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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWarrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 22
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Warrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 22 Post by :tlomax Category :Long Stories Author :Charles King Date :May 2012 Read :2526

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Warrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 22

CHAPTER XXII

Yes, Burleigh was gone, and there was confusion at the depot. At six the doctor had come forth from his room, saying he was better, but must not be disturbed. At seven the major, carrying a satchel, had appeared at his office, where two clerks were smoking their pipes, innocent of all thought of their employer's coming. It was after hours. They had no business there at the time. Smoking was prohibited in the office, yet it was the major who seemed most embarrassed at the unexpected meeting. It was the major who hastily withdrew. He was traced to the railway, and it was speedily found that he had sent word to the division superintendent that the General had telegraphed for him to join him at once at Cheyenne, and a special engine and caboose would be needed. At a quarter past seven this had started full speed. It was eleven when the discovery was made. Meantime Folsom and Stevens had consulted together. Folsom had told of the large sum he had loaned Burleigh and the conditions attached, and between them a dispatch, concisely setting forth their suspicions, was sent the General at Cheyenne, with orders to "rush," as they were determined if possible to head off the fugitive at that point. Back came the wire ten minutes before midnight that the General had left Cheyenne for Laramie by stage that evening, and must now be near the Chugwater and far from telegraphic communication. Then Stevens wired the sheriff at Cheyenne and the commanding officer of the new post of Fort Russell to stop Burleigh at all hazards, and at two in the morning the answer came that the major had reached Cheyenne about midnight and they would search everywhere for him. That was the last until long after the rising of another sun.

Events and excitements, alarms and rumors followed each other with startling rapidity during the day. In glaring headlines the local paper published the details of the massacre at the Gap, lauding the valor and devotion of the soldiers, but heaping abuse upon the commander of the post, who, with other troops at his disposal, had looked on and lifted no hand to aid them. Later, of course, it was proved that the veteran had foiled old Red Cloud's villainous plan to lure the whole garrison into the open country and there surround and slowly annihilate it, while then, or at their leisure later, his chosen ones should set fire to the unprotected stockade and bear off those of the women or children whose years did not commend them to the mercy of the hatchet. Soldiers and thinking men soon saw the colonel was right and that the only mistake he had made was in allowing any of the garrison to go forth at all. But this verdict was not published, except long after as unimportant news and in some obscure corner. The Laramie column, so the news ran, was hastening down the Powder River to strike Red Cloud. The Indians would be severely punished, etc., etc. But old Folsom's face grew whiter yet as he read that such orders had been sent and that the General himself was now at Laramie directing matters. "In God's name," urged he, "if you have any influence with the General, tell him not to send a foot column chasing horsemen anywhere, and above all not to follow down the Powder. Next thing you know Red Cloud and all his young men will have slipped around their flank and come galloping back to the Platte, leaving the old men and women and worn-out ponies to make tracks for the 'heap walks' to follow."

And Stevens listened dumbly. Influence he had never had. Folsom might be right, but it was a matter in which he was powerless. When a depot quartermaster, said he, could dictate the policy that should govern the command of a colonel of the fighting force, there was no use in remonstrance. Noon came and no news from the Cheyenne sheriff. The commanding officer at Russell wired that he, too, was stripped of his troops and had not even a cavalry courier to send after the General with the startling news that Major Burleigh had vanished with large sums, it was believed, in his possession. At one o'clock came tidings of the fugitive. He, together with two other men, had spent the late hours of the night at the lodgings of one of the party in Cheyenne, and at dawn had driven away in a "rig" hired at a local stable, ostensibly to follow the General to Laramie. They had kept the road northwestward on leaving town--were seen passing along the prairie beyond Fort Russell, but deputies, sworn in at once and sent in pursuit, came back to say the rig had never gone as far as Lodge Pole. At six P. M. came further tidings. Lieutenant Loring, engineer officer of the department, had reached Cheyenne and was in consultation with the commanding officer at Russell. The rig had been found at Sloan's ranch, far up Crow Creek, where the party had taken horses and ridden westward into the Black Hills. In anticipation of a big reward, the sheriff had deputies out in pursuit. From such information as they could gather it was learned that the name of one of the parties gone with Burleigh was Newhall, who claimed to be a captain in the army, "out there looking after investments"--a captain who was too busy, however, to go and see the few fellows of his cloth at the new post and who was not known to them by sight at all. The engineer, Mr. Loring, was making minute inquiries about this fellow, for the description given him had excited not a little of his interest.

And so the sun of the second day went down on Gate City and Emory, and everybody knew Burleigh was gone. The wildest rumors were afloat, and while all Fort Emory was in mourning over the tragedy at Warrior Gap, everybody in town seemed more vividly concerned in Burleigh and the cause of his sudden flight. As yet only certain army officers and Mr. Folsom knew of the startling discovery at the stockade--that the package was a bogus affair throughout. But all Gate City knew Burleigh had drawn large sums from the local bank, many citizens had heard that John Folsom was several thousand dollars the poorer for his sudden going, and all interest was centered in the coming from Chicago of an expert, summoned by wire, to open the huge office safe at the quartermaster's depot The keys had gone with Burleigh. At the last moment, after loading up with all the cash his own private safe contained, for that was found open and practically empty in its corner of his sitting-room, and when he had evidently gone to the office to get the funds there stored, he was confounded by the sight of the two employes. He could have ordered them to leave and then helped himself, but conscience had made a coward of him, even more than nature. He saw accusers in every face, and fled. Burleigh had lost his nerve.

Two days went by and excitement was at its height. All manner of evil report of Burleigh was now afloat. The story of the bogus package had been noised abroad through later messengers and dispatches from the Gap. Lieutenant Loring had come to Fort Emory under the instructions of the department commander, and what those instructions were no man could find out from the reticent young officer. If ever a youth seemed capable of hearing everything and telling nothing it was this scientist of a distinguished corps that frontiersmen knew too little of. What puzzled Folsom and old Pecksniff was the persistence with which he followed up his inquiries about Captain Newhall. He even sought an interview with Pappoose and asked her to describe the rakish traveler who had so unfavorably impressed her. She was looking her loveliest that evening. Jessie was radiant once more. A long letter had come from Marshall--sad because of the fate that had befallen his companions, stern because of the evidence of the deep-laid plot that so nearly made him a victim, but modestly glad of the official commendation he had received, and rejoicing over the surgeon's promise that he would be well enough to make the march with a command ordered back to Frayne. Red Cloud's people had scattered far and wide, said he. "God grant they may not turn back to the south." He was coming home. He would soon be there. The papers had told their readers this very morning that the General had plainly said his force was too small to risk further assault upon the Sioux. Alarmed at the result of its policy, the Bureau had recommended immediate abandonment of Warrior Gap and the withdrawal of the troops from the Big Horn country. The War Department, therefore, had to hold its hand. The Indians had had by long, long odds the best of the fight, and perhaps would be content to let well enough alone. All this had tended to bring hope to the hearts of most of the girls, and Loring's welcome was the more cordial because of this and because of his now known championship of Marshall's cause. From being a fellow under the ban of suspicion and the cloud of official censure, Marshall Dean was blossoming out as a hero. It was late in the evening when Folsom brought the young engineer from the hotel and found Elinor and Jessie in the music-room, with Pecksniff's adjutant and Loomis in devoted attendance. It was nearly eleven when the officers left--two returning to the fort, Loring lingering for a word with Folsom at the gate. The night was still and breathless. The stars gleamed brilliantly aloft, but the moon was young and had early gone to bed. A window in the third story softly opened, as the two men stopped for their brief conference--the one so young-looking, sturdy and alert, despite the frost of so many winters; the other so calm and judicial, despite his youth.

"Up to this afternoon at five no trace of them has been found," said Loring. "Day after to-morrow that safe-opener should reach us. If you have influence with Colonel Stevens you should urge him to have a guard at the quartermaster's depot, even if he has to strip the fort. The General cannot be reached by wire."

"Why?" asked Folsom, looking up in alarm. "You don't suppose he'd come back to rob his own office?"

"He is not the man to take a risk, but there are those with him not so careful, and the hand that sent Birdsall's gang in chase of Dean could send them here, with the safe-key. Those few clerks and employes would be no match for them."

"By heaven, I believe you're right!" cried Folsom. "Which way are you going now?"

"Back to the hotel by way of the depot," was the answer. "Will you go?"

"One moment. I do not travel about just now without a gun," said Folsom, stepping within doors, and even the low sound of their voices died away and all was still as a desert. The old trader did not return at once. Something detained him--Miss Folsom, probably, reasoned the engineer, as he stood there leaning on the gate. Aloft a blind creaked audibly, and, gazing upward, Loring saw a dark, shadowy shutter at the third-story window swing slowly in. There was no wind to move it. Why should human hands be so stealthy? Then a dim light shone through the slats, and the shade was raised, and, while calmly watching the performance, Loring became aware of a dim, faint, far-away click of horse's hoofs at the gallop, coming from the north.

"If that were from the eastward, now," thought he, "it might bring stirring news." But the sound died away after a moment, as though the rider had dived into sandy soil.

Just then Folsom reappeared, "I had to explain to my daughter. She is most reluctant to have me go out at night just now."

"Naturally," said Loring calmly. "And have you been way up to the third story? I suppose Miss Folsom has gone to her room."

"The girls have, both of them--but not to the third story. That's Mrs. Fletcher's room."

"Ah, yes. The woman, I believe, who accidentally scared your horse and threw you?"

"The very one!" he answered. "I'm blessed if I know what should have taken her out at that hour. She says she needed air and a walk, but why should she have chosen the back-gate and the alley as a way to air and sunshine?"

"Would you mind taking me through that way?" asked the engineer suddenly. "It's the short cut to the depot, I understand."

"Why, certainly. I hadn't thought of that," said Folsom. "Come right on."

And so, while the hoof-beats up the road grew louder, the two turned quickly back to the rear of the big frame house. "That coming horse brings news," muttered Loring to himself, as he turned the corner. "We can head him off, but I want to see this situation first."

Looking away southeastward from the porch of Folsom's homestead, one could see in the daytime a vista of shingled roofs and open yards, a broad valley, with a corral and inclosures on the southern edge of the town, but not a tree. To-night only dim black shadows told where roof and chimney stood, and not a sign could they see of the depot. Loring curiously gazed aloft at the rear and side windows of the third story. "They command quite a view, I suppose," said he, and even as he spoke the sash of the southeast room was softly raised, the blind swung slightly outward. That woman watching and listening again! And it was she whose sudden and startling appearance at the rear gate had led to Folsom's throw so early the morning Burleigh and his mysterious friend were found missing from their quarters just after dawn--the very morning Dean, with his treasure package and little escort, rode forth from Emory on that perilous mission--the very morning that Birdsall and his murderous gang set forth from Gate City in pursuit.

And now those hoof-beats up the road were coming closer, and Folsom, too, could hear and was listening, even while studying Loring's face. Suddenly a faint gleam shot across the darkness overhead. Glancing quickly upward, both men, deep in shadow, saw that the eastern window on the southern side was lighted up. Out in the alleyway, low yet clear, a whistle sounded--twice. Then came cautious footsteps down the back stairs. The bolt of the rear door was carefully drawn. A woman's form, tall and shrouded in a long cloak, came swiftly forth and sped down the garden walk to that rear gate. "Come on, quick!" murmured the engineer, and on tiptoe, wondering, the two men followed. They saw her halt at the barred gate. Low, yet distinct she spoke a single name: "George!" And without, in the alley, a voice answered: "I'm here! open, quick!"

"Swear that you are alone!"

"Oh, stop that damned nonsense! Of course I'm alone!" was the sullen reply, and at the sound of the voice Loring seemed fairly to quiver. The gate was unbarred. A man's form, slender and shadowy, squeezed in and seemed peering cautiously about. "You got my note?" he began. "You know what's happened?"

But a woman's muffled scream was the answer. With a spring like a cat Loring threw himself on the intruder and bore him down. In an instant Folsom had barred the gate, and the woman, moaning, fell upon her knees.

"Mercy! Mercy!" she cried. "It is all my fault. I sent for him."

"Take your hands off, damn you, or you'll pay for this!" cried the undermost man. "I'm Captain Newhall, of the army!"

"You're a thief!" answered Loring, through his set teeth. "Hand over the key of that safe!"

The sound of hoof-beats at the front had suddenly ceased. There was a sputter and scurry in the alley behind. Full half a dozen horses must have gone tearing away to the east. Other lights were popping in the windows now. Folsom's household was alarmed. Attracted by the scream and the sound of scuffle, a man came hurrying toward them from the front.

"Halt! Who are you?" challenged Folsom, covering him with his revolver.

"Don't shoot. I'm Ned Lannion--just in from the ranch. Have you heard anything of Hal, sir?"

"Of Hal?" gasped Folsom, dropping his pistol in dismay. "In God's name, what's wrong?"

"God only knows, sir. Mrs. Hal's nigh crazy. He's been gone two days."

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