VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.fictionstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Thanksgiving At Frayne








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

Thanksgiving Day at Frayne! Much of the garrison was still afield,
bringing back to their lines and, let us hope, to their senses, the
remnant of Stabber's band, chased far into the Sweetwater Hills before
they would stop, while Henry's column kept Lame Wolf in such active
movement the misnamed chieftain richly won his later sobriquet "The
Skipper." The general had come whirling back from Beecher in his Concord
wagon, to meet Mr. Hay as they bore that invalid homeward from the Big
Horn. Between the fever-weakened trader and the famous frontier soldier
there had been brief conference--all that the doctors felt they could
allow--and then the former had been put to bed under the care of his
devoted wife, while the latter, without so much as sight of a pillow,
had set forth again out Sweetwater way to wind up the campaign. This
time he went in saddle, sending his own team over the range of the
Medicine Bow to carry a convalescent subaltern to the side of a stricken
father; the sender ignorant, possibly, of the post commander's
prohibition; ignoring it, if, as probable, it was known to him. The good
old doctor himself had bundled the grateful lad and sent a special
hospital attendant with him. Mrs. Dade and her devoted allies up the row
had filled with goodies a wonderful luncheon basket, while Mrs. Hay had
sent stores of wine for the use of both invalids, and had come down
herself to see the start, for, without a word indicative of reproof, the
general had bidden Flint remove the blockade, simply saying he would
assume all responsibility, both for Mrs. Hay and the young Indian girl,
given refuge under the trader's roof until the coming of her own people
still out with Stabber's band. Flint could not fathom it. He could only
obey.

And now, with the general gone and Beverly Field away, with Hay home and
secluded, by order, from all questioning or other extraneous worry; with
the wounded soldiers safely trundled into hospital, garrison interest
seemed to centre for the time mainly in that little Ogalalla
maid--Flint's sole Sioux captive--who was housed, said the much
interrogated domestic, in Mrs. Hay's own room instead of Miss Flower's,
while the lady of the house, when she slept at all, occupied a sofa near
her husband's bedside.

Then came the tidings that Blake, with the prisoners from No Wood Creek
and Bear Cliff was close at hand, and everybody looked with eager eyes
for the coming across the snowy prairie of that homeward bound
convoy--that big village of the Sioux, with its distinguished captives,
wounded and unwounded; one of the former, the young sub-chief Eagle
Wing, alias Moreau;--one of the latter a self-constituted martyr, since
she was under no official restraint,--Nanette Flower, hovering ever
about the litter bearing that sullen and still defiant brave, whose side
she refused to leave.

Not until they reached Fort Frayne; not until the surgeon, after careful
examination, declared there was no need of taking Moreau into
hospital,--no reason why he should not be confined in the prison room of
the guard-house,--were they able to induce the silent, almost desperate
girl to return to her aunt. Not until Nanette realized that her warrior
was to be housed within wooden walls whence she would be excluded, could
Mrs. Hay, devoted to the last, persuade the girl to reoccupy her old
room and to resume the dress of civilization. Barring that worsted hood,
she was habited like a chieftain's daughter, in gaily beaded and
embroidered garments, when recaptured by Blake's command. Once within
the trader's door, she had shut herself in her old room, the second
floor front, refusing to see anybody from outside the house, unless she
could be permitted to receive visits from the captive Sioux, and this
the major, flintily, forebade. It was nightfall when the litter-bearers
reached the post, Hay's rejoicing mules braying unmelodious ecstasy at
sight of their old stable. It was dark when the wounded chief was borne
into the guard-house, uttering not a sound, and Nanette was led within
the trader's door, yet someone had managed to see her face, for the
story went all over the wondering post that very night,--women flitting
with it from door to door,--that every vestige of her beauty was
gone;--she looked at least a dozen years older. Blake, when questioned,
after the first rapture of the home-coming had subsided, would neither
affirm nor deny. "She would neither speak to me nor harken," said he,
whimsically. "The only thing she showed was teeth and--temper."

Then presently they sent a lot of the Sioux--Stabber's villagers and
Lame Wolf's combined,--by easy stages down the Platte to Laramie, and
then around by Rawhide and the Niobrara to the old Red Cloud agency,
there to be fed and coddled and cared for, wounded warriors and all,
except a certain few, including this accomplished orator and chieftain,
convalescing under guard at Frayne. About his case there hung details
and complications far too many and intricate to be settled short of a
commission. Already had the tidings of this most important capture
reached the distant East. Already both Indian Bureau and Peace Societies
had begun to wire the general in the field and "work" the President and
the Press at home. Forgotten was the fact that he had been an
intolerable nuisance to Buffalo Bill and others who had undertaken to
educate and civilize him. The Wild West Show was now amazing European
capitals and, therefore, beyond consulting distance. Forgotten were
escapades at Harrisburg, Carlisle and Philadelphia. Suppressed were
circumstances connecting him with graver charges than those of repeated
roistering and aggravated assault. Ignored, or as yet unheard, were the
details of his reappearance on the frontier in time to stir up most of
the war spirit developed that September, and to take a leading part in
the fierce campaign that followed. He was a pupil of the nation, said
the good people of the Indian Friends Societies--a youth of exceptional
intelligence and promise, a son of the Sioux whose influence would be of
priceless value could he be induced to complete his education and accept
the views and projects of his eastern admirers. It would never do to let
his case be settled by soldiers, settlers and cowboys, said
philanthropy. They would hang him, starve him, break his spirit at the
very least. (They were treating him particularly well just now, as he
had sense enough to see.) There must be a deputation,--a committee to go
out at once to the West, with proper credentials, per diem, mileage and
clerks, to see to it that these unfortunate children of the mountain and
prairie were accorded fair treatment and restored to their rights,
especially this brilliant young man Moreau. The general was beyond reach
and reasoning with, but there was Flint, eminent for his piety, and
untrammelled in command; Flint, with aspirations of his own, the very
man to welcome such influence as theirs, and, correspondingly, to give
ear to their propositions. Two days after the safe lodgment of Eagle
Wing behind the bars, the telegrams were coming by dozens, and one week
after that deserved incarceration Fort Frayne heard with mild
bewilderment the major's order for Moreau's transfer to the hospital. By
that time letters, too, were beginning to come, and, two nights after
this removal to the little room but lately occupied by Lieutenant
Field--this very Thanksgiving night, in fact,--the single sentry at the
door stood attention to the commanding officer, who in person ushered
in a womanly form enveloped in hooded cloak, and with bowed head Nanette
Flower passed within the guarded portal, which then closed behind her
and left her alone with her wounded brave.

Blake and Billings had been sent on to Red Cloud, guarding the
presumably repentant Ogalallas. Webb, Ray, Gregg and Ross were still
afield, in chase of Stabber. Dade, with four companies of infantry, was
in the Big Horn guarding Henry's wagon train. There was no one now at
Frayne in position to ask the new commander questions, for Dr. Waller
had avoided him in every possible way, but Waller had nobly done the
work of his noble profession. Moreau, or Eagle Wing, was mending so very
fast there was no reason whatever why the doctor should object to his
receiving visitors. It was Flint alone who would be held responsible if
anything went wrong. Yet Fort Frayne, to a woman, took fire at the
major's action. Two days previous he might have commanded the support of
Mrs. Wilkins, but Nanette herself had spoiled all chance of that. It
seems the lady had been to call at Mrs. Hay's the previous day--that
Mrs. Hay had begged to be excused,--that Mrs. Wilkins had then
persisted, possibly as a result of recent conference with Flint, and had
bidden the servant say she'd wait until Miss Flower could come down, and
so sailed on into the parlor, intent on seeing all she could of both the
house and its inmates. But not a soul appeared. Mrs. Hay was watching
over her sleeping husband, whose slow recovery Flint was noting with
unimpatient eye. Voices low, yet eager, could be heard aloft in
Nanette's room. The servant, when she came down, had returned without a
word to the inner regions about the kitchen, and Mrs. Wilkins's wait
became a long one. At last the domestic came rustling through the lower
floor again, and Mrs. Wilkins hailed. Both were Irish, but one was the
wife of an officer and long a power, if not indeed a terror, in the
regiment. The other feared the quartermaster's wife as little as Mrs.
Wilkins feared the colonel's, and, when ordered to stand and say why she
brought no answer from Miss Flower, declined to stand, but decidedly
said she brought none because there was none.

"Did ye tell her I'd wait?" said Mrs. Wilkins.

"I did," said Miss McGrath, "an' she said 'Let her,' an' so I did." Then
in came Mrs. Hay imploring hush, and, with rage in her Hibernian heart,
the consort of the quartermaster came away.

There was not one woman in all Fort Frayne, therefore, to approve the
major's action in permitting this wild girl to visit the wilder Indian
patient. Mrs. Hay knew nothing of it because Nanette well understood
that there would be lodged objection that she dare not disregard--her
uncle's will. One other girl there was, that night at Frayne, who marked
her going and sought to follow and was recalled, restrained at the very
threshold by the sound of a beloved voice softly, in the Sioux tongue,
calling her name. One other girl there was who knew not of her going,
who shrank from thought of meeting her at any time,--in any place,--and
yet was destined to an encounter fateful in its results in every way.

Just as tattoo was sounding on the infantry bugle, Esther Dade sat
reading fairy stories at the children's bedside in the quarters of
Sergeant Foster, of her father's company. There had been Thanksgiving
dinner with Mrs. Ray, an Amazonian feast since all their lords were
still away on service, and Sandy Ray and Billy, Jr., were perhaps too
young to count. Dinner was all over by eight o'clock, and, despite some
merry games, the youngsters' eyes were showing symptoms of the sandman's
coming, when that privileged character, Hogan, Ray's long-tried trooper
now turned major domo, appeared at the doorway of the little army
parlor. He had been bearer of a lot of goodies to the children among the
quarters of the married soldiers, and now, would Mrs. Dade please speak
with Mrs. Foster, who had come over with him, and Mrs. Dade departed for
the kitchen forthwith. Presently she returned. "I'm going back awhile
with Mrs. Foster," said she. "She's sitting up to-night with poor Mrs.
Wing, who--" But there was no need of explanation. They all knew. They
had laid so recently their wreaths of evergreen on the grave of the
gallant soldier who fell, fighting at the Elk, and now another helpless
little soul had come to bear the buried name, and all that were left for
mother and babe was woman's boundless charity. It was Thanksgiving
night, and while the wail of the bereaved and stricken went up from more
than one of these humble tenements below the eastward bluff, there were
scores of glad and grateful hearts that lifted praise and thanksgiving
to the throne on high, even though they knew not at the moment but that
they, too, might, even then, be robbed of all that stood between them
and desolation. Once it happened in the story of our hard-fighting,
hard-used little army that a bevy of fair young wives, nearly half a
score in number, in all the bravery of their summer toilets, sat in the
shadow of the flag, all smiles and gladness and applause, joining in the
garrison festivities on the Nation's natal day, never dreaming of the
awful news that should fell them ere the coming of another sun; that one
and all they had been widowed more than a week; that the men they loved,
whose names they bore, lay hacked and mutilated beyond recognition
within sight of those very hills where now the men from Frayne were
facing the same old foe. In the midst of army life we are, indeed, in
death, and the thanksgiving of loving ones about the fireside for
mercies thus far shown, is mingled ever with the dread of what the
morrow may unfold.

"Let me go, too, mamma," was Esther's prompt appeal, as she heard her
mother's words. "I can put the children to bed while you and Mrs. Foster
are over there."

And so with Hogan, lantern bearing, mother and daughter had followed the
sergeant's wife across the broad, snow-covered parade; had passed
without comment, though each was thinking of the new inmate, the
brightly-lighted hospital building on the edge of the plateau, and
descended the winding pathway to the humble quarters of the married
soldiers, nestling in the sheltered flats between the garrison proper
and the bold bluffs that again close bordered the rushing stream. And
here at Sergeant Foster's doorway Esther parted from the elders, and was
welcomed by shrieks of joy from three sturdy little cherubs--the
sergeant's olive branches, and here, as the last notes of tattoo went
echoing away under the vast and spangled sky, one by one her charges
closed their drooping lids and dropped to sleep and left their gentle
friend and reader to her own reflections.

There was a soldier dance that night in one of the vacant messrooms.
Flint's two companies were making the best of their isolation, and
found, as is not utterly uncommon, quite a few maids and matrons among
the households of the absent soldiery quite willing to be consoled and
comforted. There were bright lights, therefore, further along the edge
of the steep, beyond those of the hospital, and the squeak of fiddle and
drone of 'cello, mingled with the plaintive piping of the flute, were
heard at intervals through the silence of the wintry night. No tramp of
sentry broke the hush about the little rift between the heights--the
major holding that none was necessary where there were so many dogs.
Most of the soldiers' families had gone to the dance; all of the younger
children were asleep; even the dogs were still, and so, when at ten
o'clock Esther tiptoed from the children's bedside and stood under the
starlight, the murmur of the Platte was the only sound that reached her
ears until, away over at the southwest gate the night guards began the
long-drawn heralding of the hour. "Ten o'clock and all's well" it went
from post to post along the west and northward front, but when Number
Six, at the quartermaster's storehouse near the southeast corner, should
have taken up the cry where it was dropped by Number Five, afar over
near the flagstaff, there was unaccountable silence. Six did not utter a
sound.

Looking up from the level of "Sudstown," as it had earlier been named,
Esther could see the black bulk of the storehouse close to the edge of
the plateau. Between its westward gable end and the porch of the
hospital lay some fifty yards of open space, and through this gap now
gleamed a spangled section of the western heavens. Along the bluff, just
under the crest, ran a pathway that circled the southeastward corner and
led away to the trader's store, south of the post. Tradition had it that
the track was worn by night raiders, bearing contraband fluids from
store to barracks in the days before such traffic was killed by that
common sense promoter of temperance, soberness and chastity--the post
exchange. Along that bluff line, from the storehouse toward the
hospital, invisible, doubtless, from either building or from the bluff
itself, but thrown in sharp relief against that rectangular inlet of
starry sky, two black figures, crouching and bearing some long, flat
object between them, swift and noiseless were speeding toward the
hospital. The next instant they were lost in the black background of
that building. Then, as suddenly and a moment later, one of them
reappeared, just for a moment, against the brightly lighted
window,--the southernmost window on the easterward side--the window of
the room that had been Beverly Field's--the window of the room now given
over to Eagle Wing, the Sioux,--the captive for whose safe keeping a
special sentry within the building, and this strangely silent Number Six
without, were jointly responsible. Then that silhouetted figure was
blotted from her sight in general darkness, for the lights within as
suddenly went out.

And at that very moment a sound smote upon her ear, unaccountable at
that hour and that side of the garrison--hoofbeats swiftly coming down
into the hollow from the eastward bluff,--hoofbeats and low, excited
voices. Foster's little house was southernmost of the settlement. The
ground was open between it and the heights, and despite the low,
cautious tones, Esther heard the foremost rider's muttered, angering
words. "Dam fool! Crazy! Heap crazy! Too much hurry. Ought t' let him
call off first!" Then an answer in guttural Sioux.

And then in an instant it dawned upon the girl that here was new crime,
new bloodshed, perhaps, and a plot to free a villianous captive. Her
first thought was to scream for aid, but what aid could she summon? Not
a man was within hail except these, the merciless haters of her race and
name. To scream would be to invite their ready knives to her heart--to
the heart of any woman who might rush to her succor. The cry died in her
throat, and, trembling with dread and excitement, she clung to the door
post and crouched and listened, for stifled mutterings could be heard,
a curse or two in vigorous English, a stamping of impatient ponies, a
warning in a woman's tone. Then, thank God! Up at the storehouse corner
a light came dancing into view. In honest soldier tones boomed out the
query "What's the matter, Six?" and then, followed by a scurry of hoofs,
a mad lashing of quirts, a scramble and rush of frightened steeds, and a
cursing of furious tongues, her own brave young voice rang out on the
night. "This way, sergeant! Help--Quick!"

Black forms of mounts and riders sped desperately away, and then with
all the wiry, sinewy strength of her lithe and slender form, Esther
hurled herself upon another slender figure, speeding after these, afoot.
Desperately she clung to it in spite of savage blows and strainings. And
so they found her, as forth they came,--a rush of shrieking, startled,
candle-bearing women,--of bewildered and unconsciously blasphemous men
of the guard--her arms locked firmly about a girl in semi-savage garb.
The villain of the drama had been whisked away, leaving the woman who
sought to save him to the mercy of the foe.





Next: Behind The Bars

Previous: The Sioux Surrounded



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 486