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From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

But Frayne was far from done with excitement for the day. For a while
all eyes seemed centred on the chase, now scattered miles toward the
east, and, save for two of the number left behind, blown, spent and
hopelessly out of the race, soon lost to view among the distant swales
and ravines. Then everyone turned to welcome the coming harbinger, to
congratulate him on his escape, to demand the reason for his daring
essay. Gregg and his men were first to reach him, and while one of them
was seen through the levelled glasses to dismount and give the courier
his fresh horse, thereby showing that the gray was well nigh exhausted,
the whole party turned slowly toward the post. Then one of their number
suddenly darted forth from the group and came spurring at top speed
straight for the ford.

"That means news of importance," said Webb, at the instant. "And Gregg
and all of his squad are coming in,--not following Blake. That means he
and they are more needed elsewhere. Come on, Mr. Ross. We'll go down and
meet that fellow. Orderly, have my horse sent to the ford." So, followed
by three or four of the younger officers,--the married men being
restrained, as a rule, by protesting voices, close at hand,--the
commanding officer went slipping and sliding down a narrow, winding
pathway, a mere goat track, many of the soldiers following at respectful
distance, while all the rest of the gathered throng remained at the
crest, eagerly, almost breathlessly awaiting the result. They saw the
trooper come speeding in across the flats from the northeast; saw as he
reached the "bench" that he was spurring hard; heard, even at the
distance, the swift batter of hoofs upon the resounding sod; could
almost hear the fierce panting of the racing steed; saw horse and rider
come plunging down the bank and into the stream, and shoving breast deep
through the foaming waters; then issue, dripping, on the hither shore,
where, turning loose his horse, the soldier leaped from saddle and
saluted his commander. But only those about the major heard the stirring
message:

"Captain Gregg's compliments, sir. It's Rudge from the Dry Fork.
Sergeant Kelly feared that Kennedy hadn't got through, for most of Lame
Wolf's people pulled away from the Fork yesterday morning, coming this
way, and the sergeant thought it was to unite with Stabber to surround
any small command that might be sent ahead from here. Rudge was ordered
to make a wide sweep to the east, so as to get around them, and that's
what took him so long. He left not two hours after Kennedy."



In spite of his years of frontier service and training in self control,
Webb felt, and others saw, that his face was paling. Ray, with only
fifty men at his back, was now out of sight--out of reach--of the post,
and probably face to face with, if not already surrounded by, the
combined forces of the Sioux. Not a second did he hesitate. Among the
swarm that had followed him was a young trumpeter of "K" Troop, reckless
of the fact that he should be at barracks, packing his kit. As luck
would have it, there at his back hung the brazen clarion, held by its
yellow braid and cord. "Boots and Saddles, Kerry, Quick!" ordered the
major, and as the ringing notes re-echoed from bluff and building wall
and came laughing back from the distant crags at the south, the little
throng at the bank and the crowd at the point of the bluff had scattered
like startled coveys,--the men full run for the barracks and stables,
never stopping to "reason why."

Nearly half an hour later, gray-haired Captain Dade stood at the point
of bluff near the flagstaff, Esther, pale and tearful, by his side,
waving adieu and Godspeed to Webb, who had halted in saddle on reaching
the opposite bank and was watching his little column through the
ford,--three stanch troops, each about sixty strong, reinforced by half
a dozen of Ray's men left behind in the forward rush at dawn, but
scorning disqualification of any kind now that danger menaced their
beloved captain and their comrades of the sorrel troop. In all the
regiment no man was loved by the rank and file as was Billy Ray.
Brilliant soldiers, gifted officers, sterling men were many of his
comrades, but ever since he first joined the ----th on the heels of the
civil war, more than any one of its commissioned list, Ray had been
identified with every stirring scout and campaign, fight or incident in
the regimental history. Truscott, Blake, Hunter and Gregg among the
junior captains had all had their tours of detached duty--instructing at
West Point, recruiting in the big Eastern cities, serving as
aide-de-camp to some general officer, but of Ray it could be said he had
hardly been east of the Missouri from the day he joined until his
wedding day, and only rarely and briefly since that time. More than any
officer had he been prominent in scout after scout--Arizona, Mexico,
Texas, the Indian Territory, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, the
Dakotas, Montana, even parts of Idaho and Utah he knew as he used to
know the roads and runways of the blue grass region of his native state.
From the British line to the Gulfs of Mexico and California he had
studied the West. The regiment was his home, his intense pride, and its
men had been his comrades and brothers. The veterans trusted and swore
by, the younger troopers looked up to and well nigh worshipped him, and
now, as the story that the Sioux had probably surrounded the sorrel
troop went like wild fire through the garrison, even the sick in
hospital begged to be allowed to go, and one poor lad, frantic through
fever and enforced confinement, broke from the hold of the half-hearted
attendant; tore over to "K" Troop barracks, demanding his "kit" of
Sergeant Schreiber, and, finding the quarters deserted, the men all gone
to stables, dared to burst into that magnate's own room in search of his
arms and clothing, and thereby roused a heavily sleeping soldier, who
damned him savagely until, through wild raving, he gathered that some
grave danger menaced Captain Ray. Even his befuddled senses could
fathom that! And while guards and nurses bore the patient, shrieking and
struggling, back to hospital, Kennedy soused his hot head in the cooling
waters of their frontier lavatory and was off like a shot to the
stables.

It was long before he found his horse, for the guard had taken Kilmaine
to "F" Troop's stables, and Kennedy had been housed by "K." It was
longer still before he could persuade the guard that he "had a right,"
as he put it, to ride after the major. Not until Captain Dade had been
consulted would they let him go. Not, indeed, until in person Kennedy
had pleaded his cause with that cool-headed commander. Dade noted the
flushed and swollen face, but reasoned that nothing would more speedily
shake the whiskey from his system than a long gallop in that glorious
air and sunshine. "Major Webb is following the trail of Captain Ray,"
said he. "You follow the major's. You can't miss him, and there are no
more Indians now to interpose. You should catch him by noon--then give
him this."

"This" was a copy of a late despatch just in from Laramie, saying that
the revolt had reached the Sioux at the agencies and reservations on the
White Earth, and would demand the attention of every man at the post. No
reinforcement, therefore, could be looked for from that quarter until
the general came. It was no surprise to Dade. It could be none to Webb,
for old Red Cloud had ever been an enemy, even when bribed and petted
and fed and coddled in his village on the Wakpa Schicha. His nephew led
the bolt afield. No wonder the old war chief backed him with abundant
food, ammunition and eager warriors sent "from home."

But it was after eleven when Kennedy drove his still wearied horse
through the Platte and, far to the north, saw the dun dust cloud that
told where Webb's little column was trotting hard to the support of the
sorrels. His head was aching and he missed the morning draught of
soldier coffee. He had eaten nothing since his cold lunch at the
major's, and would have been wise had he gone to Mistress McGann and
begged a cup of the fragrant Java with which she had stimulated her
docile master ere he rode forth, but the one idea uppermost in Kennedy's
muddled brain was that the sorrels were trapped by the Sioux and every
trooper was needed to save them. At three in the morning he felt equal
to fighting the whole Sioux nation, with all its dozen tribes and
dialects. At 3:30 he had been whipped to a stand by just one of their
number, and, "Mother av Moses," one that spoke English as well, or as
ill, as any man in the ----th.

Sore in soul and body was Kennedy, and sore and stiff was his gallant
bay, Kilmaine, when these comrades of over three years' service shook
the spray of the Platte from their legs and started doggedly northward
on the trail. Northward they went for full three miles, Kilmaine sulky
and protesting. The dust cloud was only partially visible now, hidden by
the ridge a few miles ahead, when, over that very ridge, probably four
miles away to the right front, Kennedy saw coming at speed a single
rider, and reined to the northeast to meet him. Blake and his men had
gone far in that direction. Two of their number, with horses too slow
for a chase after nimble ponies, had, as we have seen, drifted back, and
joined, unprepared though they were for the field, the rear of Webb's
column. But now came another, not aiming for Webb, but heading for
Frayne. It meant news from the chase that might be important. It would
take him but little from the direct line to the north, why not meet him
and hear? Kennedy reined to the right, riding slowly now and seeking the
higher level from which he could command the better view.

At last they neared each other, the little Irish veteran, sore-headed
and in evil mood, and a big, wild-eyed, scare-faced trooper new to the
frontier, spurring homeward with panic in every feature, but rejoicing
at sight of a comrade soldier.

"Git back; git back!" he began to shout, as soon as he got within
hailing distance. "There's a million Indians just over the ridge.
They've got the captain----"

"What captain?" yelled Kennedy, all ablaze at the instant. "Spake up, ye
shiverin' loon!"

"Blake! He got way ahead of us----"

"Then it's to him you should be runnin', not home, ye cur! Turn about
now! Turn about or I'll----" And in a fury Pat had seized the other's
rein, and, spurring savagely at Kilmaine,--both horses instantly waking,
as though responsive to the wrath and fervor of their little master,--he
fairly whirled the big trooper around and, despite fearsome protests,
bore him onward toward the ridge, swift questioning as they rode. How
came they to send a raw rookie on such a quest? Why, the rookie gasped
in explanation that he was on stable guard, and the captain took the
first six men in sight. How happened it that the captain got so far
ahead of him? There was no keepin' up with the captain. He was on his
big, raw-boned race horse, chasin' three Indians that was firin' and had
hit Meisner, but there was still three of the troop to follow him, and
the captain ordered "come ahead," until all of a sudden, as they filed
round a little knoll, the three Indians they'd been chasin' turned about
and let 'em have it, and down went another horse, and Corporal Feeney
was killed sure, and he, the poor young rookie, saw Indians in every
direction, "comin' straight at 'em," and what else could he do but
gallop for home--and help? All this, told with much gasping on his part,
and heard with much blasphemy by Kennedy, brought the strangely assorted
pair at swift gallop over the springy turf back along the line of that
panicky, yet most natural retreat. Twice would the big fellow have
broken away and again spurred for home, but the little game cock held
him savagely to his work and so, together, at last they neared the
curtaining ridge. "Now, damn you!" howled Kennedy, "whip out your
carbine and play you're a man till we see what's in front! an' if ye
play false, the first shot from this barker," with a slap at the butt of
his Springfield, "goes through your heart."

And this was what they saw as, together, they rounded the hillock and
came in view of the low ground beyond.

Half way down the long, gradual slope, in a shallow little dip, possibly
an old buffalo wallow, two or three horses were sprawled, and a tiny
tongue of flame and blue smoke spitting from over the broad, brown backs
told that someone, at least, was on the alert and defensive. Out on the
prairie, three hundred yards beyond, a spotted Indian pony, heels up,
was rolling on the turf, evidently sorely wounded. Behind this rolling
parapet crouched a feathered warrior, and farther still away, sweeping
and circling on their mettlesome steeds, three more savage braves were
darting at speed. Already they had sighted the coming reinforcements,
and while two seemed frantically signalling toward the northwest, the
third whirled his horse and sped madly away in that direction.

"Millions, be damned!" yelled Kennedy. "There's only three. Come on, ye
scut!" And down they went, full tilt at the Sioux, yet heading to cover
and reach the beleaguered party in the hollow. Someone of the besieged
waved a hat on high. Two more carbines barked their defiance at the
feathered foe, and then came a pretty exhibit of savage daring and
devotion. Disdainful of the coming troopers and of the swift fire now
blazing at them from the pit, the two mounted warriors lashed their
ponies to mad gallop and bore down straight for their imperilled
brother, crouching behind the stricken "pinto." Never swerving, never
halting, hardly checking speed, but bending low over and behind their
chargers' necks, the two young braves swept onward and with wild whoop
of triumph, challenge and hatred, gathered up and slung behind the rider
of the heavier pony the agile and bedizened form on the turf; then
circled away, defiant, taunting, gleeful, yes and even more:--With
raging eyes, Kennedy sprang from saddle and, kneeling, drove shot after
shot at the scurrying pair. Two of the three troopers at the hollow
followed suit. Even the big, blubbering lad so lately crazed with fear
unslung his weapon and fired thrice into empty space, and a shout of
wrath and renewed challenge to "come back and fight it out" rang out
after the Sioux, for to the amaze of the lately besieged, to the
impotent fury of the Irishman, in unmistakable, yet mostly unquotable,
English, the crippled warrior was yelling mingled threat and
imprecation.

"Who was it, Kennedy?--and where did you ever see him before?" a moment
later, demanded Captain Blake, almost before he could grasp the
Irishman's hands and shower his thanks, and even while stanching the
flow of blood from a furrow along his sun-burnt cheek. "What's that he
said about eating your heart?"

And Kennedy, his head cleared now through the rapture of battle, minded
him of his promise to Field, and lied like a hero. "Sure, how should I
know him, sorr? They're all of the same spit."

"But, he called you by name. I heard him plainly. So did Meisner, here,"
protested Blake. "Hello, what have you there, corporal?" he added, as
young Feeney, the "surely killed," came running back, bearing in his
hand a gaily ornamented pouch of buckskin, with long fringes and heavy
crusting of brilliant beads.

"Picked it up by that pony yonder, sir," answered the corporal, with a
salute. "Beg pardon, sir, but will the captain take my horse? His is hit
too bad to carry him."

Two, indeed, of Blake's horses were crippled, and it was high time to be
going. Mechanically he took the pouch and tied it to his waist belt.
"Thank God no man is hurt!" he said. "But--now back to Frayne! Watch
those ridges and be ready if a feather shows, and spread out a
little--Don't ride in a bunch."

But there was bigger game miles to the west, demanding all the attention
of the gathered Sioux. There were none to spare to send so far, and
though three warriors,--one of them raging and clamoring for further
attempt despite his wounds,--hovered about the retiring party, Blake and
his fellows within another hour were in sight of the sheltering walls of
Frayne; and, after a last, long-range swapping of shots, with Blake and
Meisner footing it most of the way, led their crippled mounts in safety
toward that Rubicon of the West--the swift flowing Platte. They were
still three miles out when Blake found leisure to examine the contents
of that beaded pouch, and the first thing drawn from its depths was
about the last a Christian would think to find in the wallet of a
Sioux--a dainty little billet, scented with wood violet,--an envelope of
delicate texture, containing a missive on paper to match, and the
envelope was addressed in a strange, angular, characteristic hand that
Blake recognized at once, to a man of whom, by that name at least, he
had never heard before:

"MR. RALPH MOREAU,
"En Ville."





Next: Bad News From The Front

Previous: Blood Will Tell



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