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Night Prowling At Frayne








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

In the full of the September moon the war-bands of the Sioux had defied
agents and peace chiefs, commissioners and soldiers, and started their
wild campaign in northern Wyoming. In the full of the October moon the
big chief of the whites had swept the last vestige of their warriors
from the plains, and followed their bloody trails into the heart of the
mountains, all his cavalry and much of his foot force being needed for
the work in hand. Not until November, therefore, when the ice bridge
spanned the still reaches of the Platte, and the snow lay deep in the
brakes and coulees, did the foremost of the homeward-bound commands
come in view of old Fort Frayne, and meantime very remarkable things had
occurred, and it was to a very different, if only temporary, post
commander that Sandy Ray reported them as "sighted." Even brave old Dade
had been summoned to the front, with all his men, and in their place had
come from distant posts in Kansas other troops to occupy the vacant
quarters and strive to feel at home in strange surroundings.

A man of austere mold was the new major,--one of the old Covenanter
type, who would march to battle shouting hymn tunes, and to Christmas
and Thanksgiving chanting doleful lays. He hailed, indeed, from old
Puritan stock; had been a pillar in the village church in days before
the great war, and emulated Stonewall Jackson in his piety, if he did
not in martial prowess. Backed by local, and by no means secular,
influences he had risen in the course of the four years' war from a
junior lieutenancy to the grade of second in command of his far eastern
regiment; had rendered faithful services in command of convalescent
camps and the like, but developed none of that vain ambition which
prompts the seeking of "the bubble reputation" at the cannon's mouth.
All he ever knew of Southern men in ante-bellum days was what he heard
from the lips of inspired orators or read from the pens of very earnest
anti-slavery editors. Through lack of opportunity he had met no
Southerner before the war, and carried his stanch, Calvinistic
prejudices to such extent that he seemed to shrink from closer contact
even then. The war was holy. The hand of the Lord would surely smite the
slave-holding arch rebel, which was perhaps why the Covenanter thought
it work of supererogation to raise his own. He finished as he began the
war, in the unalterable conviction that the Southern President, his
cabinet and all his leading officers should be hung, and their lands
confiscated to the state--or its representatives. He had been given a
commission in the army when such things were not hard to get--at the
reorganization in '66, had been stationed in a Ku Klux district all one
winter and in a sanitarium most of the year that followed. He thought
the nation on the highroad to hell when it failed to impeach the
President of high crimes and misdemeanors, and sent Hancock to harmonize
matters in Louisiana. He was sure of it when the son of a Southerner,
who had openly flouted him, was sent to West Point. He retained these
radical views even unto the twentieth anniversary of the great
surrender; and, while devoutly praying for forgiveness of his own sins,
could never seem to forgive those whose lot had been cast with the
South. He was utterly nonplussed when told that the young officer,
languishing in hospital on his arrival, was the son of a distinguished
major-general of the Confederate Army, and he planned for the father a
most frigid greeting, until reminded that the former major-general was
now a member of Congress and of the committee on military affairs. Then
it became his duty to overlook the past.

He had not entered Field's little room, even when inspecting hospital
(Flint was forever inspecting something or other)--the doctor's
assurance that, though feeble, his patient was doing quite well, was all
sufficient. He had thought to greet the former Confederate, a sorely
anxious father, with grave and distant civility, as an avowed and
doubtless unregenerate enemy of that sacred flag; but, as has been said,
that was before it was pointed out to him that this was the Honorable M.
C. from the Pelican State, now prominent as a member of the House
Committee on Military Affairs. Motherless and sister-less was the
wounded boy, yet gentle and almost caressing hands had blessed his
pillow and helped to drive fever and delirium to the winds. It was
twelve days after they brought him back to Frayne before the father
could hope to reach him, coming post haste, too; but by that time the
lad was propped on his pillows, weak, sorrowing and sorely troubled,
none the less so because there was no one now to whom he could say
why.

The men whom he knew and trusted were all away on campaign, all save the
veteran post surgeon, whom hitherto he had felt he hardly knew at all.
The women whom he had best known and trusted were still present at the
post. Mrs. Ray and Mrs. Blake had been his friends, frank, cordial and
sincere up to the week of his return from Laramie and his sudden and
overwhelming infatuation for Nanette Flower. Then they had seemed to
hold aloof, to greet him only with courtesy, and to eye him with
unspoken reproach. The woman at Fort Frayne to whom he most looked up
was Mrs. Dade, and now Mrs. Dade seemed alienated utterly. She had been
to inquire for him frequently, said his attendant, when he was so racked
with fever. So had others, and they sent him now jellies and similar
delicacies, but came no more in person--just yet at least--but he did
not know the doctor so desired. Field knew that his father, after the
long, long journey from the distant South, was now close at hand,--would
be with him within a few hours, and even with Ray's warm words of praise
still ringing in his ears, the young soldier was looking to that
father's coming almost with distress. It was through God's mercy and
the wisdom of the old surgeon that no word, as yet, had been whispered
to him of the discovery made when the money packages were opened--of the
tragic fate that had, possibly, befallen Bill Hay and Miss Flower.

That a large sum of money was missing, and that Field was the
accountable officer, was already whispered about the garrison. The fact
that four officers and Mr. Hay were aware of it in the first place, and
the latter had told it to his wife, was fatal to entire secrecy. But, in
the horror and excitement that prevailed when the details of the later
tragedy were noised about the post, this minor incident had been almost
forgotten.

The disappearance of Hay and his brilliant, beautiful niece, however,
was not to be forgotten for a moment, day or night, despite the fact
that Mrs. Hay, who had been almost crazed with dread and terror when
first informed there had been a "hold-up," rallied almost immediately,
and took heart and hope when it became apparent that Indians, not white
men, were the captors.

"The Sioux would never harm a hair of his head," she proudly declared.
"He has been their friend for half a century." Nor had she fears for
Nanette. The Sioux would harm nobody her husband sought to protect. When
it was pointed out to her that they had harmed the guards,--that one of
them was found shot dead and scalped at the shores of the Platte, and
the other, poor fellow, had crawled off among the rocks and bled to
death within gunshot of the scene,--Mrs. Hay said they must have first
shown fight and shot some of the Sioux, for all the Indians knew Mr.
Hay's wagon. Then why, asked Fort Frayne, had they molested him--and
his?

The general had had to leave for the front without seeing Mrs. Hay. More
than ever was it necessary that he should be afield, for this exploit
showed that some of the Sioux, at least, had cut loose from the main
body and had circled back toward the Platte--Stabber's people in all
probability. So, sending Crabb and his little squad across the river to
follow a few miles, at least, the trail of the wagon and its captors,
and ascertain, if possible, whither it had gone, he hurried back to
Frayne; sent messengers by the Laramie road to speed the cavalry, and
orders to the colonel to send two troops at once to rescue Hay and his
niece; sent wires calling for a few reinforcements, and was off on the
way to Beecher, guarded by a handful of sturdy "doughboys" in
ambulances, before ever the body of the second victim was found.

And then, little by little, it transpired that this mysterious war
party, venturing to the south bank of the Platte, did not exceed half a
dozen braves. Crabb got back in thirty-six hours, with five exhausted
men. They had followed the wheel tracks over the open prairie and into
the foothills far to the Northwest, emboldened by the evidence of there
being but few ponies in the original bandit escort. But, by four in the
afternoon, they got among the breaks and ravines and, first thing they
knew, among the Indians, for zip came the bullets and down went two
horses, and they had to dismount and fight to stand off possible swarms,
and, though owning they had seen no Indians, they had proof of having
felt them, and were warranted in pushing no further. After dark they
began their slow retreat and here they were.

And for seven days that was the last heard, by the garrison, at least,
of these most recent captives of the Sioux. Gentle and sympathetic
women, however, who called on Mrs. Hay, were prompt to note that though
unnerved, unstrung, distressed, she declared again and again her faith
that the Indians would never really harm her husband. They might hold
him and Nanette as hostages for ransom. They might take for their own
purposes his wagon, his mules and that store of money, but his life was
safe, yes, and Nanette's too. Of this she was so confident that people
began to wonder whether she had not received some assurance to that
effect, and when Pete, the stable boy driver, turned up at the end of
the first week with a cock-and-bull story about having stolen an Indian
pony and shot his way from the midst of the Sioux away up on No Wood
Creek, on the west side of the hills, and having ridden by night and
hidden by day until he got back to the Platte and Frayne, people felt
sure of it. Pete could talk Sioux better than he could jabber English.
He declared the Indians were in the hills by thousands, and were going
to take Hay and the young lady away off somewhere to be held for safe
keeping. He said the two troops that, never even halting at Frayne, had
pushed out on the trail, would only get into trouble if they tried to
enter the hills from the South, and that they would never get the
captives, wherein Pete was right, for away out among the spurs and
gorges of the range, fifty miles from Frayne, the pursuers came upon the
wreck of the wagon at the foot of an acclivity, up which a force of
Sioux had gone in single file. Many warriors it would seem, however,
must have joined the party on the way, and from here,--where with the
wagon was found Hay's stout box, bereft of its contents,--in four
different directions the pony tracks of little parties crossed or
climbed the spurs, and which way the captives had been taken, Captain
Billings, the commander, could not determine. What the Sioux hoped he
might do was divide his force into four detachments and send one on each
trail. Then they could fall upon them, one by one, and slay them at
their leisure. Billings saw the game, however, and was not to be caught.
He knew Bill Hay, his past and his popularity among the red men. He knew
that if they meant to kill him at all they would not have taken the
trouble to cart him fifty miles beforehand. He dropped the stern chase
then and there, and on the following day skirted the foothills away to
the east and, circling round to the breaks of the Powder as he reached
the open country, struck and hard hit a scouting band of Sioux, and
joined the general three days later, when most he was needed, near the
log palisades of old Fort Beecher.

Then there had been more or less of mysterious coming and going among
the halfbreed hangers-on about the trader's store, and these were things
the new post commander knew not how to interpret, even when informed of
them. He saw Mrs. Hay but once or twice. He moved into the quarters of
Major Webb, possessing himself, until his own should arrive, of such of
the major's belongings as the vigilance of Mistress McGann would suffer.
He stationed big guards from his two small companies about the post, and
started more hard swearing among his own men, for "getting only two
nights in bed," than had been heard at Frayne in long months of less
pious post commandership. He strove to make himself agreeable to the
ladies, left lamenting for their lords, but as luck would have it, fell
foremost into the clutches of the quartermaster's wife, the dominant and
unterrified Wilkins.

Just what prompted that energetic and, in many ways, estimable woman, to
take the new major into close communion, and tell him not only what she
knew, but what she thought, about all manner of matters at the post, can
never be justly determined. But within the first few days of his coming,
and on the eve of the arrival of General Field, Major Flint was in
possession of the story of how devoted young Field had been to Esther
Dade, and how cruelly he had jilted her for the brilliant Miss Flower,
"her that was gone with the Sioux." The differences between her stout,
veteran liege and the smooth-faced stripling had given her text to start
with. The story of the money lost had filtered from her lips, and
finally that of other peccadilloes, attributable to the young post
adjutant, whom, as she said, "The meejor had to rejuice and sind to the
front all along of his doin's in gar'son." Dade was gone. There was no
man save Wilkins to whom Major Flint felt that he could appeal for
confirmation or denial of these stories. Dr. Waller was his senior in
the service by ten years at least, and a type of the old-time officer
and gentleman of whom such as Flint stood ever in awe. He preferred,
therefore, as he thought, to keep the doctor at a distance, to make him
feel the immensity of his, the post commander's, station, and so, as
Wilkins dare not disavow the sayings of his wife, even had he been so
minded, the stories stood.

Flint was thinking of them this very evening when Dr. Waller, happening

to meet him on his way from hospital briefly said that General Field
should be with them on the morrow. "He leaves Rock Creek to-night,
having hired transportation there. I had hoped our lad might be in
better spirits by this time."

The major answered vaguely. How could a lad with all these sins upon his
soul be in anything but low spirits? Here was a brand to be snatched
from the burning, a youth whom prompt, stern measures might redeem and
restore, one who should be taught the error of his ways forthwith; only,
the coming of the member of the Military Committee of the House of
Representatives might make the process embarrassing. There were other
ways, therefore and however, in which this valuable information in the
major's possession might be put to use, and of these was the major
thinking, more than of the condition of the wounded lad, physical or
spiritual, as homeward through the gloaming he wended his way.

Might it not be well to wait until this important and influential
personage had reached the post before proceeding further? Might it not
be well, confidentially and gradually, as it were, to permit the
Honorable M. C. to know that grave irregularities had occurred?--that up
to this moment the complete knowledge thereof was locked in the breast
of the present post commander?--that the suppression or presentation of
the facts depended solely upon that post commander? and then if the
member of the House Committee on Military Affairs proved receptive,
appreciative, in fact responsive, might not the ends of justice better
be subserved by leaving to the parent the duty of personally and
privately correcting the son? and, in consideration of the post
commander's wisdom and continence, pledging the influence of the
Military Committee to certain delectable ends in the major's behalf?
Long had Flint had his eye on a certain desirable berth in the distant
East--at the national capitol in fact--but never yet had he found
statesman or soldier inclined to further his desire. That night the
major bade Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins hold their peace as to Field's
peccadilloes until further leave was given them to speak. That night the
major, calling at Captain Dade's, was concerned to hear that Mrs. Dade
was not at home. "Gone over to the hospital with Mrs. Blake and the
doctor," was the explanation, and these gentle-hearted women, it seems,
were striving to do something to rouse the lad from the slough of
despond which had engulfed him. That night "Pink" Marble, Hay's faithful
book-keeper and clerk for many a year, a one-armed veteran of the civil
war, calling, as was his invariable custom when the trader was absent,
to leave the keys of the safe and desks with Mrs. Hay, was surprised to
find her in a flood of tears, for which she declined all explanation;
yet the sight of Pete, the half breed, slouching away toward the stables
as Marble closed the gate, more than suggested cause, for "Pink" had
long disapproved of that young man. That night Crapaud, the other
stableman, had scandalized Jerry Sullivan, the bar-keeper, and old
McGann, Webb's Hibernian major domo, by interrupting their game of Old
Sledge with a demand for a quart of whiskey on top of all that he had
obviously and surreptitiously been drinking, and by further indulging in
furious threats, in a sputtering mixture of Dakota French and French
Dakota, when summarily kicked out. That night, late as twelve o'clock,
Mrs. Ray, aroused by the infantile demands of the fourth of the olive
branches, and further disturbed by the suspicious growlings and
challenge of old Tonto, Blake's veteran mastiff, peeped from the second
story window and plainly saw two forms in soldier overcoats at the back
fence, and wondered what the sentries found about Blake's quarters to
require so much attention. Then she became aware of a third form,
rifle-bearing, and slowly pacing the curving line of the bluff--the
sentry beyond doubt. Who, then, were these others who had now totally
disappeared? She thought to speak of it to Nannie in the morning, and
then thought not. There were reasons why nervous alarm of any kind were
best averted then from Mrs. Blake. But there came reason speedily why
Mrs. Ray could not forget it.

And that night, later still, along toward four o'clock, the persistent
clicking of the telegraph instrument at the adjutant's office caught the
ear of the sentry, who in time stirred up the operator, and a "rush"
message was later thrust into the hand of Major Flint, demolishing a
day-old castle in the air.

FROM ROCK CREEK, WYOMING,
October 23, 188--. 9:15 P. M.

COMMANDING OFFICER, FORT FRAYNE,
via Fort Laramie.

Stage capsized Crook Canon. General Field seriously injured. Have wired
Omaha.

(Signed) Warner,
Commanding Camp.





Next: A Rifled Desk

Previous: A Woman's Plot



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