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The Meeting By The Waters








From: An Apache Princess

Under the willows at the edge of the pool a young girl sat
daydreaming, though the day was nearly done. All in the valley was
wrapped in shadow, though the cliffs and turrets across the stream
were resplendent in a radiance of slanting sunshine. Not a cloud
tempered the fierce glare of the arching heavens or softened the sharp
outline of neighboring peak or distant mountain chain. Not a whisper
of breeze stirred the drooping foliage along the sandy shores or
ruffled the liquid mirror surface. Not a sound, save drowsy hum of
beetle or soft murmur of rippling waters, among the pebbly shallows
below, broke the vast silence of the scene. The snow cap, gleaming at
the northern horizon, lay one hundred miles away and looked but an
easy one-day march. The black upheavals of the Matitzal, barring the
southward valley, stood sullen and frowning along the Verde, jealous
of the westward range that threw their rugged gorges into early shade.
Above and below the still and placid pool and but a few miles distant,
the pine-fringed, rocky hillsides came shouldering close to the
stream, but fell away, forming a deep, semicircular basin toward the
west, at the hub of which stood bolt-upright a tall, snowy flagstaff,
its shred of bunting hanging limp and lifeless from the peak, and in
the dull, dirt-colored buildings of adobe, ranged in rigid lines about
the dull brown, flat-topped mesa, a thousand yards up stream above
the pool, drowsed a little band of martial exiles, stationed here to
keep the peace 'twixt scattered settlers and swarthy, swarming
Apaches. The fort was their soldier home; the solitary girl a
soldier's daughter.

She could hardly have been eighteen. Her long, slim figure, in its
clinging riding habit, betrayed, despite roundness and supple grace, a
certain immaturity. Her hands and feet were long and slender. Her
sun-tanned cheek and neck were soft and rounded. Her mouth was
delicately chiseled and the lips were pink as the heart of a
Bridesmaid rose, but, being firmly closed, told no tale of the teeth
within, without a peep at which one knew not whether the beauty of the
sweet young face was really made or marred. Eyes, eyebrows, lashes,
and a wealth of tumbling tresses of rich golden brown were all superb,
but who could tell what might be the picture when she opened those
pretty, curving lips to speak or smile? Speak she did not, even to the
greyhounds stretched sprawling in the warm sands at her feet. Smile
she could not, for the young heart was sore troubled.

Back in the thick of the willows she had left her pony, blinking
lazily and switching his long tail to rid his flanks of humming
insects, but never mustering energy enough to stamp a hoof or strain
a thread of his horsehair riata. Both the long, lean, sprawling
hounds lolled their red, dripping tongues and panted in the sullen
heat. Even the girl herself, nervous at first and switching with her
dainty whip at the crumbling sands and pacing restlessly to and fro,
had yielded gradually to the drooping influences of the hour and,
seated on a rock, had buried her chin in the palm of her hand, and,
with eyes no longer vagrant and searching, had drifted away into
maiden dreamland. Full thirty minutes had she been there waiting for
something, or somebody, and it, or he, had not appeared.

Yet somebody else was there and close at hand. The shadow of the
westward heights had gradually risen to the crest of the rocky cliffs
across the stream. A soft, prolonged call of distant trumpet summoned
homeward, for the coming night, the scattered herds and herd guards of
the post, and, rising with a sigh of disappointment, the girl turned
toward her now impatient pony when her ear caught the sound of a
smothered hand-clap, and, whirling about in swift hope and surprise,
her face once more darkened at sight of an Indian girl, Apache
unquestionably, crouching in the leafy covert of the opposite willows
and pointing silently down stream. For a moment, without love or fear
in the eyes of either, the white girl and the brown gazed at each
other across the intervening water mirror and spoke no word. Then,
slowly, the former approached the brink, looked in the direction
indicated by the little dingy index and saw nothing to warrant the
recall. Moreover, she was annoyed to think that all this time,
perhaps, the Indian girl had been lurking in that sheltering grove and
stealthily watching her. Once more she turned away, this time with a
toss of her head that sent the russet-brown tresses tumbling about her
slim back and shoulders, and at once the hand-clap was repeated, low,
but imperative, and Tonto, the biggest of the two big hounds, uplifted
one ear and growled a challenge.

"What do you want?" questioned the white girl, across the estranging
waters.

For answer the brown girl placed her left forefinger on her lips, and
again distinctly pointed to a little clump of willows a dozen rods
below, but on the westward side.

"Do you mean--someone's coming?" queried the first.

"Sh-sh-sh!" answered the second softly, then pointed again, and
pointed eagerly.

The soldier's daughter glanced about her, uncertainly, a moment, then
slowly, cautiously made her way along the sandy brink in the direction
indicated, gathering the folds of her long skirt in her gauntleted
hand and stepping lightly in her slender moccasins. A moment or two,
and she had reached the edge of a dense little copse and peered
cautiously within. The Indian girl was right. Somebody lay there,
apparently asleep, and the fair young intruder recoiled in obvious
confusion, if not dismay. For a moment she stood with fluttering heart
and parting lips that now permitted reassuring glimpse of pearly
white teeth. For a moment she seemed on the verge of panicky retreat,
but little by little regained courage and self-poise. What was there
to fear in a sleeping soldier anyhow? She knew who it was at a glance.
She could, if she would, whisper his name. Indeed, she had been
whispering it many a time, day and night, these last two weeks
until--until certain things about him had come to her ears that made
her shrink in spite of herself from this handsome, petted young
soldier, this Adonis of her father's troop, Neil Blakely, lieutenant
of cavalry.

"The Bugologist," they called him in cardroom circles at the "store,"
where men were fiercely intolerant of other pursuits than poker, for
which pastime Mr. Blakely had no use whatever--no more use than had
its votaries for him. He was a dreamy sort of fellow, with big blue
eyes and a fair skin that were in themselves sufficient to stir the
rancor of born frontiersmen, and they of Arizona in the days of old
were an exaggeration of the type in general circulation on the Plains.
He was something of a dandy in dress, another thing they loathed;
something of a purist in speech, which was affectation unpardonable;
something of a dissenter as to drink, appreciative of "Cucumungo" and
claret, but distrustful of whisky--another thing to call down scorn
illimitable from the elect of the mining camps and packing "outfits."
But all these disqualifications might have been overlooked had the
lieutenant displayed even a faint preference for poker. "The Lord
loveth a cheerful giver--or loser" was the creed of the cardroom
circle at the store, but beyond a casual or smiling peep at the game
from the safe distance of the doorway, Mr. Blakely had vouchsafed no
interest in affairs of that character. To the profane disgust of Bill
Hyde, chief packer, and the malevolent, if veiled, criticism of
certain "sporty" fellow soldiers, Blakely preferred to spend his
leisure hours riding up and down the valley, with a butterfly net over
his shoulders and a japanned tin box slung at his back, searching for
specimens that were scarce as the Scriptures among his commentators.

Even on this hot October afternoon he had started on his entomological
work, but, finding little encouragement and resting a while in the
shade, he had dozed away on a sandy couch, his head on his arms, his
broad-brimmed hat over his face, his shapely legs outstretched in
lazy, luxurious enjoyment, his tall and slender form, arrayed in cool
white blouse and trousers, really a goodly thing to behold. This day,
too, he must have come afoot, but his net and box lay there beside
him, and his hunt had been without profit, for both were apparently
empty. Possibly he had devoted but little time to netting insects.
Possibly he had thought to encounter bigger game. If so his zest in
the sport must have been but languid, since he had so soon yielded to
the drowsy influences of the day. There was resentment in the heart of
the girl as this occurred to her, even though it would have angered
her the more had anyone suggested she had come in hope of seeing or
speaking with him.

And yet, down in the bottom of her heart, she knew that just such a
hope had held her there even to the hour of recall. She knew that,
since opportunities for meeting him within the garrison were limited,
she had deliberately chosen to ride alone, and farther than she had
ever ridden alone before, in hope of meeting him without. She knew
that in the pursuit of his winged prey he never sought the open mesa
or the ravines and gorges of the foothills. Only along the stream were
they--and he--to be found. Only along the stream, therefore, had she
this day ridden and, failing to see aught of him, had dismounted to
think in quiet by the pool, so she told herself, but incidentally to
wait and watch for him; and now she had found him, neither watching
nor waiting, but in placid unconcern and slumber.

One reason why they met so seldom in garrison was that her father did
not like him in the least. The captain was a veteran soldier,
self-taught and widely honored, risen from the ranks. The lieutenant
was a man of gentle breeding and of college education, a soldier by
choice, or caprice, yet quite able at any time to quit the service and
live a life of ease, for he had, they said, abundant means of his own.
He had been first lieutenant of that troop at least five years, not
five months of which had he served on duty with it. First one general,
then another, had needed him as aide-de-camp, and when, on his own
application, he had been relieved from staff duty to enable him to
accompany his regiment to this then distant and inhospitable land, he
had little more than reached Camp Sandy when he was sent by the
department commander to investigate some irregularity at the Apache
reservation up the valley, and then, all unsoliciting, he had been
placed in charge pending the coming of a new agent to replace the
impeached one going home under guard, and the captain said things
about his subaltern's always seeking "fancy duty" that were natural,
yet unjust--things that reached Mr. Blakely in exaggerated form, and
that angered him against his senior to the extent of open rupture.
Then Blakely took the mountain fever at the agency, thereby still
further delaying his return to troop duty, and then began another
complication, for the contract doctor, though skillful in his
treatment, was less assiduous in nursing than were the wife of the
newly arrived agent and her young companion Lola, daughter of the
agency interpreter and his Apache-Yuma wife.

When well enough to attempt light duty again, the lieutenant had
rejoined at Sandy, and, almost the first face to greet him on his
arrival was one he had never seen before and never forgot
thereafter--the sweet, laughing, winsome face of Angela Wren, his
captain's only child.

The regiment had marched into Arizona overland, few of the wives and
daughters with it. Angela, motherless since her seventh year, was at
school in the distant East, together with the daughters of the colonel
then commanding the regiment. They were older; were "finishing" that
summer, and had amazed that distinguished officer by demanding to be
allowed to join him with their mother. When they left the school
Angela could stand it no longer. She both telegraphed and wrote,
begging piteously to be permitted to accompany them on the long
journey by way of San Francisco, and so it had finally been settled.
The colonel's household were now at regimental headquarters up at
Prescott, and Angela was quite happy at Camp Sandy. She had been there
barely four weeks when Neil Blakely, pale, fragile-looking, and still
far from strong, went to report for duty at his captain's quarters and
was met at the threshold by his captain's daughter.

Expecting a girl friend, Kate Sanders, from "down the row," she had
rushed to welcome her, and well-nigh precipitated herself upon a
stranger in the natty undress uniform of the cavalry. Her instant
blush was something beautiful to see. Blakely said the proper things
to restore tranquillity; smilingly asked for her father, his captain;
and, while waiting for that warrior to finish shaving and come down to
receive him, was entertained by Miss Wren in the little army parlor.
Looking into her wondrous eyes and happy, blushing face, he forgot
that there was rancor between his troop commander and himself, until
the captain's stiff, unbending greeting reminded him. Thoughtless
people at the post, however, were laughing over the situation a week
thereafter. Neil Blakely, a squire of dames in San Francisco and other
cities when serving on staff duty, a society "swell" and clubman, had
obviously become deeply interested in this blithe young army girl,
without a cent to her name--with nothing but her beauty, native grace,
and sweet, sunshiny nature to commend her. And everyone hitherto had
said Neil Blakely would never marry in the army.

And there was one woman at Sandy who saw the symptoms with jealous and
jaundiced eyes--Clarice, wife of the major then commanding the little
"four-company" garrison. Other women took much to heart the fact that
Major Plume had cordially invited Blakely, on his return from the
agency, to be their guest until he could get settled in his own
quarters. The Plumes had rooms to spare--and no children. The major was
twelve years older than his wife, but women said it often looked the
other way. Mrs. Plume had aged very rapidly after his sojourn on
recruiting duty in St. Louis. Frontier commissariat and cooking played
hob with her digestion, said the major. Frontier winds and water dealt
havoc to her complexion, said the women. But both complexion and
digestion seemed to "take a brace," as irreverent youth expressed it,
when Neil Blakely came to Sandy and the major's roof. True, he stayed
but six and thirty hours and then moved into his own domicile--quarters
No. 7--after moving out a most reluctant junior. Major Plume and Mrs.
Plume had expected him, they were so kind as to say, to choose a vacant
half set, excellent for bachelor purposes, under the roof that sheltered
Captain Wren, Captain Wren's maiden sister and housekeeper, and Angela,
the captain's daughter. This set adjoined the major's big central house,
its south windows looking into the major's north gallery. "It would be
so neighborly and nice," said Mrs. Plume. Instead, however, Mr. Blakely
stood upon his prerogative as a senior subaltern and "ranked out" Mr.
and Mrs. Bridger and baby, and these otherwise gentle folk, evicted and
aggrieved, knowing naught of Blakely from previous association, and
seeing no reason why he should wish to be at the far end of the row
instead of the middle, with his captain, where he properly belonged,
deemed themselves the objects of wanton and capricious treatment at his
hands, and resented it according to their opportunities. Bridger, being
a soldier and subordinate, had to take it out in soliloquy and
swear-words, but his impetuous little helpmate--being a woman, a wife
and mother, set both wits and tongue to work, and heaven help the man
when woman has both to turn upon him! In refusing the room and windows
that looked full-face into those of Mrs. Plume, Blakely had nettled her.
In selecting the quarters occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Bridger he had
slightly inconvenienced and sorely vexed the latter. With no
incumbrances whatever, with fine professional record, with personal
traits and reputation to make him enviable, with comparative wealth and,
as a rule, superlative health, Blakely started on his career as a
subaltern at Sandy with three serious handicaps,--the disfavor of his
captain, who knew and loved him little,--the prejudice of Mrs. Bridger,
who knew and loved him not at all,--and the jealous pique of Mrs. Plume,
who had known and loved him, possibly, too well.

There was little duty doing at Sandy at the time whereof we write. Men
rose at dawn and sent the horses forth to graze all day in the
foothills under heavy guard. It was too hot for drills, with the
mercury sizzling at the hundred mark. Indian prisoners did the
"police" work about the post; and men and women dozed and wilted in
the shade until the late afternoon recall. Then Sandy woke up and
energetically stabled, drilled, paraded under arms at sunset, mounted
guard immediately thereafter, dined in spotless white; then rode,
drove, flirted, danced, gossiped, made mirth, melody, or monotonous
plaint till nearly midnight; then slept until the dawn of another day.

Indians there were in the wilds of the Mogollon to the southeast, and,
sometimes at rare intervals straying from the big reservation up the
valley, they scared the scattered settlers of the Agua Fria and the
Hassayampa; but Sandy rarely knew of them except as prisoners. Not a
hostile shot had been fired in the surrounding mountains for at least
six months, so nobody felt the least alarm, and many only languid
interest, when the white-coated officers reported the result of sunset
roll-call and inspection, and, saluting Major Plume, the captain of
"C" Troop announced in tones he meant should be heard along the row:
"Mr. Blakely, sir, is absent!"





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