included the
flask; bade his men follow in file and plunged through the underbrush
in dogged pursuit. Hart and his team now could not follow. They waited
over half an hour without sign or sound from the trailers, then drove
swiftly back to the post. There was a light in the telegraph office,
and thither Hart went in a hurry. Lieutenant Doty, combining the
duties of adjutant and officer of the day, was up and making the
rounds. The sentries had just called off three o'clock.

"Had your trouble for nothing, Hart," hailed the youngster cheerily.
"Where're the men?"

"Followed his trail--turned to the east three miles below here,"
answered the trader.

"Three miles below! Why, man, he wasn't below. He met them up Beaver
Creek, an' brought 'em in."

"Brought who in?" asked Hart, dropping his whip. "I don't understand."

"Why, the scouts, or runners! Wren sent 'em in. He's had a sharp fight
up the mountains beyond Snow Lake. Three men wounded. You couldn't
have gone a mile before Blakely led 'em across No. 4's post. Ahorah
and another chap--'Patchie-Mohaves. We clicked the news up to Prescott
over an hour ago."

The tin reflector at the office window threw the light of the
glass-framed candle straight upon Hart's rubicund face, and that face
was a study. He faltered a bit before he asked:

"Did Blakely seem all right?--not used up, I mean?"

"Seemed weak and tired, but the man is mad to go and join his troop
now--wants to go right out with Ahorah in the morning, and Captain
Cutler says no. Oh, they had quite a row!"

They had had rather more than quite a row, if truth were told. Doty
had heard only a bit of it. Cutler had been taken by surprise when the
Bugologist appeared, two strange, wiry Apaches at his heels, and at
first had contented himself with reading Wren's dispatch, repeating it
over the wires to Prescott. Then he turned on Blakely, silently,
wearily waiting, seated at Doty's desk, and on the two Apaches,
silently, stolidly waiting, squatted on the floor. Cutler wished to
know how Blakely knew these couriers were coming, and how he came to
leave the post without permission. For a moment the lieutenant simply
gazed at him, unanswering, but when the senior somewhat sharply
repeated the question, in part, Blakely almost as sharply answered: "I
did not know they were coming nor that there was wrong in my going.
Major Plume required nothing of the kind when we were merely going out
for a ride."



This nettled Cutler. He had always said that Plume was lax, and here
was proof of it. "I might have wanted you--I did want you, hours
ago, Mr. Blakely, and even Major Plume would not countenance his
officers spending the greater part of the night away from the post,
especially on a government horse," and there had Cutler the whip hand
of the scientist, and Blakely had sense enough to see it, yet not
sense enough to accept. He was nervous and irritable, as well as
tired. Graham had told him he was too weak to ride, yet he had gone,
not thinking, of course, to be gone so long, but gone deliberately,
and without asking the consent of the post commander. "My finding the
runners was an accident," he said, with some little asperity of tone
and manner. "In fact, I didn't find them. They found me. I had known
them both at the reservation. Have I your permission, sir"--this with
marked emphasis--"to take them for something to eat. They are very
hungry,--have come far, and wish to start early and rejoin Captain
Wren,--as I do, too."

"They will start when I am ready, Mr. Blakely," said Cutler, "and
you certainly will not start before. In point of fact, sir, you may
not be allowed to start at all."

It was now Blakely's turn to redden to the brows. "You surely will not
prevent my going to join my troop, now that it is in contact with the
enemy," said he. "All I need is a few hours' sleep. I can start at
seven."

"You cannot, with my consent, Mr. Blakely," said the captain dryly.
"There are reasons, in fact, why you can't leave here for any purpose
unless the general himself give contrary orders. Matters have come up
that--you'll probably have to explain."

And here Doty entered, hearing only the captain's last. At sight of
his adjutant the captain stopped short in his reprimand. "See to it
that these runners have a good supper, Mr. Doty," said Cutler. "Stir
up my company cook, if need be, but take them with you now." Then,
turning again on Blakely, "The doctor wishes you to go to bed at once,
Mr. Blakely, and I will see you in the morning, but no more riding
away without permission," he concluded, and thereby closed the
interview. He had, indeed, other things to say to, and inquire of,
Blakely, but not until he had further consulted Graham. He confidently
expected the coming day would bring instructions from headquarters to
hold both Blakely and Trooper Downs at the post, as a result of his
dispatches, based on the revelation of poor Pat Mullins. But Downs,
forewarned, perhaps, had slipped into hiding somewhere--an old trick
of his, when punishment was imminent. It might be two or three days
before Downs turned up again, if indeed he turned up at all, but
Blakely was here and could be held. Hence the "horse order" of the
earlier evening.

It was nearly two when Blakely reached his quarters, rebuffed and
stung. He was so nervous, however, that, in spite of serious fatigue,
he found it for over an hour impossible to sleep. He turned out his
light and lay in the dark, and the atmosphere of the room seemed
heavily charged with rank tobacco. His new "striker" had sat up, it
seems, keeping faithful vigil against his master's return, but, as the
hours wore on, had solaced himself with pipe after pipe, and wandering
about to keep awake. Most of the time, he declared, he had spent in a
big rocking chair on the porch at the side door, but the scent of the
weed and of that veteran pipe permeated the entire premises, and the
Bugologist hated dead tobacco. He got up and tore down the blanket
screen at the side windows and opened all the doors wide and tried his
couch again, and still he wooed the drowsy god in vain. "Nor poppy nor
mandragora" had he to soothe him. Instead there were new and anxious
thoughts to vex, and so another half hour he tossed and tumbled, and
when at last he seemed dropping to the borderland, perhaps, of dreams,
he thought he must be ailing again and in need of new bandages or
cooling drink or something, for the muffled footfalls, betrayed by
creaking pine rather than by other sound, told him drowsily that the
attendant or somebody, cautioned not to disturb him, was moving
slowly across the room. He might have been out on the side porch to
get cool water from the olla, but he needn't be so confoundedly slow
and cautious, though he couldn't help the creaking. Then, what could
the attendant want in the front room, where were still so many of the
precious glass cases unharmed, and the Bugologist's favorite books and
his big desk, littered with papers, etc.? Blakely thought to hail and
warn him against moving about among those brittle glass things, but
reflected that he, the new man, had done the reshifting under his,
Blakely's, supervision, and knew just where each item was placed and
how to find the passage way between them. It really was a trifle
intricate. How could he have gone into the spare room at Captain
Wren's, and there made his home as--she--Mrs. Plume had first
suggested? There would not have been room for half his plunder, to say
nothing of himself. "What on earth can Nixon want?" he sleepily asked
himself, "fumbling about there among those cases? Was that a crack or
a snap?" It sounded like both, a splitting of glass, a wrenching of
lock spring or something. "Be careful there!" he managed to call. No
answer. Perhaps it was some one of the big hounds, then, wandering
restlessly about at night. They often did, and--why, yes, that would
account for it. Doors and windows were all wide open here, what was to
prevent? Still, Blakely wished he hadn't extinguished his lamp. He
might then have explored. The sound ceased entirely for a moment, and,
now that he was quite awake, he remembered that the hospital attendant
was no longer with him. Then the sounds must have been made by the
striker or the hounds. Blakely had no dogs of his own. Indeed they
were common property at the post, most of them handed down with the
rest of the public goods and chattels by their predecessors of the ----th.
At all events, he felt far too languid, inert, weak, indifferent or
something. If the striker, he had doubtless come down for cool water. If
the hounds, they were in search of something to eat, and in either case
why bother about it? The incident had so far distracted his thoughts
from the worries of the night that now, at last and in good earnest, he
was dropping to sleep.

But in less than twenty minutes he was broad awake again, with sudden
start--gasping, suffocating, listening in amaze to a volley of
snapping and cracking, half-smothered, from the adjoining room. He
sprang from his bed with a cry of alarm and flung himself through a
thick, hot veil of eddying, yet invisible, smoke, straight for the
communicating doorway, and was brought up standing by banging his head
against the resounding pine, tight shut instead of open as he had left
it, and refusing to yield to furious battering. It was locked, bolted,
or barred from the other side. Blindly he turned and rushed for the
side porch and the open air, stumbling against the striker as the
latter came clattering headlong down from aloft. Then together they
rushed to the parlor window, now cracking and splitting from the
furious heat within. A volume of black fume came belching forth,
driven and lashed by ruddy tongues of flame within, and their shouts
for aid went up on the wings of the dawn, and the infantry sentry on
the eastward post came running to see; caught one glimpse of the glare
at that southward window; bang went his rifle with a ring that came
echoing back from the opposite cliffs, as all Camp Sandy sprang from
its bed in answer to the stentorian shout "Fire! No. 5!"





Next: Whose Letters?

Previous: A Stop By Wire



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