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Our Vanished Princess

From: An Apache Princess

Then came a story told in fierce and excited whisperings, Arnold the
speaker, prompted sometimes by his companions; Stone, and the few
soldiers grouped about him, awe-stricken and dismayed. Blakely had
started up from his litter, his face white with an awful dread,
listening in wordless agony.

At six the previous morning, loping easily out from Sandy, Arnold's
people had reached the ranch and found the veteran colonel with his
orderlies impatiently waiting for them. These latter had had abundant
food and coffee and the colonel was fuming with impatience to move,
but Arnold's people had started on empty stomachs, counting on a
hearty breakfast at the ranch. Jose could have it ready in short
order. So Byrne, with his men, mounted and rode ahead on the trail of
the infantry, saying the rest could overtake him before he reached the
rocky and dangerous path over the first range. For a few miles the
Beaver Valley was fairly wide and open. Not twenty minutes later, as
Arnold's comrades sat on the porch on the north side of the house,
they heard swift hoof-beats, and wondered who could be coming now.
But, without an instant's pause, the rider had galloped by, and one of
the men, hurrying to the corner of the ranch, was amazed to see the
lithe, slender form of Angela Wren speeding her pet pony like the wind
up the sandy trail. Arnold refused to believe at first, but his eyes
speedily told him the same story. He had barely a glimpse of her
before she was out of sight around a grove of willows up the stream.
"Galloping to catch the colonel," said he, and such was his belief.
Angela, he reasoned, had hastened after them to send some message of
love to her wounded father, and had perhaps caught sight of the trio
far out in the lead. Arnold felt sure that they would meet her coming
back, sure that there was no danger for her, with Byrne and his
fellows well out to the front. They finished their breakfast,
therefore, reset their saddles, mounted and rode for an hour toward
the Mogollon and still the pony tracks led them on, overlying those of
the colonel's party. Then they got among the rocks and only at
intervals found hoof-prints; but, far up along the range, caught sight
of the three horsemen, and so, kept on. It was after ten when at last
they overtook the leaders, and then, to their consternation, Angela
Wren was not with them. They had neither seen nor heard of her, and
Byrne was aghast when told that, alone and without a guide, she had
ridden in among the foothills of those desolate, pathless mountains.
"The girl is mad," said he, "and yet it's like her to seek to reach
her father."

Instantly they divided forces to search for her. Gorges and canons
innumerable seamed the westward face of this wild spur of the Sierras,
and, by the merest luck in the world, one of Arnold's men, spurring
along a stony ridge, caught sight of a girlish form far across a deep
ravine, and quickly fired two shots in signal that he had "sighted"
the chase. It brought Arnold and two of his men to the spot and,
threading their way, sometimes afoot and leading their steeds,
sometimes in saddle and urging them through the labyrinth of bowlders,
they followed on. At noon they had lost not only all sight of her, but
of their comrades, nor had they seen the latter since. Byrne and his
orderlies, with three of the party that "pulled out" from Sandy with
Arnold in the morning, had disappeared. Again and again they fired
their Henrys, hoping for answering signal, or perhaps to attract
Angela's attention. All doubt as to her purpose was now ended. Mad she
might be, but determined she was, and had deliberately dodged past
them at the Beaver, fearing opposition to her project. At two,
moreover, they found that she could "trail" as well as they, for among
the stunted cedars at the crest of a steep divide, they found the
print of the stout brogans worn by their infantry comrades, and, down
among the rocks of the next ravine, crushed bits of hardtack by a
"tank" in the hillside. She had stopped there long enough at least to
water Punch, then pushed on again.

Once more they saw her, not three miles ahead at four o'clock, just
entering a little clump of pines at the top of a steep acclivity. They
fired their rifles and shouted loud in hopes of halting her, but all
to no purpose. Night came down and compelled them to bivouac. They
built a big fire to guide the wanderers, but morning broke without
sign of them; so on they went, for now, away from the rocks the trail
was often distinct, and once again they found the pony hoof-prints and
thanked God. At seven by Arnold's watch, among the breaks across a
steep divide they found another tank, more crumbs, a grain sack with
some scattered barley, more hardtack and the last trace of Angela.
Arnold's hand shook, as did his voice, as he drew forth a little
fluttering ribbon--the "snood" poor Wren so loved to see binding his
child's luxuriant hair.

They reasoned she had stopped here to feed and water her pony, and had
probably bathed her face and flung loose her hair and forgotten later
the binding ribbon. They believed she had followed on after Stout's
hard-marching company. It was easy to trail. They counted on finding
her when they found her father, and now here lay Wren unconscious of
her loss, and Blakely, realizing it all--cruelly, feverishly realizing
it--yet so weakened by his wounds as to be almost powerless to march
or mount and go in search of her.

No question now as to the duty immediately before them. In twenty
minutes the pack mules were again strapped between the saplings, the
little command was slowly climbing toward the westward heights, with
Arnold and two of his friends scouting the rough trail and hillsides,
firing at long intervals and listening in suspense almost intolerable
for some answering signal. The other of their number had volunteered
to follow Stout over the plateau toward the Pass and acquaint him with
the latest news.

While the sun was still high in the heavens, far to the northward,
they faintly heard or thought they heard two rifle shots. At four
o'clock, as they toiled through a tangle of rock and stunted pine,
Arnold, riding well to the front, came suddenly out upon a bare ledge
from which he could look over a wild, wide sweep of mountain side,
stretching leagues to north and south, and there his keen and
practiced eye was greeted by a sight that thrilled him with dread
unspeakable. Dread, not for himself or his convoy of wounded, but
dread for Angela. Jutting, from the dark fringe of pines along a
projecting bluff, perhaps four miles away, little puffs or clouds of
smoke, each separate and distinct, were sailing straight aloft in the
pulseless air--Indian signals beyond possibility of doubt. Some
Apaches, then, were still hovering about the range overlooking the
broad valley of the Sandy, some of the bands then were prowling in the
mountains between the scouting troops and the garrisoned post. Some
must have been watching this very trail, in hopes of intercepting
couriers or stragglers, some must have seen and seized poor Angela.

He had sprung from saddle and leveled his old field glass at the
distant promontory, so absorbed in his search he did not note the
coming of the little column. The litter bearing Blakely foremost of
the four had halted close beside him, and Blakely's voice, weak and
strained, yet commanding, suddenly startled him with demand to be told
what he saw, and Arnold merely handed him the glass and pointed. The
last of the faint smoke puffs was just soaring into space, making
four still in sight. Blakely never even took the binocular. He had
seen enough by the unaided eye.

With uplifted hand the sergeant had checked the coming of the next
litter, Wren's, and those that followed it. One of the wounded men,
the poor lad crazed by the perils of the siege, was alert and begging
for more water, but Wren was happily lost to the world in swoon or
slumber. To the soldier bending over him he seemed scarcely breathing.
Presently they were joined by two of Arnold's party who had been
searching out on the left flank. They, too, had seen, and the three
were now in low-toned conference. Blakely for the moment was unnoted,

"That tank--where we found the ribbon--was just about two miles
yonder," said Arnold, pointing well down the rugged slope toward the
southwest, where other rocky, pine-fringed heights barred the view to
the distant Sandy. "Surely the colonel or some of his fellows must be
along here. Ride ahead a hundred yards or so and fire a couple of
shots," this to one of his men, who silently reined his tired bronco
into the rude trail among the pine cones and disappeared. The others
waited. Presently came the half-smothered sound of a shot and a
half-stifled cry from the rearmost litter. Every such shock meant new
terror to that poor lad, but Wren never stirred. Half a minute passed
without another sound than faint and distant echo; then faint, and not
so distant, came another sound, a prolonged shout, and presently
another, and then a horseman hove in sight among the trees across a
nearly mile-wide dip. Arnold and his friends rode on to meet him,
leaving the litters at the crest. In five minutes one of the riders
reappeared and called: "It's Horn, of the orderlies. He reports
Colonel Byrne just ahead. Come on!" and turning, dove back down the
twisted trail.

The colonel might have been just ahead when last seen, but when they
reached the tank he was far aloft again, scouting from another height
to the northward, and while the orderly went on to find and tell him,
Arnold and his grave-faced comrade dismounted there to await the
coming of the litters. Graver were the faces even than before. The
news that had met them was most ominous. Two of those who searched
with Colonel Byrne had found pony tracks leading northward--leading in
the very direction in which they had seen the smoke. There was no
other pony shoe in the Sandy valley. It could be none other than
Angela's little friend and comrade--Punch.

And this news they told to Blakely as the foremost litter came. He
listened with hardly a word of comment; then asked for his scouting
notebook. He was sitting up now. They helped him from his springy
couch to a seat on the rocks, and gave him a cup of the cold water.
One by one the other litters were led into the little amphitheater and
unlashed. Everyone seemed to know that here must be the bivouac for
the night, their abiding place for another day, perhaps, unless they
should find the captain's daughter. They spoke, when they spoke at
all, in muffled tones, these rough, war-worn men of the desert and
the mountain. They bent over the wounded with sorrowing eyes, and
wondered why no surgeon had come out to meet them. Heartburn, of
course, had done his best, dressing and rebandaging the wounds at
dawn, but then he had to go on with Stout and the company, while one
of the Apache Yumas was ordered to dodge his way in to Sandy, with a
letter urging that Graham be sent out to follow the trail and meet the
returning party.

Meanwhile the sun had dropped behind the westward heights; the night
would soon be coming down, chill and overcast. Byrne was still away,
but he couldn't miss the tank, said one of the troopers who had ridden
with him. Twice during the morning they had all met there and then
gone forth again, searching--searching. Punch's little hoof-tracks,
cutting through a sandy bit in the northward ravine, had drawn them
all that way, but nothing further had been found. His horse, too, said
the orderly, was lame and failing, so he had been bidden to wait by
the water and watch for couriers either from the front or out from the
post. Byrne was one of those never-give-up men, and they all knew him.

Barley was served out to the animals, a little fire lighted, lookouts
were stationed, and presently their soldier supper was ready, and
still Blakely said nothing. He had written three notes or letters, one
of which seemed to give him no little trouble, for one after another
he thrust two leaves into the fire and started afresh. At length they
were ready, and he signaled to Arnold. "You can count, I think, on
Graham's getting here within a few hours," said he. "Meantime you're
as good a surgeon as I need. Help me on with this sling." And still
they did not fathom his purpose. He was deathly pale, and his eyes
were eloquent of dread unspeakable, but he seemed to have forgotten
pain, fever, and prostration. Arnold, in the silent admiration of the
frontier, untied the support, unloosed the bandages, and together they
redressed the ugly wound. Then presently the Bugologist stood feebly
upon his feet and looked about him. It was growing darker, and not
another sound had come from Byrne.

"Start one of your men into Sandy at once," said Blakely, to the
sergeant, and handed him a letter addressed to Major Plume. "He will
probably meet the doctor before reaching the Beaver. These other two
I'll tell you what to do with later. Now, who has the best horse?"

Arnold stared. Sergeant Stone quickly turned and saluted. "The
lieutenant is not thinking of mounting, I hope," said he.

Blakely did not even answer. He was studying the orderly's bay. Stiff
and a little lame he might be, but, refreshed and strengthened by
abundant barley, he was a better weight-carrier than the other, and
Blakely had weight. "Saddle your horse, Horn," said he, "and fasten on
those saddle-bags of mine."

"But, lieutenant," ventured Arnold, "you are in no shape to ride
anything but that litter. Whatever you think of doing, let me do."

"What I am thinking of doing nobody else can do," said Blakely. "What
you can do is, keep these two letters till I call for them. If at the
end of a week I fail to call, deliver them as addressed and to nobody
else. Now, before dark I must reach that point younder," and he
indicated the spot where in the blaze of the westering sun a mass of
rock towered high above the fringing pine and mournful shadows at its
base, a glistening landmark above the general gloom at the lower level
and at that hour of the afternoon. "Now," he added quietly, "you can
help me into saddle."

"But for God's sake, lieutenant, let some of us ride with you,"
pleaded Arnold. "If Colonel Byrne was here he'd never let you go."

"Colonel Byrne is not here, and I command, I believe," was the brief,
uncompromising answer. "And no man rides with me because, with another
man, I'd never find what I'm in search of." For a moment he bent over
Wren, a world of wordless care, dread, and yet determination in his
pale face. Arnold saw his wearied eyes close a moment, his lips move
as though in petition, then he suddenly turned. "Let me have that
ribbon," said he bluntly, and without a word Arnold surrendered it.
Stone held the reluctant horse, Arnold helped the wounded soldier into
the saddle. "Don't worry about me--any of you," said Blakely, in brief
farewell. "Good-night," and with that he rode away.

Arnold and the men stood gazing after him. "Grit clean through," said
the ranchman, through his set teeth, for a light was dawning on him,
as he pondered over Blakely's words. "May the Lord grant I don't have
to deliver these!" Then he looked at the superscriptions. One letter
was addressed to Captain, or Miss Janet, Wren--the other to Mrs.

Next: Suspense

Previous: Where Is Angela?

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