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The Captain's Defiance








From: An Apache Princess

Within ten minutes of Todd's arrival at the spot the soft sands of the
mesa were tramped into bewildering confusion by dozens of trooper
boots. The muffled sound of excited voices, so soon after the
startling affair of the earlier evening, and hurrying footfalls
following, had roused almost every household along the row and brought
to the spot half the officers on duty at the post. A patrol of the
guard had come in double time, and soldiers had been sent at speed to
the hospital for a stretcher. Dr. Graham had lost no moment of time in
reaching the stricken sentry. Todd had been sent back to Blakely's
bedside and Downs to fetch a lantern. They found the latter, five
minutes later, stumbling about the Trumans' kitchen, weeping for that
which was lost, and the sergeant of the guard collared and cuffed him
over to the guard-house--one witness, at least, out of the way. At
four o'clock the doctor was working over his exhausted and unconscious
patient at the hospital. Mullins had been stabbed twice, and
dangerously, and half a dozen men with lanterns were hunting about the
bloody sands where the faithful fellow had dropped, looking for a
weapon or a clew, and probably trampling out all possibility of
finding either. Major Plume, through Mr. Doty, his adjutant, had felt
it necessary to remind Captain Wren that an officer in close arrest
had no right to be away from his quarters. Late in the evening, it
seems, Dr. Graham had represented to the post commander that the
captain was in so nervous and overwrought a condition, and so
distressed, that as a physician he recommended his patient be allowed
the limits of the space adjoining his quarters in which to walk off
his superabundant excitement. Graham had long been the friend of
Captain Wren and was his friend as well as physician now, even though
deploring his astounding outbreak, but Graham had other things to
demand his attention as night wore on, and there was no one to speak
for Wren when the young adjutant, a subaltern of infantry, with
unnecessary significance of tone and manner, suggested the captain's
immediate return to his proper quarters. Wren bowed his head and went
in stunned and stubborn silence. It had never occurred to him for a
moment, when he heard that half-stifled, agonized cry for help, that
there could be the faintest criticism of his rushing to the sentry's
aid. Still less had it occurred to him that other significance, and
damning significance, might attach to his presence on the spot, but,
being first to reach the fallen man, he was found kneeling over him
within thirty seconds of the alarm. Not another living creature was in
sight when the first witnesses came running to the spot. Both Truman
and Todd could swear to that.

In the morning, therefore, the orderly came with the customary
compliments to say to Captain Wren that the post commander desired to
see him at the office.

It was then nearly nine o'clock. Wren had had a sleepless night and
was in consultation with Dr. Graham when the summons came. "Ask that
Captain Sanders be sent for at once," said the surgeon, as he pressed
his comrade patient's hand. "The major has his adjutant and clerk and
possibly some other officers. You should have at least one friend."

"I understand," briefly answered Wren, as he stepped to the hallway to
get his sun hat. "I wish it might be you." The orderly was already
speeding back to the office at the south end of the brown rectangle of
adobe and painted pine, but Janet Wren, ministering, according to her
lights, to Angela in the little room aloft, had heard the message and
was coming down. Taller and more angular than ever she looked as, with
flowing gown, she slowly descended the narrow stairway.

"I have just succeeded in getting her to sleep," she murmured. "She
has been dreadfully agitated ever since awakened by the voices and the
running this morning, and she must have cried herself to sleep last
night. R-r-r-obert, would it not be well for you to see her when she
wakes? She does not know--I could not tell her--that you are under
arrest."

Graham looked more "dour" than did his friend of the line. Privately
he was wondering how poor Angela could get to sleep at all with Aunt
Janet there to soothe her. The worst time to teach a moral lesson,
with any hope of good effect, is when the recipient is suffering from
sense of utter injustice and wrong, yet must perforce listen. But it
is a favorite occasion with the "ower guid." Janet thought it would be
a long step in the right direction to bring her headstrong niece to
the belief that all the trouble was the direct result of her having
sought, against her father's wishes, a meeting with Mr. Blakely. True,
Janet had now some doubt that such had been the case, but, in what she
felt was only stubborn pride, her niece refused all explanation.
"Father would not hear me at the time," she sobbed. "I am condemned
without a chance to defend myself or--him." Yet Janet loved the bonny
child devotedly and would go through fire and water to serve her best
interests, only those best interests must be as Janet saw them. That
anything very serious might result as a consequence of her brother's
violent assault on Blakely, she had never yet imagined. That further
complications had arisen which might blacken his record she never
could credit for a moment. Mullins lay still unconscious, and not
until he recovered strength was he to talk with or see anyone. Graham
had given faint hope of recovery, and declared that everything
depended on his patient's having no serious fever or setback. In a few
days he might be able to tell his story. Then the mystery as to his
assailant would be cleared in a breath. Janet had taken deep offense
that the commanding officer should have sent her brother into close
arrest without first hearing of the extreme provocation. "It is an
utterly unheard-of proceeding," said she, "this confining of an
officer and gentleman without investigation of the affair," and she
glared at Graham, uncomprehending, when, with impatient shrug of his
big shoulders, he asked her what had they done, between them, to
Angela. It was his wife put him up to saying that, she reasoned, for
Janet's Calvinistic dogmas as to daughters in their teens were ever at
variance with the views of her gentle neighbor. If Angela had been
harshly dealt with, undeserving, it was Angela's duty to say so and to
say why, said Janet. Meantime, her first care was her wronged and
misjudged brother. Gladly would she have gone to the office with him
and stood proudly by his side in presence of his oppressor, could such
a thing be permitted. She marveled that Robert should now show so
little of tenderness for her who had served him loyally, if
masterfully, so very long. He merely laid his hand on hers and said he
had been summoned to the commanding officer's, then went forth into
the light and left her.

Major Plume was seated at his desk, thoughtful and perplexed. Up at
regimental headquarters at Prescott Wren was held in high esteem, and
the major's brief telegraphic message had called forth anxious inquiry
and something akin to veiled disapprobation. Headquarters could not
see how it was possible for Wren to assault Lieutenant Blakely without
some grave reason. Had Plume investigated? No, but that was coming
now, he said to himself, as Wren entered and stood in silence before
him.

The little office had barely room for the desks of the commander and
his adjutant and the table on which were spread the files of general
orders from various superior headquarters--regimental, department,
division, the army, and the War Secretary. No curtains adorned the
little windows, front and rear. No rug or carpet vexed the warping
floor. Three chairs, kitchen pattern, stood against the pine partition
that shut off the sight, but by no means the hearing, of the three
clerks scratching at their flat-topped desks in the adjoining den.
Maps of the United States, of the Military Division of the Pacific,
and of the Territory, as far as known and surveyed, hung about the
wooden walls. Blue-prints and photographs of scout maps, made by their
predecessors of the ----th Cavalry in the days of the Crook campaigns,
were scattered with the order files about the table. But of pictures,
ornamentation, or relief of any kind the gloomy box was destitute as
the dun-colored flat of the parade. Official severity spoke in every
feature of the forbidding office as well as in those of the major
commanding.

There was striking contrast, too, between the man at the desk and the
man on the rack before him. Plume had led a life devoid of anxiety or
care. Soldiering he took serenely. He liked it, so long as no grave
hardship threatened. He had done reasonably good service at corps
headquarters during the Civil War; had been commissioned captain in
the regulars in '61, and held no vexatious command at any time
perhaps, until this that took him to far-away Arizona. Plume was a
gentlemanly fellow and no bad garrison soldier. He really shone on
parade and review at such fine stations as Leavenworth and Riley, but
had never had to bother with mountain scouting or long-distance Indian
chasing on the plains. He had a comfortable income outside his pay,
and when he was wedded, at the end of her fourth season in society, to
a prominent, if just a trifle passee belle, people thought him a
more than lucky man, until the regiment was sent to Arizona and he to
Sandy. Gossip said he went to General Sherman with appeal for some
detaining duty, whereupon that bluff and most outspoken warrior
exclaimed: "What, what, what! Not want to go with the regiment? Why,
here's Blakely begging to be relieved from Terry's staff because he's
mad to go." And this, said certain St. Louis commentators, settled it,
for Mrs. Plume declared for Arizona.

Well garbed, groomed, and fed was Plume, a handsome, soldierly figure.
Very cool and placid was his look in the spotless white that even then
by local custom had become official dress for Sandy; but beneath the
snowy surface his heart beat with grave disquiet as he studied the
strong, rugged, somber face of the soldier on the floor.

Wren was tall and gaunt and growing gray. His face was deeply lined;
his close-cropped beard was silver-stranded; his arms and legs were
long and sinewy and powerful; his chest and shoulders burly; his
regimental dress had not the cut and finish of the commander's. Too
much of bony wrist and hand was in evidence, too little of grace and
curve. But, though he stood rigidly at attention, with all semblance
of respect and subordination, the gleam in his deep-set eyes, the
twitch of the long fingers, told of keen and pent-up feeling, and he
looked the senior soldier squarely in the face. A sergeant, standing
by the adjutant's desk, tiptoed out into the clerk's room and closed
the door behind him, then set himself to listen. Young Doty, the
adjutant, fiddled nervously with his pen and tried to go on signing
papers, but failed. It was for Plume to break the awkward silence, and
he did not quite know how. Captain Westervelt, quietly entering at the
moment, bowed to the major and took a chair. He had evidently been
sent for.

"Captain Wren," presently said Plume, his fingers trembling a bit as
they played with the paper folder, "I have felt constrained to send
for you to inquire still further into last night's affair--or affairs.
I need not tell you that you may decline to answer if you consider
your interests are--involved. I had hoped this painful matter might be
so explained as to--as to obviate the necessity of extreme measures,
but your second appearance close to Mr. Blakely's quarters, under all
the circumstances, was so--so extraordinary that I am compelled to
call for explanation, if you have one you care to offer."

For a moment Wren stood staring at his commander in amaze. He had
expected to be offered opportunity to state the circumstances leading
to his now deeply deplored attack on Mr. Blakely, and to decline the
offer on the ground that he should have been given that opportunity
before being submitted to the humiliation of arrest. He had intended
to refuse all overtures, to invite trial by court-martial or
investigation by the inspector general, but by no manner of means to
plead for reconsideration now; and here was the post commander, with
whom he had never served until they came to Sandy, a man who hadn't
begun to see the service, the battles, and campaigns that had fallen
to his lot, virtually accusing him of further misdemeanor, when he had
only rushed to save or succor. He forgot all about Sanders or other
witnesses. He burst forth impetuously:

"Extraordinary, sir! It would have been most extraordinary if I hadn't
gone with all speed when I heard that cry for help."

Plume looked up in sudden joy. "You mean to tell me you didn't--you
weren't there till after--the cry?"

Wren's stern Scottish face was a sight to see. "Of what can you
possibly be thinking, Major Plume?" he demanded, slowly now, for wrath
was burning within him, and yet he strove for self-control. He had had
a lesson and a sore one.

"I will answer that--a little later, Captain Wren," said Plume, rising
from his seat, rejoicing in the new light now breaking upon him.
Westervelt, too, had gasped a sigh of relief. No man had ever known
Wren to swerve a hair's breadth from the truth. "At this moment time
is precious if the real criminal is to be caught at all. You were
first to reach the sentry. Had you seen no one else?"

In the dead silence that ensued within the room the sputter of hoofs
without broke harshly on the ear. Then came spurred boot heels on the
hollow, heat-dried boarding, but not a sound from the lips of Captain
Wren. The rugged face, twitching with pent-up indignation the moment
before, was now slowly turning gray. Plume stood facing him in growing
wonder and new suspicion.

"You heard me, did you not? I asked you did you see anyone else
during--along the sentry post when you went out?"

A fringed gauntlet reached in at the doorway and tapped. Sergeant
Shannon, straight as a pine, stood expectant of summons to enter and
his face spoke eloquently of important tidings, but the major waved
him away, and, marveling, he slowly backed to the edge of the porch.

"Surely you can answer that, Captain Wren," said Plume, his clear-cut,
handsome face filled with mingled anxiety and annoy. "Surely you
should answer, or--"

The ellipsis was suggestive, but impotent. After a painful moment came
the response:

"Or--take the consequences, major?" Then slowly--"Very well, sir--I
must take them."





Next: A Find In The Sands

Previous: A Stricken Sentry



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