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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWarrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 8
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Warrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 8 Post by :Bill999 Category :Long Stories Author :Charles King Date :May 2012 Read :2014

Click below to download : Warrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 8 (Format : PDF)

Warrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

Obedient to his orders the Irish sergeant, with a little squad at his heels, had kept straight on. A few minutes later, rounding the bluff at the gallop, eyes flashing over the field in front of them, the party went racing out over the turf and came in full view of the scene of the fight. Five hundred yards further down stream was a deep bend in the Laramie. Close to the water's edge two horses lay stretched upon the ground, stone dead. Out on the open prairie lay an Indian pony still kicking in his dying agony, and as the soldiers came sweeping into view two men rose up from behind the low bank of the stream and swung their hats--Hal Folsom and one of his hands safe, unwounded, yet with a look in their gray faces that told of recent mortal peril.

"We're all right! Go on after them. They've run off a dozen of my best horses," said Folsom, "and I'm afraid they cut off Jake."

"No! Jake reached the ranch all right--leastwise somebody did," said Shaughnessy. "That's how we got the news. They got somebody, or else they were only bluffing when they waved that scalp. How many were there?"

"At least a dozen--too many for you to tackle. Where's the rest of the troop?"

"Close at their heels. The lieutenant led them right over the ridge. Listen!"

Yes, far up in the foothills, faint and clear, the sounds of the chase could now be heard. Dean's men were closing on the fleeing warriors, for every little while the silence of the range was broken by the crack of rifle or carbine. Shaughnessy's fellows began to fidget and look eagerly thither, and he read their wish. "Two of you stay with Mr. Folsom," he said, "and the rest come with me. There's nothing we can do here, is there? Sure, you're not hit?"

"No, go on! Give 'em hell and get back my horses. I'd go with you, but they've killed what horses they couldn't drive. All safe at the ranch?"

Shaughnessy nodded as he spurred away. "We'll be gettin' the lieutenant a brevet for this," said he, "if we can only close up with those blackguards." And these were the words Folsom carried back with him, as, mounting a willing trooper's horse, he galloped homeward to reassure his wife, thanking God for the opportune coming of the little command, yet swearing with close compressed lips at the ill-starred work of the day. Thus far he had striven to keep from her all knowledge of the threats of the Ogallallas, although he knew she must have heard of them. He had believed himself secure so far back from the Platte. He had done everything in his power to placate Red Cloud and the chiefs--to convince his former friends that he had never enticed poor Lizette, as Baptiste had called the child, from her home and people. They held he should never have left her, though she had accused him of no wrong. Burning Star, in his jealous rage, hated him, because he believed that but for love of the paleface Lizette would have listened to his wooing, and Folsom's conscience could not acquit him of having seen her preference and of leading her on. He could not speak of her to his wife without shame and remorse. He had no idea what could have been her fate, for the poor girl had disappeared from the face of the earth, and now, at last, this day had proved to him the threats of her lover and her brothers were not idle. He had had so narrow a squeak for his life, so sharp and sudden and hard a fight for it that, now that the peril was over, his nerve began to give way, his strong hands to tremble. Armed with breech-loaders, he and his two friends had been able to stand off the attacking party, killing two ponies, and emptying, they felt sure, two saddles; but little by little the Indians were working around their position, and would have crawled upon them within an hour or two but for Jake's daring ride for help and the blessed coming of the blue-coats in the nick of time. Folsom swore he'd never forget their services this day.

And as he cantered homeward he could still hear the distant firing dying away in the mountains to the north. "Give 'em hell, Dean!" he muttered through his set teeth. "They're showing fight even when you've got 'em on the run. I wonder what that means?"

Not until another day was he to know. Late on the evening of the attack, while he was seated with his wife by Jake's bedside, half a dozen troopers, two of them wounded and all with worn-out horses, came drifting back to camp. Twice, said they, had the fleeing Indians made a stand to cover the slow retreat of one or two evidently sorely stricken, but so closely were they pressed that at last they had been forced to abandon one of their number, who died, sending his last vengeful shot through the lieutenant's hunting shirt, yet only grazing the skin. Dean, with most of the men, pushed on in pursuit, determined never to desist so long as there was light, but these who returned could not keep up.

Leaving the dead body of the young brave where it lay among the rocks, they slowly journeyed back to camp. No further tidings came, and at daybreak Folsom, with two ranchmen and a trooper, rode out on the trail to round up the horses the Indians had been compelled to drop. Mrs. Hal clung sobbing to him, unable to control her fears, but he chided her gently and bade her see that Jake lacked no care or comfort. The brave fellow was sore and feverish, but in no great danger now. Five miles out in the foothills they came upon the horses wandering placidly back to the valley, but Folsom kept on. Four miles further he and a single ranchman with him came upon three troopers limping along afoot, their horses killed in the running fight, and one of these, grateful for a long pull at Folsom's flask, turned back and showed them the body of the fallen brave. One look was enough for Hal and the comrade with him. "Don't let my wife know--who it was," he had muttered to his friend. "It would only make her more nervous." There lay Chaska, Lizette's eldest brother, and well Hal Folsom knew _that death would never go unavenged.

"If ever a time comes when I can do you a good turn, lieutenant," said he that afternoon as, worn out with long hours of pursuit and scout, the troop was encountered slowly marching back to the Laramie, "I'll do it if it costs me the whole ranch." But Dean smiled and said they wouldn't' have missed that chance even for the ranch. What a blessed piece of luck it was that the commanding officer at Frayne had bidden him take that route instead of the direct road to Gate City! He had sent men riding in to both posts on the Platte, with penciled lines telling of the Indian raid and its results. Once well covered by darkness the little band had easily escaped their pursuers, and were now safe across the river and well ahead of all possibility of successful pursuit. But if anything were needed to prove the real temper of the Sioux the authorities had it. Now was the time to grapple that Ogallalla tribe and bring it to terms before it could be reinforced by half the young men in the villages of the northern plains. The Platte, of course, would be patrolled by a strong force of cavalry for some weeks to come, and no new foray need be dreaded yet awhile. Red Cloud's people would "lay low" and watch the effect of this exploit before attempting another. If the White Father "got mad" and ordered "heap soldiers" there to punish them, then they must disavow all participation in the affair, even though one of their best young braves was prominent in the outrage, and had paid for the luxury with his life--even though Burning Star was trying to hide the fresh scar of a rifle bullet along his upper arm. Together Dean and Folsom rode back to the ranch, and another night was spent there before the troop was sufficiently rested to push on to Emory.

"Remember this, lieutenant," said Folsom again, as he pressed his hand at parting, "there's nothing too good for you and "C" Troop at my home. If ever you need a friend you'll find one here."

And the time was coming when Marshall Dean would need all that he could muster.

Two days later--still a march away from Emory--a courier overtook him with a letter from his late post commander: "Your vigorous pursuit and prompt, soldierly action have added to the fine record already made and merit hearty commendation." The cordial words brought sunshine to his heart. How proud Jess would be, and mother! He had not had a word from either for over a week. The latter, though far from strong, was content at home in the loving care of her sister, and in the hope that he would soon obtain the leave of absence so long anticipated, and, after Jess's brief visit to Pappoose's new home, would come to gladden the eyes of kith and kin, but mother's most of all, bringing Jessie with him. Little hope of leave of absence was there now, and less was he the man to ask it with such troubles looming up all along the line of frontier posts to the north. But at least there would be the joy of seeing Jess in a few days and showing her his troop--her and Pappoose. How wonderfully that little schoolgirl must have grown and developed! How beautiful a girl she must now be if that photograph was no flatterer! By the way, where was that photo? What had he done with it? For the first time in four days he remembered his picking it up when Mrs. Hal Folsom collapsed at sight of Jake's swooning. Down in the depths of the side pocket of his heavy blue flannel hunting shirt he found it, crumpled a bit, and all its lower left-hand corner bent and blackened and crushed, Chaska's last shot that tore its way so close below the young soldier's bounding heart, just nipping and searing the skin, had left its worst mark on that dainty _carte de visite_. In that same pocket, too, was another packet--a letter which had been picked up on the floor of the hut at Reno after Burleigh left--one for which the major had searched in vain, for it was underneath a lot of newspapers. "You take that after him," said the cantonment commander, as Dean followed with the troop next day, and little dreamed what it contained.

That very day, in the heavy, old-fashioned sleeping-cars of the Union Pacific, two young girls were seated in their section on the northward side. One, a dark-eyed, radiant beauty, gazed out over the desolate slopes and far-reaching stretches of prairie and distant lines of bald bluff, with delight in her dancing eyes. The other, a winsome maid of nineteen, looked on with mild wonderment, not unmixed with disappointment she would gladly have hidden. To Elinor the scenes of her childhood were dear and welcome; to Jessie there was too much that was somber, too little that was inviting. But presently, as the long train rolled slowly to the platform of a rude wooden station building, there came a sight at which the eyes of both girls danced in eager interest--a row of "A" tents on the open prairie, a long line of horses tethered to the picket ropes, groups of stalwart, sunburned men in rough blue garb, a silken guidon flapping by the tents of the officers. It was one of half a dozen such camps of detached troops they had been passing ever since breakfast time--the camps of isolated little commands guarding the new railway on the climb to Cheyenne. Papa, with one or two cronies, was playing "old sledge" in the smoking compartment. At a big station a few miles back two men in the uniform of officers boarded the car, one of them burly, rotund, and sallow. He was shown to the section just in front of the girls, and at Pappoose he stared--stared long and hard, so that she bit her lip and turned nervously away. The porter dusted the seat and disposed of the hand luggage and hung about the new arrivals in adulation. The burly man was evidently a personage of importance, and his shoulder straps indicated that he was a major of the general staff. The other, who followed somewhat diffidently, was a young lieutenant of infantry, whose trim frock-coat snugly fitted his slender figure.

"Ah, sit down here, Mr.--Mr. Loomis," said the major patronizingly. "So you are going up to the Big Horn. Well, sir, I hope we shall hear good accounts of you. There's a splendid field for officers of the right sort--there--and opportunities for distinction--every day."

At sound of the staff officer's voice there roused up from the opposite section, where he had been dozing over a paper, a man of middle age, slim, athletic, with heavy mustache and imperial, just beginning to turn gray, with deep-set eyes under bushy brows, and a keen, shrewd face, rather deeply lined. There was a look of dissipation there, a shade of shabbiness about his clothes, a rakish cut to the entire personality that had caused Folsom to glance distrustfully at him more than once the previous afternoon, and to meet with coldness the tentatives permissible in fellow travelers. The stranger's morning had been lonesome. Now he held his newspaper where it would partly shield his face, yet permit his watching the officers across the aisle. And something in his stealthy scrutiny attracted Pappoose.

"Yes," continued the major, "I have seen a great deal of that country, and Mr. Dean, of whom you spoke, was attached to the troop escorting our commission. He is hardly--I regret to have to say it--er--what you imagine. We were, to put it mildly, much disappointed in his conduct the day of our meeting with the Sioux."

A swift, surprised glance passed between the girls, a pained look shot into the lieutenant's face, but before the major could go on the man across the aisle arose and bent over him with extended hand.

"Ah, Burleigh, I thought I knew the voice." But the hand was not grasped. The major was drawing back, his face growing yellow-white with some strange dismay.

"You don't seem sure of my identity. Let me refresh your memory, Burleigh. I am Captain Newhall. I see you need a drink, major--I'll take one with you."

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