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From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

The major commanding looked up from the morning report and surveyed the
post adjutant with something of perturbation, if not annoyance, in his
grim, gray eyes. For the fourth time that week had Lieutenant Field
requested permission to be absent for several hours. The major knew just
why the junior wished to go and where. The major knew just why he wished
him not to go, but saw fit to name almost any other than the real reason
when, with a certain awkward hesitancy he began:

"W--ell, is the post return ready?"

"It will be, sir, in abundant time," was the prompt reply.

"You know they sent it back for correction last month," hazarded the
commander.

"And you know, sir, the error was not mine," was the instant rejoinder,
so quick, sharp and positive as to carry it at a bound to the verge of
disrespect, and the keen, blue eyes of the young soldier gazed, frank
and fearless, into the heavily ambushed grays of the veteran in the
chair. It made the latter wince and stir uneasily.

"If there's one thing I hate, Field, it is to have my papers sent back
by some whipsnapper of a clerk, inviting attention to this or that
error, and I expect my adjutant to see to it that they don't."

"Your adjutant does see to it, sir. I'm willing to bet a month's pay
fewer errors have been found in the papers of Fort Frayne than any post
in the Department of the Platte. General Williams told you as much when
you were in Omaha."

The major fairly wriggled in his cane-bottomed whirligig. What young
Field said was true, and the major knew it. He knew, moreover, there
wasn't a more painstaking post adjutant from the Missouri to the
mountains. He knew their monthly reports--"returns" as the regulations
call them--were referred to by a model adjutant general as model papers.
He knew it was due to young Field's care and attention, and he knew he
thought all the world of that young gentleman. It was just because he
thought so much of him he was beginning to feel that it was high time to
put a stop to something that was going on. But, it was a delicate
matter; a woman was the matter; and he hadn't the moral courage to go at
it the straightforward way. He "whip sawed" again. Thrumming on the desk
with his lean, bony fingers he began:--

"If I let my adjutant out so much, what's to prevent other youngsters
asking similar indulgence?"

The answer came like the crack of a whip:--

"Nothing, sir; and far better would it be for everybody concerned if
they spent more hours in the saddle and fewer at the store."

This was too much for the one listener in the room. With something like
the sound of a suppressed sneeze, a tall, long-legged captain of cavalry
started up from his chair, an outspread newspaper still full-stretched
between him and the desk of the commander, and, thus hidden as to his
face, sidled sniggering off to the nearest window. Young Field had
fearlessly, if not almost impudently, hit the nail on the head, and
metaphorically rapped the thrumming fingers of his superior officer.
Some commanders would have raged and sent the daring youngster right
about in arrest. Major Webb knew just what Field referred to,--knew that
the fascinations of pool, "pitch" and poker held just about half his
commissioned force at all "off duty" hours of the day or night hanging
about the officers' club room at the post trader's; knew, moreover, that
while the adjutant never wasted a moment over cards or billiards, he,
the post commander, had many a time taken a hand or a cue and wagered
his dollars against those of his devoted associates. They all loved him.
There wasn't "a mean streak in his whole system," said every soldier at
Fort Frayne. He had a capital record as a volunteer--a colonel and,
later, brigade commander in the great war. He had the brevet of
brigadier general of volunteers, but repudiated any title beyond that
of his actual rank in the regulars. He was that rara avis--a bachelor
field officer, and a bird to be brought down if feminine witchery could
do it. He was truthful, generous, high-minded, brave--a man who
preferred to be of and with his subordinates rather than above them--to
rule through affection and regard rather than the stern standard of
command. He was gentle and courteous alike to officers and the rank and
file, though he feared no man on the face of the globe. He was awkward,
bungling and overwhelmingly, lavishly, kind and thoughtful in his
dealings with the womenfolk of the garrison, for he stood in awe of the
entire sisterhood. He could ride like a centaur; he couldn't dance worth
a cent. He could snuff a candle with his Colt at twenty paces and
couldn't hit a croquet ball to save his soul. His deep-set gray eyes,
under their tangled thatch of brown, gazed straight into the face of
every man on the Platte, soldier, cowboy, Indian or halfbreed, but fell
abashed if a laundress looked at him. Billy Ray, captain of the sorrel
troop and the best light rider in Wyoming, was the only man he ever
allowed to straddle a beautiful thoroughbred mare he had bought in
Kentucky, but, bad hands or good, there wasn't a riding woman at Frayne
who hadn't backed Lorna time and again, because to a woman the major
simply couldn't say no.

And though his favorite comrades at the post were captains like Blake
and Billy Ray, married men both whose wives he worshipped, the major's
rugged heart went out especially to Beverly Field, his boy adjutant, a
lad who came to them from West Point only three years before the autumn
this story opens, a young fellow full of high health, pluck and
principle--a tip top soldier, said everybody from the start, until, as
Gregg and other growlers began to declaim, the major completely spoiled
him. Here, three years only out of military leadingstrings, he was a
young cock of the walk, "too dam' independent for a second lieutenant,"
said the officers' club element of the command, men like Gregg, Wilkins,
Crane and a few of their following. "The keenest young trooper in the
regiment," said Blake and Ray, who were among its keenest captains, and
never a cloud had sailed across the serene sky of their friendship and
esteem until this glorious September of 188-, when Nanette Flower, a
brilliant, beautiful brunette came a visitor to old Fort Frayne.

And it was on her account the major would, could he have seen the way,
said no to the adjutant's request to be absent again. On her account and
that of one other, for that request meant another long morning in saddle
with Miss Flower, another long morning in which "the sweetest girl in
the garrison," so said they all, would go about her daily duties with an
aching heart. There was no woman at Fort Frayne who did not know that
Esther Dade thought all the world of Beverly Field. There was only one
man who apparently had no inkling of it--Beverly Field himself.

She was the only daughter of a veteran officer, a captain of infantry,
who at the age of fifty, after having held a high command in the
volunteers during the civil war, was still meekly doing duty as a
company officer of regulars nearly two decades after. She had been
carefully reared by a most loving and thoughtful mother, even in the
crude old days of the army, when its fighting force was scattered in
small detachments all over the wide frontier, and men, and women, too,
lived on soldier rations, eked out with game, and dwelt in tents or
ramshackle, one-storied huts, "built by the labor of troops." At twelve
she had been placed at school in the far East, while her father enjoyed
a two years' tour on recruiting service, and there, under the care of a
noble woman who taught her girls to be women indeed--not vapid votaries
of pleasure and fashion, Esther spent five useful years, coming back to
her fond father's soldier roof a winsome picture of girlish health and
grace and comeliness--a girl who could ride, walk and run if need be,
who could bake and cook, mend and sew, cut, fashion and make her own
simple wardrobe; who knew algebra, geometry and "trig" quite as well as,
and history, geography and grammar far better than, most of the young
West Pointers; a girl who spoke her own tongue with accuracy and was not
badly versed in French; a girl who performed fairly well on the piano
and guitar, but who sang full-throated, rejoiceful, exulting like the
lark--the soulful music that brought delight to her ageing father, half
crippled by the wounds of the war days, and to the mother who so
devotedly loved and carefully planned for her. Within a month from her
graduation at Madame Piatt's she had become the darling of Fort Frayne,
the pet of many a household, the treasure of her own. With other young
gallants of the garrison, Beverly Field had been prompt to call, prompt
to be her escort when dance or drive, ride or picnic was planned in her
honor, especially the ride, for Mr. Adjutant Field loved the saddle, the
open prairie or the bold, undulating bluffs. But Field was the busiest
man at the post. Other youngsters, troop or company subalterns, had far
more time at their disposal, and begged for rides and dances, strolls
and sports which the post adjutant was generally far too busy to claim.
It was Esther who brought lawn tennis to Frayne and found eager pupils
of both sexes, but Field had been the first to meet and welcome her; had
been for a brief time at the start her most constant cavalier. Then, as
others began to feel the charm of her frank, cordial, joyous manner, and
learned to read the beauty that beamed in her clear, truthful eyes and
winsome, yet not beautiful face, they became assiduous in turn,--two of
them almost distressingly so,--and she could not wound them by refusals.
Then came a fortnight in which her father sat as a member of a
court-martial down at old Fort Laramie, where were the band,
headquarters and four troops of the ----th, and Captain and Mrs.
Freeman, who were there stationed, begged that Mrs. Dade and Esther
should come and visit them during the session of the court. There would
be all manner of army gaieties and a crowd of outside officers, and, as
luck would have it, Mr. Field was ordered thither as a witness in two
important cases. The captain and his good wife went by stage; Esther and
Beverly rode every inch of the way in saddle, camping over night with
their joyous little party at La Bonte. Then came a lovely week at
Laramie, during which Mr. Field had little to do but devote himself to,
and dance with, Esther, and when his final testimony was given and he
returned to his station, and not until then, Esther Dade discovered that
life had little interest or joy without him; but Field rode back
unknowing, and met at Frayne, before Esther Dade's return, a girl who
had come almost unheralded, making the journey over the Medicine Bow
from Rock Springs on the Union Pacific in the comfortable carriage of
old Bill Hay, the post trader, escorted by that redoubtable woman, Mrs.
Bill Hay, and within the week of her arrival Nanette Flower was the
toast of the bachelors' mess, the talk of every household at Fort
Frayne.

And well she might be. Dark and lustrous were her eyes; black, luxuriant
and lustrous was her hair; dark, rich and lustrous her radiant beauty.
In contour her face was well nigh faultless. It might have been called
beautiful indeed but for the lips, or something about the mouth, that in
repose had not a soft or winsome line, but then it was never apparently
in repose. Smiles, sunshine, animation, rippling laughter, flashing,
even, white teeth--these were what one noted when in talk with Miss
Flower. There was something actually radiant, almost dazzling, about her
face. Her figure, though petite, was exquisite, and women marked with
keen appreciation, if not envy, the style and finish of her varied and
various gowns. Six trunks, said Bill Hay's boss teamster, had been
trundled over the range from Rawlins, not to mention a box containing
her little ladyship's beautiful English side-saddle, Melton bridle and
other equine impedimenta. Did Miss Flower like to ride? She adored it,
and Bill Hay had a bay half thoroughbred that could discount the major's
mare 'cross country. All Frayne was out to see her start for her first
ride with Beverly Field, and all Frayne reluctantly agreed that sweet
Essie Dade could never sit a horse over ditch or hurdle with the superb
grace and unconcern displayed by the daring, dashing girl who had so
suddenly become the centre of garrison interest. For the first time in
her life Mrs. Bill Hay knew what it was to hold the undivided attention
of army society, for every woman at Fort Frayne was wild to know all
about the beautiful newcomer, and only one could tell.

Hay, the trader, had prospered in his long years on the frontier, first
as trader among the Sioux, later as sutler, and finally, when Congress
abolished that title, substituting therefore the euphemism, without
material clog upon the perquisites, as post trader at Fort Frayne. No
one knew how much he was worth, for while apparently a most
open-hearted, whole-souled fellow, Hay was reticence itself when his
fortunes or his family were matters of question or comment. He had long
been married, and Mrs. Hay, when at the post, was a social
sphinx,--kind-hearted, charitable, lavish to the soldiers' wives and
children, and devotion itself to the families of the officers when
sickness and trouble came, as come in the old days they too often did.
It was she who took poor Ned Robinson's young widow and infant all the
way to Cheyenne when the Sioux butchered the luckless little hunting
party down by Laramie Peak. It was she who nursed Captain Forrest's wife
and daughter through ten weeks of typhoid, and, with her own means, sent
them to the seashore, while the husband and father was far up on the
Yellowstone, cut off from all communication in the big campaign of '76.
It was she who built the little chapel and decked and dressed it for
Easter and Christmas, despite the fact that she herself had been
baptized in the Roman Catholic faith. It was she who went at once to
every woman in the garrison whose husband was ordered out on scout or
campaign, proffering aid and comfort, despite the fact long whispered in
the garrisons of the Platte country, that in the old, old days she had
far more friends among the red men than the white. That could well be,
because in those days white men were few and far between. Every one had
heard the story that it was through her the news of the massacre at Fort
Phil Kearny was made known to the post commander, for she could speak
the dialects of both the Arapahoe and the Sioux, and had the sign
language of the Plains veritably at her fingers' ends. There were not
lacking those who declared that Indian blood ran in her veins--that her
mother was an Ogalalla squaw and her father a French Canadian fur
trapper, a story to which her raven black hair and brows, her deep, dark
eyes and somewhat swarthy complexion gave no little color. But, long
years before, Bill Hay had taken her East, where he had relatives, and
where she studied under excellent masters, returning to him summer after
summer with more and more of refinement in manner, and so much of style
and fashion in dress that her annual advent had come to be looked upon
as quite the event of the season, even by women of the social position
of Mrs. Ray and Mrs. Blake, the recognized leaders among the young
matrons of the ----th Cavalry, and by gentle Mrs. Dade, to whom every
one looked up in respect,--almost in reverence. Despite the mystery
about her antecedents there was every reason why Mrs. Hay should be held
in esteem and affection. Bill Hay himself was a diamond in the
rough,--square, sturdy, uncompromising, generous and hospitable; his
great pride and glory was his wife; his one great sorrow that their only
child had died almost in infancy. His solecisms in syntax and society
were many. He was given at times to profanity, and at others, when
madame was away, to draw poker; but officers and men alike proclaimed
him a man of mettle and never hesitated to go to him when in financial
straits, sure of unusurious aid. But, even had this not been the case,
the popularity of his betterhalf would have carried him through, for
there was hardly a woman at Frayne to speak of her except in terms of
genuine respect. Mrs. Hay was truth telling, sympathetic, a peacemaker,
a resolute opponent of gossip and scandal of every kind, a woman who
minded her own business and was only mildly insistent that others should
do likewise. She declined all overtures leading to confidences as to her
past, and demanded recognition only upon the standard of the present,
which was unimpeachable.

All the same it came something like a shock to society at Frayne that,
when she appeared at the post this beautiful autumn of 188-, nearly
three months later than the usual time, she should be accompanied by
this brilliant and beautiful girl of whom no one of their number had
previously heard, and whom she smilingly, confidently presented as, "My
niece, Miss Flower."



There was a dance the night the Dades got home from Laramie. Nearly all
day long had they driven in the open buckboard over the rough, winding
road along the Platte, and Mrs. Dade was far too tired to think of
going, but Esther was so eager that her father put aside his precious
paper, tucked her under his arm and trudged cheerily away across the
parade toward the bright lights of the hop room. They had a fairly good
string orchestra at Frayne that year, and one of Strauss's most witching
waltzes--"Sounds from the Vienna Woods"--had just been begun as father
and daughter entered. A dozen people, men and women both, saw them and
noted what followed. With bright, almost dilated, eyes, and a sweet,
warm color mantling her smiling face, Esther stood gazing about the
room, nodding blithely as she caught the glance of many a friend, yet
obviously searching for still another. Then of a sudden they saw the
bonny face light up with joy uncontrollable, for Mr. Field came bounding
in at the side door, opening from the veranda of the adjutant's office.
He saw her; smiled joyous greeting as he came swiftly toward her;
then stopped short as a girl in black grenadine dropped the arm of her
cavalier, the officer with whom she was promenading, and without a
moment's hesitation, placed her left hand, fan-bearing, close to the
shoulder knot on his stalwart right arm, her black-gloved right in his
white-kidded left, and instantly they went gliding away together, he
nodding half in whimsical apology, half in merriment, over the black
spangled shoulder, and the roseate light died slowly from the sweet,
smiling face--the smile itself seemed slowly freezing--as the still
dilated eyes followed the graceful movements of the couple, slowly,
harmoniously winding and reversing about the waxen floor. Even at the
Point she had never seen more beautiful dancing. Even when her stanchest
friend, Mrs. Blake, pounced upon her with fond, anxious, welcoming
words, and Mrs. Ray, seeing it all, broke from her partner's encircling
arm, and sped to add her greeting, the child could hardly regain
self-control, and one loving-hearted woman cried herself to sleep that
night for the woe that had come into the soft and tender eyes which had
first beamed with joy at sight of Beverly Field, then filled with sudden
dread immeasurable.

But the major sought to block that morning ride in vain. The impetuous
will of the younger soldier prevailed, as he might have known it would,
and from the rear gallery of his quarters, with his strong fieldglass,
Major Webb watched the pair fording the Platte far up beyond Pyramid
Butte. "Going over to that damned Sioux village again," he swore
between his set teeth. "That makes the third time she's headed him there
this week," and with strange annoyance at heart he turned away to seek
comfort in council with his stanch henchman, Captain Ray, when the
orderly came bounding up the steps with a telegraphic despatch which the
major opened, read, turned a shade grayer and whistled low.

"My compliments to Captains Blake and Ray," said he, to the silent young
soldier, standing attention at the doorstep, "and say I should be glad
to see them here at once."

That night the sentries had just called off half past one when there was
some commotion at the guard-house. A courier had ridden in post haste
from the outlying station of Fort Beecher, far up under the lee of the
Big Horn range. The corporal of the guard took charge of his reeking
horse, while the sergeant led the messenger to the commander's quarters.
The major was already awake and half dressed. "Call the adjutant," was
all he said, on reading the despatch, and the sergeant sped away. In
less than five minutes he was back.

"I could get no answer to my knock or ring, sir, so I searched the
house. The adjutant isn't there!"





Next: Absent From Duty

Previous: The Parting By The Waters



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