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The Sign Of The Bar Shoe








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

Many a time has it happened in the old days of the old army that the
post adjutant has begged to be allowed to go with some detachment sent
after Indians. Rarely has it happened, however, that, without any
request from the detachment commander or of his own, has the post
adjutant been ordered to go. No one could say of Beverly Field that he
had not abundantly availed himself of every opportunity for active
service in the past. During his first two years with the regiment he had
spent more than half the time in saddle and afield, scouting the trails
of war parties or marauding bands, or watching over a peaceable tribe
when on the annual hunt. Twice he had been out with Ray, which meant a
liberal education in plainscraft and frontier duty. Twice twenty times,
probably, had he said he would welcome a chance to go again with Captain
Ray, and now the chance had come, so had the spoken order, and, so far
from receiving it with rejoicing, it was more than apparent that he
heard it with something like dismay.

But Webb was not the man to either explain or defend an order, even to a
junior for whom he cherished such regard. Field felt instinctively that
it was not because of a wish expressed in the past he was so suddenly
bidden to take the field. Ray's senior subaltern, as has been said, was
absent, being on duty at West Point, but his junior was on hand, and Ray
really did not need, and probably had not applied for, the services of
Mr. Field. It was all the major's doing, and all, reasoned he, because
the major deemed it best that for the time being his young adjutant
should be sent away from the post. Impulse prompted Field to ask wherein
he had offended or failed. Reflection taught him, however, that he would
be wise to ask no questions. It might well be that Webb knew more of
what had happened during the night than he, Beverly Field, would care to
have mentioned.

"You can be ready, can you not?" asked the major.

"I am ready now, sir," was the brief, firm reply, but the tone told
unerringly that the lad resented and in heart rebelled at the detail.
"To whom shall I turn over the post fund, sir?"

"I do not care to have you transfer funds or--anything, Field. This is
but a temporary affair, one that will take you away perhaps a
fortnight."

"I prefer that it should be permanent, sir," was the young officer's
sudden interruption, and, though his eyes were blazing, he spoke with
effort, his face still white with mingled sense of indignity and
indignation.

"Gently, Mr. Field," said Webb, with unruffled calm, even while
uplifting a hand in quiet warning. "We will consider that, if need be,
on your return. Meantime, if you desire, I will receipt to you for the
post fund or any other public money."

"That is the trouble, sir. The best I can do is give you an order for
it. Post treasurers, as a rule, have not had to turn over their funds at
four o'clock in the morning," which statement was true enough, however
injudicious it might be to bruit it. Mild-mannered commanding officers
sometimes amaze their subordinates by most unlooked for and unwelcome
eruptiveness of speech when they feel that an unwarrantable liberty has
been taken. Webb did not take fire. He turned icy.

"The quartermaster's safe can be opened at any moment, Mr. Field," said
he, the blue gray eyes glittering, dangerously. "I presume your funds
are there."

"It was because the quartermaster would not open it at any moment that
I took them out and placed them elsewhere," hotly answered Field, and
not until then did Webb remember that there had been quite a fiery talk,
followed by hyperborean estrangement, between his two staff officers,
and now, as the only government safe at the post was in the office of
the quartermaster, and the only other one was Bill Hay's big "Phoenix"
at the store, it dawned upon the major that it was there Mr. Field had
stowed his packages of currency--a violation of orders pure and
simple--and that was why he could not produce the money on the spot.
Webb reflected. If he let Ray start at dawn and held Field back until
the trader was astir, it might be eight o'clock before the youngster
could set forth. By that time Ray would be perhaps a dozen miles to the
northward, and with keen-eyed Indian scouts noting the march of the
troop and keeping vigilant watch for possible stragglers, it might be
sending the lad to certain death, for Plodder had said in so many words
the Sioux about him had declared for war, had butchered three ranchmen
on the Dry Fork, had fired on and driven in his herd guards and wood
choppers, and, what started with Lane Wolf's big band, would spread to
Stabber's little one in less than no time, and what spread to Stabber's
would soon reach a host of the Sioux. Moreover, there was another
reason. It would give Field opportunity for further conference
with--inmates of the trader's household, and the major had his own grave
reasons for seeking to prevent that.

"Your written order will be sufficient, Mr. Field," said he. "Send me
memorandum of the amounts and I will receipt at once, so that you can go
without further thought of them. And now," with a glance at the clock,
"you have hardly half an hour in which to get ready."

Raising his hand in mechanical salute, Field faced about; cast one look
at Blake, standing uncomfortably at the window, and then strode angering
away to his quarters, smarting under a sense of unmerited rebuke yet
realizing that, as matters looked, no one was more to blame than
himself.

Just as the first faint flush of coming day was mantling the pallid
eastern sky, and while the stars still sparkled aloft and the big,
bright moon was sinking to the snow-tipped peaks far away to the
occident, in shadowy column a troop of fifty horse filed slowly from The
Sorrels' big corral and headed straight for the Platte. Swift and
unfordable in front of Frayne in the earlier summer, the river now went
murmuring sleepily over its stony bed, and Ray led boldly down the bank
and plunged girth deep into the foaming waters. Five minutes more and
every man had lined up safely on the northward bank. In low tone the
order was given, starting as Ray ever did, in solid column of fours. In
dead silence the little command moved slowly away, followed by the eyes
of half the garrison on the bluff. Many of these were women and
children, who gazed through a mist of tears. Ray turned in saddle as the
last of his men went by; looked long at the dim light in the upper
window of his home, where, clasping her children to her heart, his
devoted wife knelt watching them, her fond lips moving in ceaseless
prayer. Dimly she could see the tried leader, her soldier husband,
sitting in saddle at the bank. Bravely she answered the flutter of his
handkerchief in farewell. Then all was swallowed up in the shadows of
the distant prairie, and from the nursery adjoining her room there rose
a querulous wail that told that her baby daughter was waking,
indifferent to the need that sent the soldier father to the aid of
distant comrades, threatened by a merciless foe, and conscious only of
her infantile demands and expectations. Not yet ten years wed, that
brave, devoted wife and mother had known but two summers that had not
torn her husband from her side on just such quest and duty, for these
were the days of the building up of the West, resisted to the bitter
end by the red wards of the nation.

The sun was just peering over the rough, jagged outline of the eastward
buttes, when a quick yet muffled step was heard on the major's veranda
and a picturesque figure stood waiting at the door. Scout, of course, a
stranger would have said at a glance, for from head to foot the man was
clad in beaded buckskin, without sign of soldier garb of any kind.
Soldier, too, would have been the expert testimony the instant the door
opened and the commanding officer appeared. Erect as a Norway pine the
strange figure stood to attention, heels and knees together, shoulders
squared, head and eyes straight to the front, the left hand, fingers
extended, after the precise teachings of the ante-bellum days, the right
hand raised and held at the salute. Strange figure indeed, yet soldierly
to the last degree, despite the oddity of the entire make-up. The
fur-trimmed cap of embroidered buckskin sat jauntily on black and glossy
curls that hung about the brawny neck and shoulders. The buckskin coat,
heavily fringed as to the short cape and the shorter skirt, was thickly
covered with Indian embroidery of bead and porcupine quill; so, too,
were the fringed trousers and leggings; so, too, the moccasins, soled
with thick, yet pliant hide. Keen black eyes shone from beneath heavy
black brows, just sprinkled, as were the thick moustache and imperial,
with gray. The lean jowls were closely shaved. The nose was straight and
fine, the chin square and resolute. The face and hands were tanned by
sun and wind well nigh as dark as many a Sioux, but in that strange
garb there stood revealed one of the famous sergeants of a famous
regiment, the veteran of a quarter century of service with the standard,
wounded time and again, bearing the scars of Stuart's sabre and of
Southern lead, of Indian arrow and bullet both; proud possessor of the
medal of honor that many a senior sought in vain; proud as the Lucifer
from whom he took his Christian name, brave, cool, resolute and ever
reliable--Schreiber, First Sergeant of old "K" Troop for many a year,
faced his post commander with brief and characteristic report:--

"Sir, Chief Stabber, with over thirty warriors, left camp about three
o'clock, heading for Eagle Butte."

"Well done, sergeant! I knew I could count on you," answered Webb, in
hearty commendation. "Now, one thing more. Go to 'F' Troop's quarters
and see how Kennedy is faring. He came in with despatches from Fort
Beecher, and later drank more, I fancy, than was good for him, for which
I assume all responsibility. Keep him out of mischief this morning."

"I will, sir," said the sergeant, and saluting turned away while Webb
went back to set a dismantled pantry in partial order, against the
appearance of his long-suffering house-keeper, whose comments he dreaded
as he did those of no inspector general in the army. For fifteen years,
and whithersoever Webb was ordered, his bachelor menage had been
presided over by Mistress Margaret McGann, wife of a former trooper, who
had served as Webb's "striker" for so many a year in the earlier days
that, when discharged for disability, due to wounds, rheumatism and
advancing years, and pensioned, as only Uncle Sam rewards his veterans,
McGann had begged the major to retain him and his buxom better half at
their respective duties, and Webb had meekly, weakly yielded, to the end
that in the fulness of time Dame Margaret had achieved an ascendancy
over the distinguished cavalry officer little short of that she had
exercised over honest Michael since the very day she consented to become
Mistress McGann. A sound sleeper was she, however, and not until morning
police call was she wont to leave her bed. Then, her brief toilet
completed, she would descend to the kitchen and set the major's coffee
on the fire, started by her dutiful spouse an hour earlier. Then she
proceeded to lay the table, and put the rooms in order against the
major's coming, and woe betide him if cigar stubs littered the bachelor
sittingroom or unrinsed glasses and half empty decanters told of even
moderate symposium over night. Returning that eventful morning from his
office at first call for reveille, after seeing the last of Ray's
gallant troop as it moved away across the dim vista of the northward
prairie, Webb had been concerned to find his decanter of Monongahela
half empty on the pantry table and the debris of a hurried feast on
every side. Kennedy, who had begun in moderation, must have felt the
need of further creature comfort after his bout with the stalwart Sioux,
and had availed himself to the limit of his capacity of the major's
invitation. Webb's first thought was to partially remove the traces of
that single-handed spree; then, refilling the decanter from the big
five-gallon demijohn, kept under lock and key in the cupboard--for
Michael, too, had at long intervals weaknesses of his own--he was
thinking how best to protect Kennedy from the consequences of his,
Webb's, rash invitation when Schreiber's knock was heard.

Ten minutes more and the sergeant was back again.

"Sir, I have to report that Trooper Kennedy has not been seen about the
quarters," said he.

"Then try the stables, sergeant," answered the veteran campaigner, and
thither would Schreiber next have gone, even had he not been sent. And,
sure enough, there was Kennedy, with rueful face and a maudlin romaunt
about a moonlit meeting with a swarm of painted Sioux, over which the
stable guard were making merry and stirring the trooper's soul to wrath
ungovernable.

"I can prove ut," he howled, to the accompaniment of clinching fists and
bellicose lunges at the laughing tormentors nearest him. "I can whip the
hide off'n the scut that says I didn't. Ask Lootn't Field, bejabers! He
saw it. Ask--Oh, Mother of God! what's this I'm sayin'?"--And there,
with stern, rebuking gaze, stood the man they knew and feared, every
soul of them, as they did no commissioned soldier in the ----th,
Sergeant Schreiber, the redoubtable, and Schreiber had heard the insane
and damaging boast.

"Come with me, Kennedy," was all he said, and Kennedy snatched his
battered felt headgear down over his eyes and tacked woefully after his
swift-striding master, without ever another word.

But it was to his own room Schreiber took the unhappy Irishman, not to
the quarters of Company "F." He had heard words that, coupled with
others that fell through the darkness on his keenly listening ears some
two hours earlier, had given him cause for painful thought. "Lie down
here, Kennedy. Pull off your boots," said he, "and if you open your fool
head to any living soul until I give you leave, py Gott--I'll gill you!"
It was Schreiber's way, like Marryatt's famous Boatswain, to begin his
admonitions in exact English, and then, as wrath overcame him, to lapse
into dialect.

It was but a few minutes after seven when Major Webb, having previously
despatched a messenger to the post trader's to say he had need to see
Mr. Hay as soon as possible, mounted his horse and, followed by Sergeant
Schreiber and an orderly, rode quietly past the guard-house, touching
his hat to the shouted "Turn out the guard--commanding officer" of the
sentry on Number One. Mr. Hay was dressing hurriedly, said the servant,
so Webb bade Schreiber and the orderly ride slowly down to the flats and
await him at the forks of the road. It was but five minutes before Hay
appeared, pulling on his coat as he shot from the door, but even before
he came the major had been carefully, cautiously scanning the blinds of
the second story, even while feigning deep interest in the doings of a
little squad of garrison prisoners--the inevitable inmates of the
guard-house in the days before we had our safeguard in shape of the
soldier's club--the post exchange--and now again in the days that follow
its ill-judged extinction. The paymaster had been at Frayne but five
days earlier. The prison room was full of aching heads, and Hay's
coffers' of hard-earned, ill-spent dollars. Webb sighed at sight of the
crowded ranks of this whimsically named "Company Q," but in no wise
relaxed his vigilance, for the slats of the blind of the corner window
had partially opened. He had had a glimpse of feminine fingers, and
purposely he called Hay well out into the road, then bent down over him:

"All your horses in and all right, this morning, Hay?"

"None have been out," said Hay, stoutly, "unless they've gone within the
hour. I never let them have the keys, you know, over night. Pete brought
them to me at eight last evening and got 'em at six this morning, the
usual time."

"Where does he get them--without waking you?" asked Webb.

"They hang behind the door in my sleeping room. Pete gets them when he
takes my boots to black at six o'clock."

"Come over to the stables," said the commanding officer, and, wondering,
Hay followed.

They found the two hostlers busily at work grooming. In his box stall,
bright as a button, was "Harney," Hay's famous runner, his coat smooth
as satin. Hay went rapidly from stall to stall. Of the six saddlers
owned by him not one gave the faintest sign of having been used over
night, but Webb, riding through the gangway, noted that "Crapaud," the
French halfbreed grooming in the third stall, never lifted his head.
Whatever evidence of night riding that might earlier have existed had
been deftly groomed away. The trader had seen suspicion in the soldier's
eye, and so stood forth, triumphant:--

"No, Major Webb," said he, in loud, confident, oracular tone, "no horse
of mine ever gets out without my knowing it, and never at night unless
you or I so order it."

"No?" queried the major, placidly. "Then how do you account for--this?"

Among the fresh hoof prints in the yielding sand, with which the police
party had been filling the ruts of the outer roadway, was one never made
by government horse or mule. In half a dozen places within a dozen rods,
plain as a pikestaff, was the print of a bar shoe, worn on the off fore
foot of just one quadruped at the post--Hay's swift running "General
Harney."





Next: A Grave Discovery

Previous: A Night Encounter



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