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Starlight Ranch








From: Starlight Ranch

We were crouching round the bivouac fire, for the night was chill, and
we were yet high up along the summit of the great range. We had been
scouting through the mountains for ten days, steadily working southward,
and, though far from our own station, our supplies were abundant, and it
was our leader's purpose to make a clean sweep of the line from old
Sandy to the Salado, and fully settle the question as to whether the
renegade Apaches had betaken themselves, as was possible, to the heights
of the Matitzal, or had made a break for their old haunts in the Tonto
Basin or along the foot-hills of the Black Mesa to the east. Strong
scouting-parties had gone thitherward, too, for "the Chief" was bound to
bring these Tontos to terms; but our orders were explicit: "Thoroughly
scout the east face of the Matitzal." We had capital Indian allies with
us. Their eyes were keen, their legs tireless, and there had been bad
blood between them and the tribe now broken away from the reservation.
They asked nothing better than a chance to shoot and kill them; so we
could feel well assured that if "Tonto sign" appeared anywhere along our
path it would instantly be reported. But now we were south of the
confluence of Tonto Creek and the Wild Rye, and our scouts declared that
beyond that point was the territory of the White Mountain Apaches,
where we would not be likely to find the renegades.

East of us, as we lay there in the sheltered nook whence the glare of
our fire could not be seen, lay the deep valley of the Tonto brawling
along its rocky bed on the way to join the Salado, a few short marches
farther south. Beyond it, though we could not see them now, the peaks
and "buttes" of the Sierra Ancha rolled up as massive foot-hills to the
Mogollon. All through there our scouting-parties had hitherto been able
to find Indians whenever they really wanted to. There were some officers
who couldn't find the Creek itself if they thought Apaches lurked along
its bank, and of such, some of us thought, was our leader.

In the dim twilight only a while before I had heard our chief packer
exchanging confidences with one of the sergeants,--

"I tell you, Harry, if the old man were trying to steer clear of all
possibility of finding these Tontos, he couldn't have followed a better
track than ours has been. And he made it, too; did you notice? Every
time the scouts tried to work out to the left he would herd them all
back--up-hill."

"We never did think the lieutenant had any too much sand," answered the
sergeant, grimly; "but any man with half an eye can see that orders to
thoroughly scout the east face of a range does not mean keep on top of
it as we've been doing. Why, in two more marches we'll be beyond their
stamping-ground entirely, and then it's only a slide down the west face
to bring us to those ranches in the Sandy Valley. Ever seen them?"

"No. I've never been this far down; but what do you want to bet that
that's what the lieutenant is aiming at? He wants to get a look at
that pretty girl all the fellows at Fort Phoenix are talking about."

"Dam'd old gray-haired rip! It would be just like him. With a wife and
kids up at Sandy too."

There were officers in the party, junior in years of life and years of
service to the gray-headed subaltern whom some odd fate had assigned to
the command of this detachment, nearly two complete "troops" of cavalry
with a pack-train of sturdy little mules to match. We all knew that, as
organized, one of our favorite captains had been assigned the command,
and that between "the Chief," as we called our general, and him a
perfect understanding existed as to just how thorough and searching this
scout should be. The general himself came down to Sandy to superintend
the start of the various commands, and rode away after a long interview
with our good old colonel, and after seeing the two parties destined for
the Black Mesa and the Tonto Basin well on their way. We were to move at
nightfall the following day, and within an hour of the time of starting
a courier rode in from Prescott with despatches (it was before our
military telegraph line was built), and the commander of the
division--the superior of our Arizona chief--ordered Captain Tanner to
repair at once to San Francisco as witness before an important
court-martial. A groan went up from more than one of us when we heard
the news, for it meant nothing less than that the command of the most
important expedition of all would now devolve upon the senior first
lieutenant, Gleason; and so much did it worry Mr. Blake, his junior by
several files, that he went at once to Colonel Pelham, and begged to be
relieved from duty with that column and ordered to overtake one of the
others. The colonel, of course, would listen to nothing of the kind, and
to Gleason's immense and evident gratification we were marched forth
under his command. There had been no friction, however. Despite his gray
beard, Gleason was not an old man, and he really strove to be courteous
and conciliatory to his officers,--he was always considerate towards his
men; but by the time we had been out ten days, having accomplished
nothing, most of us were thoroughly disgusted. Some few ventured to
remonstrate. Angry words passed between the commander and Mr. Blake, and
on the night on which our story begins there was throughout the command
a feeling that we were simply being trifled with.

The chat between our chief packer and Sergeant Merrick ceased instantly
as I came forward and passed them on the way to look over the herd guard
of the little battalion, but it set me to thinking. This was not the
first that the officers of the Sandy garrison had heard of those two new
"ranches" established within the year down in the hot but fertile
valley, and not more than four hours' easy gallop from Fort Phoenix,
where a couple of troops of "Ours" were stationed. The people who had so
confidently planted themselves there were evidently well to do, and they
brought with them a good-sized retinue of ranch- and herdsmen,--mainly
Mexicans,--plenty of "stock," and a complete "camp outfit," which served
them well until they could raise the adobe walls and finish their
homesteads. Curiosity led occasional parties of officers or enlisted
men to spend a day in saddle and thus to visit these enterprising
neighbors. Such parties were always civilly received, invited to
dismount, and soon to take a bite of luncheon with the proprietors,
while their horses were promptly led away, unsaddled, rubbed down, and
at the proper time fed and watered. The officers, of course, had
introduced themselves and proffered the hospitality and assistance of
the fort. The proprietors had expressed all proper appreciation, and
declared that if anything should happen to be needed they would be sure
to call; but they were too busy, they explained, to make social visits.
They were hard at work, as the gentlemen could see, getting up their
houses and their corrals, for, as one of them expressed it, "We've come
to stay." There were three of these pioneers; two of them, brothers
evidently, gave the name of Crocker. The third, a tall, swarthy,
all-over-frontiersman, was introduced by the others as Mr. Burnham.
Subsequent investigations led to the fact that Burnham was first cousin
to the Crockers. "Been long in Arizona?" had been asked, and the elder
Crocker promptly replied, "No, only a year,--mostly prospecting."

The Crockers were building down towards the stream; but Burnham, from
some freak which he did not explain, had driven his stakes and was
slowly getting up his walls half a mile south of the other homestead,
and high up on a spur of foot-hill that stood at least three hundred
feet above the general level of the valley. From his "coigne of vantage"
the whitewashed walls and the bright colors of the flag of the fort
could be dimly made out,--twenty odd miles down stream.

"Every now and then," said Captain Wayne, who happened up our way on a
general court, "a bull-train--a small one--went past the fort on its way
up to the ranches, carrying lumber and all manner of supplies, but they
never stopped and camped near the post either going or coming, as other
trains were sure to do. They never seemed to want anything, even at the
sutler's store, though the Lord knows there wasn't much there they
could want except tanglefoot and tobacco. The bull-train made perhaps
six trips in as many months, and by that time the glasses at the fort
could make out that Burnham's place was all finished, but never once had
either of the three proprietors put in an appearance, as invited, which
was considered not only extraordinary but unneighborly, and everybody
quit riding out there."

"But the funniest thing," said Wayne, "happened one night when I was
officer of the day. The road up-stream ran within a hundred yards of the
post of the sentry on No. 3, which post was back of the officer's
quarters, and a quarter of a mile above the stables, corrals, etc. I was
making the rounds about one o'clock in the morning. The night was bright
and clear, though the moon was low, and I came upon Dexter, one of the
sharpest men in my troop, as the sentry on No. 3. After I had given him
the countersign and was about going on,--for there was no use in asking
him if he knew his orders,--he stopped me to ask if I had authorized
the stable-sergeant to let out one of the ambulances within the hour.
Of course I was amazed and said no. 'Well,' said he, 'not ten minutes
ago a four-mule ambulance drove up the road yonder going full tilt, and
I thought something was wrong, but it was far beyond my challenge
limit.' You can understand that I went to the stables on the jump, ready
to scalp the sentry there, the sergeant of the guard, and everybody
else. I sailed into the sentry first and he was utterly astonished; he
swore that every horse, mule, and wagon was in its proper place. I
routed out the old stable-sergeant and we went through everything with
his lantern. There wasn't a spoke or a hoof missing. Then I went back to
Dexter and asked him what he'd been drinking, and he seemed much hurt. I
told him every wheel at the fort was in its proper rut and that nothing
could have gone out. Neither could there have been a four-mule ambulance
from elsewhere. There wasn't a civilized corral within fifty miles
except those new ranches up the valley, and they had no such rig. All
the same, Dexter stuck to his story, and it ended in our getting a
lantern and going down to the road. By Gad! he was right. There, in the
moist, yielding sand, were the fresh tracks of a four-mule team and a
Concord wagon or something of the same sort. So much for that night!

"Next evening as a lot of us were sitting out on the major's piazza,
and young Briggs of the infantry was holding forth on the
constellations,--you know he's a good deal of an astronomer,--Mrs.
Powell suddenly turned to him with 'But you haven't told us the name of
that bright planet low down there in the northern sky,' and we all
turned and looked where she pointed. Briggs looked too. It was only a
little lower than some stars of the second and third magnitude that he
had been telling about only five minutes before, only it shone with a
redder or yellower glare,--orange I suppose was the real color,--and was
clear and strong as the light of Jupiter.

"'That?' says Briggs. 'Why, that must be----Well, I own up. I declare I
never knew there was so big a star in that part of the firmament!'

"'Don't worry about it, Briggs, old boy,' drawled the major, who had
been squinting at it through a powerful glass he owns. 'That's terra
firmament. That planet's at the new ranch up on the spur of the
Matitzal.'

"But that wasn't all. Two days after, Baker came in from a scout. He had
been over across the range and had stopped at Burnham's on his way down.
He didn't see Burnham; he wasn't invited in, but he was full of his
subject. 'By Jove! fellows. Have any of you been to the ranches
lately? No? Well, then, I want to get some of the ladies to go up there
and call. In all my life I never saw so pretty a girl as was sitting
there on the piazza when I rode around the corner of the house.
Pretty! She's lovely. Not Mexican. No, indeed! A real American
girl,--a young lady, by Gad!'" That, then, explained the new light.

"And did that give the ranch the name by which it is known to you?" we
asked Wayne.

"Yes. The ladies called it 'Starlight Ranch' from that night on. But not
one of them has seen the girl. Mrs. Frazer and Mrs. Jennings actually
took the long drive and asked for the ladies, and were civilly told
that there were none at home. It was a Chinese servant who received
them. They inquired for Mr. Burnham and he was away too. They asked how
many ladies there were, and the Chinaman shook his head--'No sabe.' 'Had
Mr. Burnham's wife and daughter come?' 'No sabe.' 'Were Mr. Burnham and
the ladies over at the other ranch?' 'No sabe,' still affably grinning,
and evidently personally pleased to see the strange ladies; but that
Chinaman was no fool; he had his instructions and was carrying them out;
and Mrs. Frazer, whose eyes are very keen, was confident that she saw
the curtains in an upper window gathered just so as to admit a pair of
eyes to peep down at the fort wagon with its fair occupants. But the
face of which she caught a glimpse was not that of a young woman. They
gave the Chinaman their cards, which he curiously inspected and was
evidently at a loss what to do with, and after telling him to give them
to the ladies when they came home they drove over to the Crocker Ranch.
Here only Mexicans were visible about the premises, and, though Mrs.
Frazer's Spanish was equal to the task of asking them for water for
herself and friend, she could not get an intelligible reply from the
swarthy Ganymede who brought them the brimming glasses as to the
ladies--Las senoras--at the other ranch. They asked for the Crockers,
and the Mexican only vaguely pointed up the valley. It was in defeat and
humiliation that the ladies with their escort, Mr. Baker, returned to
the fort, but Baker rode up again and took a comrade with him, and they
both saw the girl with the lovely face and form this time, and had
almost accosted her when a sharp, stern voice called her within. A
fortnight more and a dozen men, officers or soldiers, had rounded that
ranch and had seen two women,--one middle-aged, the other a girl of
about eighteen who was fair and bewitchingly pretty. Baker had bowed to
her and she had smiled sweetly on him, even while being drawn within
doors. One or two men had cornered Burnham and began to ask questions.
'Gentlemen,' said he, 'I'm a poor hand at talk. I've no education. I've
lived on the frontier all my life. I mean no offence, but I cannot
answer your questions and I cannot ask you into my house. For
explanation, I refer you to Mr. Crocker.' Then Baker and a chum of his
rode over and called on the elder Crocker, and asked for the
explanation. That only added to the strangeness of the thing.

"'It is true, gentlemen, that Mr. Burnham's wife and child are now with
him; but, partially because of her, his wife's, infirm health, and
partially because of a most distressing and unfortunate experience in
his past, our kinsman begs that no one will attempt to call at the
ranch. He appreciates all the courtesy the gentlemen and ladies at the
fort would show, and have shown, but he feels compelled to decline all
intercourse. We are beholden, in a measure, to Mr. Burnham, and have to
be guided by his wishes. We are young men compared to him, and it was
through him that we came to seek our fortune here, but he is virtually
the head of both establishments.' Well. There was nothing more to be
said, and the boys came away. One thing more transpired. Burnham gave it
out that he had lived in Texas before the war, and had fought all the
way through in the Confederate service. He thought the officers ought
to know this. It was the major himself to whom he told it, and when the
major replied that he considered the war over and that that made no
difference, Burnham, with a clouded face replied, 'Well, mebbe it
don't--to you.' Whereupon the major fired up and told him that if he
chose to be an unreconstructed reb, when Union officers and gentlemen
were only striving to be civil to him, he might 'go ahead and be d--d,'
and came away in high dudgeon." And so matters stood up to the last we
had heard from Fort Phoenix, except for one letter which Mrs. Frazer
wrote to Mrs. Turner at Sandy, perhaps purely out of feminine mischief,
because a year or so previous Baker, as a junior second lieutenant, was
doing the devoted to Mrs. Turner, a species of mildly amatory
apprenticeship which most of the young officers seemed impelled to serve
on first joining. "We are having such a romance here at Phoenix. You
have doubtless heard of the beautiful girl at 'Starlight Ranch,' as we
call the Burnham place, up the valley. Everybody who called has been
rebuffed; but, after catching a few glimpses of her, Mr. Baker became
completely infatuated and rode up that way three or four times a week.
Of late he has ceased going in the daytime, but it is known that he
rides out towards dusk and gets back long after midnight, sometimes not
till morning. Of course it takes four hours, nearly, to come from there
full-speed, but though Major Tracy will admit nothing, it must be that
Mr. Baker has his permission to be away at night. We all believe that it
is another case of love laughing at locksmiths and that in some way they
contrive to meet. One thing is certain,--Mr. Baker is desperately in
love and will permit no trifling with him on the subject." Ordinarily, I
suppose, such a letter would have been gall and wormwood to Mrs. Turner,
but as young Hunter, a new appointment, was now a devotee, and as it was
a piece of romantic news which interested all Camp Sandy, she read the
letter to one lady after another, and so it became public property. Old
Catnip, as we called the colonel, was disposed to be a little worried on
the subject. Baker was a youngster in whom he had some interest as being
a distant connection of his wife's, but Mrs. Pelham had not come to
Arizona with us, and the good old fellow was living en garcon with the
Mess, where, of course, the matter was discussed in all its bearings.

All these things recurred to me as I pottered around through the herds
examining side-lines, etc., and looking up the guards. Ordinarily our
scouting parties were so small that we had no such thing as an
officer-of-the-day,--nor had we now when Gleason could have been excused
for ordering one, but he evidently desired to do nothing that might
annoy his officers. He might want them to stand by him when it came to
reporting the route and result of the scout. All the same, he expected
that the troop officers would give personal supervision to their
command, and especially to look after their "herds," and it was this
duty that took me away from the group chatting about the bivouac fire
preparatory to "turning in" for the night.

When I got back, a tall, gray-haired trooper was "standing attention" in
front of the commanding officer, and had evidently just made some
report, for Mr. Gleason nodded his head appreciatively and then said,
kindly,--

"You did perfectly right, corporal. Instruct your men to keep a lookout
for it, and if seen again to-night to call me at once. I'll bring my
field-glass and we'll see what it is."

The trooper raised his left hand to the "carried" carbine in salute and
turned away. When he was out of earshot, Gleason spoke to the silent
group,--

"Now, there's a case in point. If I had command of a troop and could get
old Potts into it I could make something of him, and I know it."

Gleason had consummate faith in his "system" with the rank and file, and
no respect for that of any of the captains. Nobody said anything. Blake
hated him and puffed unconcernedly at his pipe, with a display of
absolute indifference to his superior's views that the latter did not
fail to note. The others knew what a trial "old Potts" had been to his
troop commander, and did not believe that Gleason could "reform" him at
will. The silence was embarrassing, so I inquired,--

"What had he to report?"

"Oh, nothing of any consequence. He and one of the sentries saw what
they took to be an Indian signal-fire up Tonto Creek. It soon smouldered
away,--but I always make it a point to show respect to these old
soldiers."

"You show d--d little respect for their reports all the same," said
Blake, suddenly shooting up on a pair of legs that looked like stilts.
"An Indian signal-fire is a matter of a heap of consequence in my
opinion;" and he wrathfully stalked away.

For some reason Gleason saw fit to take no notice of this piece of
insubordination. Placidly he resumed his chat,--

"Now, you gentlemen seem skeptical about Potts. Do any of you know his
history?"

"Well, I know he's about the oldest soldier in the regiment; that he
served in the First Dragoons when they were in Arizona twenty years ago,
and that he gets drunk as a boiled owl every pay-day," was an immediate
answer.

"Very good as far as it goes," replied Gleason, with a superior smile;
"but I'll just tell you a chapter in his life he never speaks of and I
never dreamed of until the last time I was in San Francisco. There I met
old General Starr at the 'Occidental,' and almost the first thing he did
was to inquire for Potts, and then he told me about him. He was one of
the finest sergeants in Starr's troop in '53,--a dashing, handsome
fellow,--and while in at Fort Leavenworth he had fallen in love with,
won, and married as pretty a young girl as ever came into the regiment.
She came out to New Mexico with the detachment with which he served, and
was the belle of all the 'bailes' given either by the 'greasers' or
the enlisted men. He was proud of her as he could be, and old Starr
swore that the few ladies of the regiment who were with them at old Fort
Fillmore or Stanton were really jealous of her. Even some of the young
officers got to saying sweet things to her, and Potts came to the
captain about it, and he had it stopped; but the girl's head was turned.
There was a handsome young fellow in the sutler's store who kept making
her presents on the sly, and when at last Potts found it out he nearly
hammered the life out of him. Then came that campaign against the
Jicarilla Apaches, and Potts had to go with his troop and leave her at
the cantonment, where, to be sure, there were ladies and plenty of
people to look after her; and in the fight at Cieneguilla poor Potts was
badly wounded, and it was some months before they got back; and meantime
the sutler fellow had got in his work, and when the command finally came
in with its wounded they had skipped, no one knew where. If Potts hadn't
been taken down with brain fever on top of his wound he would have
followed their trail, desertion or no desertion, but he was a broken man
when he got out of hospital. The last thing old Starr said to me was,
'Now, Gleason, I want you to be kind to my old sergeant; he served all
through the war, and I've never forgiven them in the First for going
back on him and refusing to re-enlist him; but the captains, one and
all, said it was no use; he had sunk lower and lower; was perfectly
unreliable; spent nine-tenths of his time in the guard-house and all his
money in whiskey; and one after another they refused to take him.'"

"How'd we happen to get him, then?" queried one of our party.

"He showed up at San Francisco, neat as a new pin; exhibited several
fine discharges, but said nothing of the last two, and was taken into
the regiment as we were going through. Of course, its pretty much as
they said in the First when we're in garrison, but, once out scouting,
days away from a drop of 'tanglefoot,' and he does first rate. That's
how he got his corporal's chevrons."

"He'll lose 'em again before we're back at Sandy forty-eight hours,"
growled Blake, strolling up to the party again.

But he did not. Prophecies failed this time, and old Potts wore those
chevrons to the last.

He was a good prophet and a keen judge of human nature as exemplified in
Gleason, who said that "the old man" was planning for a visit to the new
ranches above Fort Phoenix. A day or two farther we plodded along down
the range, our Indian scouts looking reproachfully--even sullenly--at
the commander at every halt, and then came the order to turn back. Two
marches more, and the little command went into bivouac close under the
eaves of Fort Phoenix and we were exchanging jovial greetings with our
brother officers at the post. Turning over the command to Lieutenant
Blake, Mr. Gleason went up into the garrison with his own particular
pack-mule; billeted himself on the infantry commanding officer--the
major--and in a short time appeared freshly-shaved and in the neatest
possible undress uniform, ready to call upon the few ladies at the post,
and of course to make frequent reference to "my battalion," or "my
command," down beyond the dusty, dismal corrals. The rest of us, having
come out for business, had no uniforms, nothing but the rough field,
scouting rig we wore on such duty, and every man's chin was bristling
with a two-weeks'-old beard.

"I'm going to report Gleason for this thing," swore Blake; "you see if I
don't, the moment we get back."

The rest of us were "hopping mad," too, but held our tongues so long as
we were around Phoenix. We did not want them there to believe there
was dissension and almost mutiny impending. Some of us got permission
from Blake to go up to the post with its hospitable officers, and I was
one who strolled up to "the store" after dark. There we found the major,
and Captain Frazer, and Captain Jennings, and most of the youngsters,
but Baker was absent. Of course the talk soon drifted to and settled on
"Starlight Ranch," and by tattoo most of the garrison crowd were talking
like so many Prussians, all at top-voice and all at once. Every man
seemed to have some theory of his own with regard to the peculiar
conduct of Mr. Burnham, but no one dissented from the quiet remark of
Captain Frazer:

"As for Baker's relations with the daughter, he is simply desperately in
love and means to marry her. He tells my wife that she is educated and
far more refined than her surroundings would indicate, but that he is
refused audience by both Burnham and his wife, and it is only at extreme
risk that he is able to meet his lady-love at all. Some nights she is
entirely prevented from slipping out to see him."

Presently in came Gleason, beaming and triumphant from his round of
calls among the fair sex, and ready now for the game he loved above all
things on earth,--poker. For reasons which need not be elaborated here
no officer in our command would play with him, and an ugly rumor was
going the rounds at Sandy, just before we came away, that, in a game at
Olsen's ranch on the Aqua Fria about three weeks before, he had had his
face slapped by Lieutenant Ray of our own regiment. But Ray had gone to
his lonely post at Camp Cameron, and there was no one by whom we could
verify it except some ranchmen, who declared that Gleason had cheated at
cards, and Ray "had been a little too full," as they put it, to detect
the fraud until it seemed to flash upon him all of a sudden. A game
began, however, with three local officers as participants, so presently
Carroll and I withdrew and went back to bivouac.

"Have you seen anything of Corporal Potts?" was the first question asked
by Mr. Blake.

"Not a thing. Why? Is he missing?"

"Been missing for an hour. He was talking with some of these garrison
soldiers here just after the men had come in from the herd, and what I'm
afraid of is that he'll go up into the post and get bilin' full there.
I've sent other non-commissioned officers after him, but they cannot
find him. He hasn't even looked in at the store, so the bar-tender
swears."

"The sly old rascal!" said Carroll. "He knows perfectly well how to get
all the liquor he wants without exposing himself in the least. No doubt
if the bar-tender were asked if he had not filled some flasks this
evening he would say yes, and Potts is probably stretched out
comfortably in the forage-loft of one of the stables, with a canteen of
water and his flask of bug-juice, prepared to make a night of it."

Blake moodily gazed into the embers of the bivouac-fire. Never had we
seen him so utterly unlike himself as on this burlesque of a scout, and
now that we were virtually homeward-bound, and empty-handed too, he was
completely weighed down by the consciousness of our lost opportunities.
If something could only have happened to Gleason before the start, so
that the command might have devolved on Blake, we all felt that a very
different account could have been rendered; for with all his rattling,
ranting fun around the garrison, he was a gallant and dutiful soldier in
the field. It was now after ten o'clock; most of the men, rolled in
their blankets, were sleeping on the scant turf that could be found at
intervals in the half-sandy soil below the corrals and stables. The
herds of the two troops and the pack-mules were all cropping peacefully
at the hay that had been liberally distributed among them because there
was hardly grass enough for a "burro." We were all ready to turn in, but
there stood our temporary commander, his long legs a-straddle, his hands
clasped behind him, and the flickering light of the fire betraying in
his face both profound dejection and disgust.

"I wouldn't care so much," said he at last, "but it will give Gleason a
chance to say that things always go wrong when he's away. Did you see
him up at the post?" he suddenly asked. "What was he doing, Carroll?"

"Poker," was the sententious reply.

"What?" shouted Blake. "Poker? 'I thank thee, good Tubal,--good
news,--good news!'" he ranted, with almost joyous relapse into his old
manner. "'O Lady Fortune, stand you auspicious', for those fellows at
Phoenix, I mean, and may they scoop our worthy chieftain of his last
ducat. See what it means, fellows. Win or lose, he'll play all night,
he'll drink much if it go agin' him, and I pray it may. He'll be too
sick, when morning comes, to join us, and, by my faith, we'll leave his
horse and orderly and march away without him. As for Potts,--an he
appear not,--we'll let him play hide-and-seek with his would-be
reformer. Hullo! What's that?"

There was a sound of alternate shout and challenge towards where the
horses were herded on the level stretch below us. The sergeant of the
guard was running rapidly thither as Carroll and I reached the corner of
the corral. Half a minute's brisk spurt brought us to the scene.

"What's the trouble, sentry?" panted the sergeant.

"One of our fellows trying to take a horse. I was down on this side of
the herd when I seen him at the other end trying to loose a side-line.
It was just light enough by the moon to let me see the figure, but I
couldn't make out who 'twas. I challenged and ran and yelled for the
corporal, too, but he got away through the horses somehow. Murphy, who's
on the other side of the herds, seen him and challenged too."

"Did he answer?"

"Not a word, sir."

"Count your horses, sergeant, and see if all are here," was ordered.
Then we hurried over to Murphy's post.

"Who was the man? Could you make him out?"

"Not plainly, sir; but I think it was one of our own command," and poor
Murphy hesitated and stammered. He hated to "give away," as he expressed
it, one of his own troop. But his questioners were inexorable.

"What man did this one most look like, so far as you could judge?"

"Well, sir, I hate to suspicion anybody, but 'twas more like Corporal
Potts he looked. Sure, if 'twas him, he must ha' been drinkin', for the
corporal's not the man to try and run off a horse when he's in his sober
sinses."

The waning moon gave hardly enough light for effective search, but we
did our best. Blake came out and joined us, looking very grave when he
heard the news. Eleven o'clock came, and we gave it up. Not a sign of
the marauder could we find. Potts was still absent from the bivouac when
we got back, but Blake determined to make no further effort to find him.
Long before midnight we were all soundly sleeping, and the next thing I
knew my orderly was shaking me by the arm and announcing breakfast.
Reveille was just being sounded up at the garrison. The sun had not yet
climbed high enough to peep over the Matitzal, but it was broad
daylight. In ten minutes Carroll and I were enjoying our coffee and
frijoles; Blake had ridden up into the garrison. Potts was still
absent; and so, as we expected, was Mr. Gleason.

Half an hour more, and in long column of twos, and followed by our
pack-train, the command was filing out along the road whereon "No. 3"
had seen the ambulance darting by in the darkness. Blake had come back
from the post with a flush of anger on his face and with lips
compressed. He did not even dismount. "Saddle up at once" was all he
said until he gave the commands to mount and march. Opposite the
quarters of the commanding officer we were riding at ease, and there he
shook his gauntleted fist at the whitewashed walls, and had recourse to
his usual safety-valve,--

"'Take heed, my lords, the welfare of us all
Hangs on the cutting short that fraudful man,'

and may the devil fly away with him! What d'ye think he told me when I
went to hunt him up?"

There was no suitable conjecture.

"He said to march ahead, leaving his horse, Potts's, and his orderly's,
also the pack-mule: he would follow at his leisure. He had given Potts
authority to wait and go with him, but did not consider it necessary to
notify me."

"Where was he?"

"Still at the store, playing with the trader and some understrappers.
Didn't seem to be drunk, either."

And that was the last we heard of our commander until late in the
evening. We were then in bivouac on the west bank of the Sandy within
short rifle-range of the buildings of Crocker's Ranch on the other side.
There the lights burned brightly, and some of our people who had gone
across had been courteously received, despite a certain constraint and
nervousness displayed by the two brothers. At "Starlight," however,
nearly a mile away from us, all was silence and darkness. We had studied
it curiously as we marched up along the west shore, and some of the men
had asked permission to fall out and ride over there, "just to see it,"
but Blake had refused. The Sandy was easily fordable on horseback
anywhere, and the Crockers, for the convenience of their ranch people,
had placed a lot of bowlders and heaps of stones in such position that
they served as a foot-path opposite their corrals. But Blake said he
would rather none of his people intruded at "Starlight," and so it
happened that we were around the fire when Gleason rode in about nine
o'clock, and with him Lieutenant Baker, also the recreant Potts.

"You may retain command, Mr. Blake," said the former, thickly. "I have
an engagement this evening."

In an instant Baker was at my side. We had not met before since he was
wearing the gray at the Point.

"For God's sake, don't let him follow me,--but you,--come if you
possibly can. I'll slip off into the willows up-stream as soon as I can
do so without his seeing."

I signalled Blake to join us, and presently he sauntered over our way,
Gleason meantime admonishing his camp cook that he expected to have the
very best hot supper for himself and his friend, Lieutenant Baker, ready
in twenty minutes,--twenty minutes, for they had an important
engagement, an affaire de coor, by Jove!

"You fellows know something of this matter," said Baker, hurriedly; "but
I cannot begin to tell you how troubled I am. Something is wrong with
her. She has not met me once this week, and the house is still as a
grave. I must see her. She is either ill or imprisoned by her people, or
carried away. God only knows why that hound Burnham forbids me the
house. I cannot see him. I've never seen his wife. The door is barred
against me and I cannot force an entrance. For a while she was able to
slip out late in the evening and meet me down the hill-side, but they
must have detected her in some way. I do not even know that she is
there, but to-night I mean to know. If she is within those walls--and
alive--she will answer my signal. But for heaven's sake keep that
drunken wretch from going over there. He's bent on it. The major gave
me leave again for to-night, provided I would see Gleason safely to your
camp, and he has been maundering all the way out about how he knew
more'n I did,--he and Potts, who's half-drunk too,--and how he meant to
see me through in this matter."

"Well, here," said Blake, "there's only one thing to be done. You two
slip away at once; get your horses, and ford the Sandy well below camp.
I'll try and keep him occupied."

In three minutes we were off, leading our steeds until a hundred yards
or so away from the fires, then mounting and moving at rapid walk.
Following Baker's lead, I rode along, wondering what manner of adventure
this was apt to be. I expected him to make an early crossing of the
stream, but he did not. "The only fords I know," said he, "are down
below Starlight," and so it happened that we made a wide detour; but
during that dark ride he told me frankly how matters stood. Zoe Burnham
had promised to be his wife, and had fully returned his love, but she
was deeply attached to her poor mother, whose health was utterly broken,
and who seemed to stand in dread of her father. The girl could not bear
to leave her mother, though he had implored her to do so and be married
at once. "She told me the last time I saw her that old Burnham had sworn
to kill me if he caught me around the place, so I have to come armed,
you see;" and he exhibited his heavy revolver. "There's something shady
about the old man, but I don't know what it is."

At last we crossed the stream, and soon reached a point where we
dismounted and fastened our horses among the willows; then slowly and
cautiously began the ascent to the ranch. The slope here was long and
gradual, and before we had gone fifty yards Baker laid his hand on my
arm.

"Wait. Hush!" he said.

Listening, we could distinctly hear the crunching of horses' hoofs, but
in the darkness (for the old moon was not yet showing over the range to
the east) we could distinguish nothing. One thing was certain: those
hoofs were going towards the ranch.

"Heavens!" said Baker. "Do you suppose that Gleason has got the start of
us after all? There's no telling what mischief he may do. He swore he
would stand inside those walls to-night, for there was no Chinaman on
earth whom he could not bribe."

We pushed ahead at the run now, but within a minute I plunged into some
unseen hollow; my Mexican spurs tangled, and down I went heavily upon
the ground. The shock was severe, and for an instant I lay there
half-stunned. Baker was by my side in the twinkling of an eye full of
anxiety and sympathy. I was not injured in the slightest, but the breath
was knocked out of me, and it was some minutes before I could forge
ahead again. We reached the foot of the steep slope; we clambered
painfully--at least I did--to the crest, and there stood the black
outline of Starlight Ranch, with only a glimmer of light shining through
the windows here and there where the shades did not completely cover the
space. In front were three horses held by a cavalry trooper.

"Whose horses are these?" panted Baker.

"Lieutenant Gleason's, sir. Him and Corporal Potts has gone round
behind the ranch with a Chinaman they found takin' in water."

And then, just at that instant, so piercing, so agonized, so fearful
that even the three horses started back snorting and terrified, there
rang out on the still night air the most awful shriek I ever heard, the
wail of a woman in horror and dismay. Then dull, heavy blows; oaths,
curses, stifled exclamations; a fall that shook the windows; Gleason's
voice commanding, entreating; a shrill Chinese jabber; a rush through
the hall; more blows; gasps; curses; more unavailing orders in Gleason's
well-known voice; then a sudden pistol shot, a scream of "Oh, my God!"
then moans, and then silence. The casement on the second floor was
thrown open, and a fair young face and form were outlined upon the
bright light within; a girlish voice called, imploringly,--

"Harry! Harry! Oh, help, if you are there! They are killing father!"

But at the first sound Harry Baker had sprung from my side and
disappeared in the darkness.

"We are friends," I shouted to her,--"Harry Baker's friends. He has gone
round to the rear entrance." Then I made a dash for the front door,
shaking, kicking, and hammering with all my might. I had no idea how to
find the rear entrance in the darkness. Presently it was opened by the
still chattering, jabbering Chinaman, his face pasty with terror and
excitement, and the sight that met my eyes was one not soon to be
forgotten.

A broad hall opened straight before me, with a stairway leading to the
second floor. A lamp with burnished reflector was burning brightly
midway down its length. Another just like it fully lighted a big room to
my left,--the dining-room, evidently,--on the floor of which, surrounded
by overturned chairs, was lying a woman in a deathlike swoon. Indeed, I
thought at first she was dead. In the room to my right, only dimly
lighted, a tall man in shirt-sleeves was slowly crawling to a sofa,
unsteadily assisted by Gleason; and as I stepped inside, Corporal Potts,
who was leaning against the wall at the other end of the room pressing
his hand to his side and with ashen face, sank suddenly to the floor,
doubled up in a pool of his own blood. In the dining-room, in the hall,
everywhere that I could see, were the marks of a fearful struggle. The
man on the sofa gasped faintly, "Water," and I ran into the dining-room
and hastened back with a brimming goblet.

"What does it all mean?" I demanded of Gleason.

Big drops of sweat were pouring down his pallid face. The fearful scene
had entirely sobered him.

"Potts has found the man who robbed him of his wife. That's she on the
floor yonder. Go and help her."

But she was already coming to and beginning to stare wildly about her. A
glass of water helped to revive her. She staggered across the hall, and
then, with a moan of misery and horror at the sight, threw herself upon
her knees, not beside the sofa where Burnham lay gasping, but on the
floor where lay our poor old corporal. In an instant she had his head in
her lap and was crooning over the senseless clay, swaying her body to
and fro as she piteously called to him,--

"Frank, Frank! Oh, for the love of Jesus, speak to me! Frank, dear
Frank, my husband, my own! Oh, for God's sake, open your eyes and look
at me! I wasn't as wicked as they made me out, Frank, God knows I
wasn't. I tried to get back to you, but Pierce there swore you were
dead,--swore you were killed at Cieneguilla. Oh, Frank, Frank, open your
eyes! Do hear me, husband. O God, don't let him die! Oh, for pity's
sake, gentlemen, can't you do something? Can't you bring him to? He must
hear me! He must know how I've been lied to all these years!"

"Quick! Take this and see if you can bring him round," said Gleason,
tossing me his flask. I knelt and poured the burning spirit into his
open mouth. There were a few gurgles, half-conscious efforts to swallow,
and then--success. He opened his glazing eyes and looked up into the
face of his wife. His lips moved and he called her by name. She raised
him higher in her arms, pillowing his head upon her bosom, and covered
his face with frantic kisses. The sight seemed too much for "Burnham."
His face worked and twisted with rage; he ground out curses and
blasphemy between his clinched teeth; he even strove to rise from the
sofa, but Gleason forced him back. Meantime, the poor woman's wild
remorse and lamentations were poured into the ears of the dying man.

"Tell me you believe me, Frank. Tell me you forgive me. O God! you don't
know what my life has been with him. When I found out that it was all a
lie about your being killed at Cieneguilla, he beat me like a slave. He
had to go and fight in the war. They made him; they conscripted him; and
when he got back he brought me papers to show you were killed in one of
the Virginia battles. I gave up hope then for good and all."

Just then who should come springing down the stairs but Baker, who had
evidently been calming and soothing his lady-love aloft. He stepped
quickly into the parlor.

"Have you sent for a surgeon?" he asked.

The sound of his voice seemed to rouse "Burnham" to renewed life and
raging hate.

"Surgeons be damned!" he gasped. "I'm past all surgery; but thank God
I've given that ruffian what'll send him to hell before I get there! And
you--you"--and here he made a frantic grab for the revolver that lay
upon the floor, but Gleason kicked it away--"you, young hound, I meant
to have wound you up before I got through. But I can jeer at
you--God-forsaken idiot--I can triumph over you;" and he stretched forth
a quivering, menacing arm and hand. "You would have your way--damn
you!--so take it. You've given your love to a bastard,--that's what Zoe
is."

Baker stood like one turned suddenly into stone. But from the other end
of the room came prompt, wrathful, and with the ring of truth in her
earnest protest, the mother's loud defence of her child.

"It's a lie,--a fiendish and malignant lie,--and he knows it. Here lies
her father, my own husband, murdered by that scoundrel there. Her
baptismal certificate is in my room. I've kept it all these years where
he never could get it. No, Frank, she's your own, your own baby, whom
you never saw. Go--go and bring her. He must see his baby-girl. Oh,
my darling, don't--don't go until you see her." And again she covered
the ashen face with her kisses. I knelt and put the flask to his lips
and he eagerly swallowed a few drops. Baker had turned and darted
up-stairs. "Burnham's" late effort had proved too much for him. He had
fainted away, and the blood was welling afresh from several wounds.

A moment more and Baker reappeared, leading his betrothed. With her
long, golden hair rippling down her back, her face white as death, and
her eyes wild with dread, she was yet one of the loveliest pictures I
ever dreamed of. Obedient to her mother's signal, she knelt close beside
them, saying no word.

"Zoe, darling, this is your own father; the one I told you of last
winter."

Old Potts seemed struggling to rise; an inexpressible tenderness shone
over his rugged, bearded face; his eyes fastened themselves on the
lovely girl before him with a look almost as of wonderment; his lips
seemed striving to whisper her name. His wife raised him still higher,
and Baker reverently knelt and supported the shoulder of the dying man.
There was the silence of the grave in the dimly-lighted room. Slowly,
tremulously the arm in the old blue blouse was raised and extended
towards the kneeling girl. Lowly she bent, clasping her hands and with
the tears now welling from her eyes. One moment more and the withered
old hand that for quarter of a century had grasped the sabre-hilt in the
service of our common country slowly fell until it rested on that
beautiful, golden head,--one little second or two, in which the lips
seemed to murmur a prayer and the fast glazing eyes were fixed in
infinite tenderness upon his only child. Then suddenly they sought the
face of his sobbing wife,--a quick, faint smile, a sigh, and the hand
dropped to the floor. The old trooper's life had gone out in
benediction.

* * * * *

Of course there was trouble all around before that wretched affair was
explained. Gleason came within an ace of court-martial, but escaped it
by saying that he knew of "Burnham's" threats against the life of
Lieutenant Baker, and that he went to the ranch in search of the latter
and to get him out of danger. They met the Chinaman outside drawing
water, and he ushered them in the back way because it was the nearest.
Potts asked to go with him that he might see if this was his long-lost
wife,--so said Gleason,--and the instant she caught sight of him she
shrieked and fainted, and the two men sprang at each other like tigers.
Knives were drawn in a minute. Then Burnham fled through the hall,
snatched a revolver from its rack, and fired the fatal shot. The surgeon
from Fort Phoenix reached them early the next morning, a messenger
having been despatched from Crocker's ranch before eleven at night, but
all his skill could not save "Burnham," now known to be Pierce, the
ex-sutler clerk of the early Fifties. He had prospered and made money
ever since the close of the war, and Zoe had been thoroughly well
educated in the East before the poor child was summoned to share her
mother's exile. His mania seemed to be to avoid all possibility of
contact with the troops, but the Crockers had given such glowing
accounts of the land near Fort Phoenix, and they were so positively
assured that there need be no intercourse whatever with that post, that
he determined to risk it. But, go where he would, his sin had found him
out.

The long hot summer followed, but it often happened that before many
weeks there were interchanges of visits between the fort and the ranch.
The ladies insisted that the widow should come thither for change and
cheer, and Zoe's appearance at Phoenix was the sensation of the year.
Baker was in the seventh heaven. "Burnham," it was found, had a certain
sense of justice, for his will had been made long before, and everything
he possessed was left unreservedly to the woman whom he had betrayed
and, in his tigerish way, doubtless loved, for he had married her in
'65, the instant he succeeded in convincing her that Potts was really
dead.

So far from combating the will, both the Crockers were cordial in their
support. Indeed, it was the elder brother who told the widow of its
existence. They had known her and her story many a year, and were ready
to devote themselves to her service now. The junior moved up to the
"Burnham" place to take general charge and look after matters, for the
property was every day increasing in value. And so matters went until
the fall, and then, one lovely evening, in the little wooden chapel at
the old fort, there was a gathering such as its walls had never known
before; and the loveliest bride that Arizona ever saw, blushing,
smiling, and radiantly happy, received the congratulations of the entire
garrison and of delegations from almost every post in the department.

A few years ago, to the sorrow of everybody in the regiment, Mr. and
Mrs. Harry Baker bade it good-by forever. The fond old mother who had so
long watched over the growing property for "her children," as she called
them, had no longer the strength the duties required. Crocker had taken
unto himself a helpmate and was needed at his own place, and our gallant
and genial comrade with his sweet wife left us only when it became
evident to all at Phoenix that a new master was needed at Starlight
Ranch.





Next: From The Plains To The Point

Previous: The Death Song Of The Sioux



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