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Wounded Body And Soul








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

To say the Sioux were furious at the failure of their second attempt
would be putting it far too mildly. The fierce charge from the northward
side, made under cover of the blinding smoke sent drifting by the gale
across the level flats, had been pushed so close to the grove that two
red braves and half a dozen ponies had met their death within sixty
paces of the rifle pits. There lay the bodies now, and the Indians dare
not attempt to reach them. The dread, wind-driven flame of the prairie
fire, planned by the Sioux to burn out the defence, to serve as their
ally, had been turned to their grave detriment.

Ray and his devoted men had stopped the sweep of so much of the
conflagration as threatened their little stronghold, but, ranging
unhampered elsewhere, the seething wall rolled on toward the east,
spreading gradually toward its flanks, and so, not only consuming vast
acres of bunch grass, but checking the attack that should have been made
from the entire southern half of the Indian circle. Later, leaping the
sandy stream bed a little to the west of the cottonwoods, it spread in
wild career over a huge tract along the left bank, and now, reuniting
with the southern wing some distance down the valley, was roaring away
to the bluffs of the Mini Pusa, leaving death and desolation in its
track. Miles to the east the war parties from the reservation, riding to
join Lame Wolf, sighted the black curtain of smoke, swift sailing over
the prairie, and changed their course accordingly. Not so many miles
away to the south Webb's skirmishers, driving before them three or four
Sioux scouts from the northward slope of the Moccasin Ridge, set spurs
to their horses and took the gallop, the main body following on.

With their eyelids blistered by heat and smoke, Ray's silent, determined
little band could see nothing of the coming force, yet knew relief was
nigh; for, close at hand, both east and west, large bodies of the enemy
could be seen swift riding away to the north.

They had hoped, as "Fox" had planned and promised, to burn out and
overwhelm the little troop at the grove before the column from Frayne
could possibly reach the spot. They had even anticipated the probable
effort of the command to check the flames, and had told off some fifty
braves to open concentric fire on any party that should rush into the
open with that object in view. They had thought to send in such a storm
of lead, even from long range, that it should daunt and drive back those
who had dared the attempt. They had stormed indeed, but could neither
daunt nor drive back. Ray's men had braved death itself in the desperate
essay, and, even in dying, had won the day.

But their losses had been cruel. Three killed outright; three dying and
eight more or less severely wounded had reduced their fighting strength
to nearly thirty. The guards of the sorrels, herded in the stream bed,
had all they could do to control the poor, frightened creatures, many of
them hit, several of them felled, by the plunging fire from the far
hillsides. Even though driven back, the Sioux never meant to give up the
battle. On every side, leaving their ponies at safe distance, by dozens
the warriors crawled forward, snake-like, to the edge of the burned and
blackened surface, and from there poured in a rapid and most harassing
fire, compelling the defence to lie flat or burrow further, and wounding
many horses. The half hour that followed the repulse of their grand
assault had been sorely trying to the troop, for the wounded needed aid,
more men were hit, and there was no chance whatever to hit back. Moving
from point to point, Ray carried cheer and courage on every side, yet
was so constantly exposed as to cause his men fresh anxiety. Even as he
was bending over Field a bullet had nipped the right shoulderstrap, and
later another had torn through the crown of his campaign hat. In all the
years of their frontier fighting they had never known a hotter fire; but
Ray's voice rang out through the drifting vapor with the same old cheer
and confidence. "They can't charge again till the ground cools off," he
cried. "By that time they'll have their hands full. See how they're
scudding away at the southward even now. Just keep covered and you're
all right." And, barring a growl or two from favored old hands who
sought to make the captain take his own medicine and himself keep
covered, the answer was full of cheer.

And so they waited through the hot smoke and sunshine of the autumn
afternoon, and, even while comforting the wounded with assurance of
coming relief, kept vigilant watch on every hostile move, and at last,
toward three o'clock, the sharp fire about them slackened away, the
smouldering roots of the bunch grass had burned themselves out. The
smoke drifted away from the prairie, and, as the landscape cleared to
the south and west, a cheer of delight went up from the cottonwoods, for
the slopes three miles away were dotted here and there and everywhere
with circling, scurrying war ponies--they and their wild riders steadily
falling back before a long rank of disciplined horsemen, the extended
skirmish line of Webb's squadron, backed by supports at regular
intervals, and all heading straight on for the broad lowlands of the
Elk.

"Send six of your men over to the south front, sergeant," were Ray's
orders to Winsor, as he hurried over to join Clayton again. "They may
try one final charge from that side, and give us a chance to empty a few
more saddles." Creeping and crouching through the timber the chosen men

obeyed, and were assigned to stations under Clayton's eye. The
precaution was wise indeed, for, just as the captain foresaw, a rally in
force began far out over the southward slopes, the Indians gathering in
great numbers about some chieftain midway between the coming force and
the still beleaguered defenders of the grove. Then, brandishing lance
and shield and rifle, as before, they began spreading out across the
prairie, heading now for the cottonwoods, while others still faced and
fired on the far blue skirmish line. The fierce wind, sweeping across
the direction of the attack, deadened all sound of hoof or war chant,
but there was no mistaking the signs, no doubt of the intent, when, in a
little moment more, the earth began to tremble beneath the dancing pony
feet, telling, almost with the swiftness of sight, that the grand
advance had again begun. But other eyes were watching too. Other
soldiers, keen campaigners as these at the Elk, were there afield, and
almost at the moment the wild barbaric horde burst yelling into their
eager gallop, and before the dust cloud hid the distant slopes beyond,
the exultant shout went up from the captain's lips, as he threw down his
glass and grabbed his carbine. "It's all right, men! The major's coming
at their heels. Now let 'em have it!"

In former days there had been scenes of wild rejoicing, sometimes of
deep emotion, when relief came to some Indian-besieged detachment of the
old regiment. Once, far to the south in the wild, romantic park country
of Colorado, a strong detachment had been corralled for days by an
overwhelming force of Utes. Their commander,--a dozen of their best
men,--all the horses killed and many troopers sorely wounded. They had
been rescued at last by their skilled and gallant colonel, after a long
and most scientific march by both night and day. Another time, still
farther in their past, and yet within a dozen years, away down the broad
valley of the very stream of which this little Elk was a tributary, the
Cheyennes had hemmed in and sorely hammered two depleted troops that
owed their ultimate rescue to the daring of the very officer who so
coolly, confidently headed the defence this day--to a night ride through
the Indian lines that nearly cost him his brave young life, but that
brought Captain Truscott with a fresh and powerful troop sweeping in to
their succor with the dawn. Then there had been men who strained other
men to their hearts and who shed tears like women, for gallant comrades
had bitten the dust in the desperate fighting of the day before, and
hope itself had almost gone--with the ammunition of the beleaguered
command.

Now, with heavier losses than had befallen Wayne in '76, Ray's command
beheld with almost tranquil hearts the coming of the fierce array in
final charge. Behind them, not two miles, to be sure, rode in swift,
well-ordered pursuit the long line of comrade troopers. But there had
been intervening years of campaign experiences that dulled to a degree
the earlier enthusiasms of the soldier, and taught at least the
assumption of professional composure that was the secret wonder of the
suckling trooper, and that became his chief ambition to acquire. It is
one thing to charge home at a hard-fighting command when friends and
comrades back the effort and cheer the charging line. It is another to
charge home conscious that other chargers are coming at one's heels.
Magnificent as a spectacle, therefore, this closing dash of Lame Wolf's
warriors was but a meek reminder of their earlier attack. Long before
they came within four hundred yards of the leafy stronghold,--the
moment, indeed, the brown Springfields began their spiteful bark,--to
right and left the warriors veered, far out on either flank. Screeching
and yelling as was their savage way, they tore madly by, flattened out
against their ponies' necks and, those who could use their arms at all,
pumping wild shots that whistled harmless over the heads of the
defenders and bit the blackened prairie many a rod beyond. Only jeers
rewarded the stirring spectacle,--jeers and a few low-aimed, sputtering
volleys that brought other luckless ponies to their knees and sprawled a
few red riders. But in less than five minutes from the warning cry that
hailed their coming, Lame Wolf and his hosts were lining Elk Tooth ridge
and watching with burning hate and vengeful eyes the swift, steady
advance of Webb's long blue fighting line, and the utter unconcern of
the defence. Even before the relieving squadron was within carbine range
certain of Ray's men had scrambled out upon the northward bank and,
pushing forward upon the prairie, were possessing themselves of the arms
and ornaments of the two dead warriors whom the Sioux had strived in
vain to reach and bear within their lines. Ray and Clayton at the moment
were strolling placidly forth upon the southward "bench" to receive and
welcome the little knot of comrades sent galloping in advance to greet
them. There was perhaps just a suspicion of exaggerated nonchalance
about their gait and bearing--a regimental weakness, possibly--and no
other officer save Lieutenant Field happened to be within earshot when
Winsor's voice on the other front was heard in hoarse command:

"Come back there, you fellows! Back or you're goners!"

The sight had proved too much for some of the Sioux. Down again at
furious speed came a scattered cloud of young braves, following the lead
of the tall, magnificent chief who had been the hero of the earlier
attack,--down into the low ground, never swerving or checking pace,
straight for the grove, the three or four inquisitive blue-coats in the
meantime scurrying for shelter; and the yell that went up at sight of
the Indian dash and the quick reopening of the sputtering fire brought
Ray, running once again to the northward edge of the timber, wondering
what could be amiss. Field was lying on his blanket, just under the
bank, as the captain darted by, and grinned his gratification as he
heard the brief, assuring words: "Webb's here--all hands with him." An
instant later a bullet whizzed through the roots of the old cottonwood
above his head, and from far out afield, deadened by the rush of the
wind, a dull crackle of shots told that something had recalled the Sioux
to the attack, and for three minutes there was a lively fusillade all
along the northward side. Then it slowly died away, and other voices,
close at hand,--someone speaking his name,--called the lad's attention.
He was weak from loss of blood, and just a little dazed and flighty. He
had meant three hours agone that when next he encountered his post
commander his manner should plainly show that senior that even a second
lieutenant had rights a major was bound to respect. But, only mistily
now, he saw bending over him the keen, soldierly features,--the kind,
winsome gray eyes, filled with such a world of concern and
sympathy,--and heard the deep, earnest tones of the voice he knew so
well, calling again his name and mingling cordial praise and anxious
inquiry, and all the rancor seemed to float away with the smoke of the
last carbine shots. He could only faintly return the pressure of that
firm, muscular hand, only feebly smile his thanks and reassurance, and
then he, too, seemed floating away somewhere into space, and he could
not manage to connect what Webb had been saying with the next words that
fastened on his truant senses. It must have been hours later, too, for
darkness had settled on the valley. A little fire was burning under the
shelter of the bank. A little group of soldiers were chatting in low
tone, close at hand. Among them, his arm in a sling, stood a stocky
little chap whose face, seen in the flickering light, was familiar to
him. So was the eager brogue in which that little chap was speaking. A
steward was remonstrating, and only vaguely at first, Field grasped the
meaning of his words:--

"The captain said you were not to try to follow, Kennedy, at least not
until Dr. Waller saw you. Wait till he gets here. He can't be three
miles back now."

"To hell wid ye!" was the vehement answer. "D'ye think I'd be
maundherin' here wid the whole command gone on afther thim bloody Sioux.
I've made my mark on wan o' thim, an' he's the buck I'm afther."

"He's made his mark on you, Kennedy," broke in a soldier voice. "You
mad fool, trying to tackle a chief like that--even if he was hit, for he
had his whole gang behind him."

"Sure he dared me out, an'--what's this he called me? a d----d whiskey
thafe!--me that niver----"

"Oh, shut up, Kennedy," laughed a brother Irishman. "You were full as a
goat at 'K' Troop's stables--Where'd ye get the whiskey if----"

"I'll lay you, Lanigan, when I get two hands agin, though I misdoubt wan
would do it. It's me horse I want now and lave to go on wid the capt'n.
Ready now, sir," he added, with sudden change of tone and manner, for a
tall, slender form came striding into the fire light, and Field knew
Blake at the instant, and would have called but for the first word from
the captain's lips.

"Your heart's safe, Kennedy. I wish your head was. Your past master in
blasphemy out there won't eat it, at all events."

"Did ye get him, sorr,--afther all?"

"I didn't. His English spoiled my aim. 'Twas Winsor shot him. Now,
you're to stay here, you and Kilmaine. The doctor may bring despatches,
and you follow us with the first to come." An orderly had led forth a
saddled horse, and Blake's foot was already in the stirrup. "They say
it was Red Fox himself, Kennedy," he added. "Where on earth did you meet
him before?"

"Shure, I niver knew him, sorr," was the quick reply, as Blake's long,
lean leg swung over the big charger's back and the rider settled in
saddle.

"But he knew you perfectly well. He dared you by name, when we closed
on them--you and Mr. Field."

And when an hour later the veteran surgeon came and knelt by the side of
the young officer reported seriously wounded, and took his hand and felt
his pulse, there was something in the situation that seemed to call for
immediate action. "We'll get you back to Frayne to-morrow, Field," said
Waller, with kind intent. "Don't--worry now."

"Don't do that, doctor," feebly, surprisingly moaned the fevered lad.
"Don't take me back to Frayne!"





Next: A Vanished Heroine

Previous: The Ordeal By Fire



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