Molly McDonald - A Tale of the Old Frontier
by Randall Parrish
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"That will hold them for a while," he said cheerfully. "Two less out there, I reckon, and the others won't get careless again right away. Now is our time; are you ready?"

There was no response, the stillness so profound he could hear the faint ticking of the girl's watch. He reached out, almost alarmed, and touched her dress.

"What is the trouble?" he questioned anxiously. "Didn't you hear me speak?"

He waited breathless, but there was no movement, no sound, and his hand, trembling, in spite of his iron nerve, groped its way upward. She was lying back against the opposite window, her head bent sideways.

"My God," he thought, "did those devils get her?"

He lifted her slight figure up on one arm, all else blotted out, all other memory vanished through this instant dread. His cheek stung where flying splinters had struck him, but that was nothing. She was warm, her flesh was warm; then his searching fingers felt the moist blood trickling down from the edge of her hair. He let out his breath slowly, the sudden relief almost choking him. It was bad enough surely, but not what he had first feared, not death. She had been struck hard—a flying splinter of wood, perhaps, or a deflected bullet—her hair matted with blood, yet it was no more than a flesh wound, although leaving her unconscious. If he hesitated it was but for an instant. The entire situation recurred to him in a flash; he must change his plans, but dare waste no time. If they were to escape it must be accomplished now, shadowed by darkness, while those savage watchers were safely beyond sound. His lean jaws set with fierce determination, and he grimly hitched his belt forward, one sinewy hand fingering the revolver. He would have to trust to that weapon entirely for defense; he could not carry both the rifle and the girl.

Moving slowly, cautiously, fearful lest some creaking of the old stage might betray his motions to those keen ears below, he backed through the open door. Once feeling the ground firm beneath his feet, and making sure that both canteen and haversack were secure, he reached back into the darkness, grasping the form of the unconscious girl. He stood erect with her held securely in his arms, strands of hair blowing against his cheek, listening intently, striving with keen eyes to penetrate the black curtain. The wind was fortunate, blowing steadily across the flat from the river, and they were surely invisible against the background of the overhanging bluff. He did not even feel it necessary to crouch low to avoid discovery. He knew that peril would confront them later, when they ventured out into the open. How light she seemed, as though he clasped a child. Bearing her was going to be easier than he had supposed; the excitement yielded him a new measure of strength, yet he went forward very slowly, feeling along, inch by inch, planting his feet with exceeding care. The earth was hard-packed and would leave little trail; there were no leaves, no dead grass to rustle. Beyond the protection afforded by the stage he felt the full sweep of the wind and permitted her head to rest lower on one arm so that he could look about more clearly. She had not even moaned, although he had felt her breath upon his face. Once he stumbled slightly over some fallen earth, and farther along a foot slipped on a treacherous stone, but the slight noise died unnoticed in the night. It was farther to the gully than he had supposed; his heart was in his throat fearing he had missed it, half-believing the depression failed to extend to the base of the bluff. Then his foot, exploring blindly, touched the edge of the bank. Carefully he laid his burden down, placing his battered campaign hat beneath her head. He bent over her again, assuring himself that she breathed regularly, and then crept down alone into the shallow ravine.

His nerves were like steel now, his hand steady, his heart beating without an accelerated throb. He knew the work, and rejoiced in it. This was why he was a soldier. Silently, swiftly, he unbuckled his belt, refastening it across the straps so as to hold canteen and haversack noiseless, and then, revolver in hand, began creeping down under cover of the low banks. He must explore the path first before attempting to bear her along in his arms; must be sure the passage was unguarded. After it swerved to the right there would be little danger, but while it ran straight, some cautious savage might have chosen it to skulk in. To deal with such he needed to be alone, and free.

He must have crawled thus for thirty yards, hands and knees aching horribly, his eyes ever peering over the edge of the bank, his ears tingling to the slightest noise. The tiny glow of the fire far away to the left was alone visible in the intense blackness; the wind brought to him no sound of movement. The stillness was profound, almost uncanny; as he paused and listened he could distinguish the throb of his heart. He was across the trail at last, for he had felt and traced the ruts of wheels, and where the banks had been worked down almost to a level with the prairie. He crossed this opening like a snake, and then arose to his knees beyond, where the gully deepened. He remained poised, motionless, scarcely daring to breathe. Surely that was something else—that shapeless blotch of shadow, barely topping the line of bank! Was it ten feet away? Or five? He could not tell. He stared; there was no movement, and yet his eyes began to discern dimly the outlines—the head and shoulders of a man! The Sergeant crept forward—an inch, two inches, a foot. The figure did not stir. Now he was sure the fellow's head was lying flat on the turf, oddly distorted by a feathered war bonnet. The strange posture, the utter lack of movement, seemed proof that the tired warrior had fallen asleep on watch. Like a cat Hamlin crept up slowly toward him, poised for a spring.

Some sense of the wild must have stirred the savage into semi-consciousness. Suddenly he sat up, gripping the gun in his hands. Yet even as his opening eyes saw dimly the Sergeant's menacing shadow, before he could scream his alarm, or spring upright, the revolver butt struck with dull thud, and he went tumbling backward into the ditch, his cry of alarm ending in a hoarse croak. From somewhere, out of the dense darkness in front a voice called, sharp and guttural, as if its owner had been startled by the mysterious sound of the blow. It was the language of the Arapahoes, and out of his vague memory of the tongue, spurred to recollection by the swift emergency, Hamlin growled a hoarse answer, hanging breathlessly above the motionless body until the "ugh!" of the fellow's response proved him without suspicion. He waited, counting the seconds, every muscle strained with expectancy, listening. He had a feeling that some one was crawling over the short grass, wiggling along like a snake, but the faint sound, if sound it was, grew less distinct. Finally he lifted his head above the edge of the bank, but saw nothing, not even a dim shadow.

"They are closing in, I reckon," he thought soberly, "and it is n't likely there will be any more of these gentry as far back as this; looks as though this gully turned west just beyond. Anyhow I 've got to risk it."

He returned more rapidly, knowing the passage, yet with no less caution, finding the unconscious girl lying exactly as he had left her. As he clasped her form in his arms, her lips uttered some incoherent words, but otherwise she gave no sign of life.

"Yes, yes," he whispered close to her ear, hoping thus to hold her silent. "It is all right now; only keep still."

He could feel her breathing, and realized the danger of her return to consciousness. If she should be frightened and cry out, their fate would be sealed. Yet he must accept the chance, now that he knew the way to be clear. He held her tightly in both arms, his revolver thrust back into its holster. Bending as low as he could with his burden, feeling carefully through the darkness before advancing a foot, he moved steadily forward. Where the gully deepened their heads were at the edge of the bank, but much of the way was exposed, except for the dark shadows of the slope. Fortunately there were clouds to the west, already obscuring that half of the sky, but to the east nothing was visible against the faint luminousness of the sky-line. Once, far over there to the left, a gun was fired, the flame splitting the night asunder, and against the distant reflection a black figure rose up between, only to be instantly snuffed out again. Hamlin put down his uplifted foot, and waited, in tense, motionless silence, but nothing happened, except the echo of a far-away voice.

A dozen feet farther, some four-footed animal suddenly leaped to the edge of the bank, sniffed, and disappeared noiselessly. So taut were his nerves strung that the Sergeant sank upon his knees, releasing one hand to grip his revolver, before he realized the cause of alarm—some prowling prairie wolf. Then, with teeth grimly locked, bending lower and lower, he crept across the rutted trail, and past the dead body of the Indian. Not until then did he dare to breathe naturally or to stand upright; but now, the gully, bending to the right, led away from danger, every step gained adding to their safety. He was confident now, full of his old audacity, yet awake to every trick of plainscraft. The girl's head rested against his shoulder, and he bent his cheek to hers, feeling its warmth. The touch of his unshaven beard pricked her into semi-consciousness, and she spoke so loud that it gave him a thrill of apprehension. He dared not run in the darkness for fear of stumbling, yet moved with greater swiftness, until the depression ended at the river. Here, under the protection of the bank, Hamlin put down his burden and stood erect, stretching his strained muscles and staring back into the dark.

What now? Which way should they turn? He had accomplished all he had planned for himself back there in the coach, but now he became aware of other problems awaiting solution. In less than an hour it would be daylight; he almost imagined it was lighter already over yonder in the east. With the first dawn those watchful Indians, creeping cautiously closer, would discover the stage deserted, and would be on their trail. And they had left a trail easily followed. Perhaps the hard, dry ground might confuse those savage trackers, but they would scour the open country between bluff and river, and find the dead warrior in the gully. That would tell the story. To go west, along the edge of the river, wading in the water, would be useless precaution; such a trick would be suspected at once, and there was no possibility of rescue from that direction. They might as well walk open-eyed into a trap. There was but one hope, one opportunity—to cross the stream before dawn came and hide among those shifting sand-dunes of the opposite shore. Hamlin thoroughly understood the risk involved, the treacherous nature of the Arkansas, the possibility that both might be sucked down by engulfing quicksand, yet even such a lonely death was preferable to Indian torture.

The girl at his feet stirred and moaned. In another moment he had filled his hat with water from the river, had lifted her head upon one arm, and using the handkerchief from about his throat, was washing away the blood that matted her hair. Now that his fingers felt the wound, he realized the force of the blow stunning her, although its outward manifestation was slight. Her figure trembled in his arms and her eyes opened, gazing up wonderingly at the black outlines of his shadow. Then she made an effort as though to draw away.

"Lie still a while yet, Miss McDonald," he said soothingly, "until you regain your strength."

He heard the quick gasp of her breath, and felt the sudden relaxing of her muscles.

"You!" she exclaimed in undisguised relief at recognition of the voice; "is it really you? Where are we? What has happened?"

He told her rapidly, his face bent close, realizing that she was clinging to him again as she had once before back in the stage. As he ended, she lifted one hand to her wound.

"And I am not really hurt—not seriously?" her voice bewildered. "I—I never realized I had been struck. And—and you carried me all that way—" she shuddered, looking about into the black silence. "I—I can hardly comprehend—yet. Please explain again; they are back there watching for us still, believing we are in the coach; they will follow our trail as soon as it becomes daylight. Why—why, the sky is brighter over in the east already, is n't it? What was it you said we must do?"

"Get across the river; once hidden in those sand-dunes over there we 'll be safe enough."

"Across the river," she repeated the words dully, sitting up to stare out toward the water. Then her head sank into her hands. "Can we—can we ever do that?"

Hamlin bent forward on his knees, striving with keen eyes, sharpened by his night's experience, to learn more of what lay before them. The movement, slight as it was, served to frighten her, and she grasped him by the sleeve.

"Do not leave me; do not go away," she implored swiftly. "Whatever you say is best, I will do."



He dropped his hand upon hers, clasping the clinging fingers tightly.

"Yes, we can make it," he answered confidently. "Wait until I make sure what is out there."

He had slight recollection of the stream at this point, although he had crossed it often enough at the known fords, both above and below. Yet these crossings had always been accomplished with a horse under him, and a knowledge of where the trail ran. But he knew the stream, its peculiarities and dangers. It was not the volume of water, nor its depth he feared, for wide as it appeared stretching from bank to bank, he realized its shallow sluggishness. The peril lay in quicksand, or the plunging into some unseen hole, where the sudden swirl of water might pull them under. Alone he would have risked it recklessly, but with her added weight in his arms, he realized how a single false step would be fatal. The farther shore was invisible; he could perceive nothing but the slight gleam of water lapping the sand at his feet, as it flowed slowly, noiselessly past, and beyond, the dim outline of a narrow sand ridge. Even this, however, was encouragement, proving the shallowness of the stream. He turned about, his face so close he could see her eyes.

"We shall have to try it, Miss McDonald; you must permit me to carry you."


"And whatever happens do not scream—just cling tight to me."

"Yes," a little catching in her throat. "Tell me first, please, just what it is you fear."

"Quicksand principally; it is in all these western rivers, and the two of us together on one pair of feet will make it harder to pull out of the suck. If I tell you to get down, do so quickly."


"Then there may be holes out there in the bottom. I don't mind those so much, although these cavalry boots are no help in swimming."

"I can swim."

"Hardly in your clothes; but I am glad to know it, nevertheless. You could keep afloat at least, and the holes are never very large. Are you ready now?"

She gave him her hands and stood up. The Sergeant drew in a long breath and transferred the haversack to her shoulder.

"We 'll try and keep that from getting soaked, if we can," he explained. "There is no hotel over in those sand-hills. Now hold on tight."

He swung her easily to his broad shoulder, clasping her slender figure closely with one arm.

"That's it! Now get a firm grip. I 'll carry you all right."

To the girl, that passage was never more than a dim memory. Still partially dazed from the severe blow on her head, she closed her eyes as Hamlin stepped cautiously down into the stream and clung to him desperately, expecting each moment to be flung forward into the water. But the Sergeant's mind was upon his work, and every detail of the struggle left its impress on his memory. He saw the dark sweep of the water, barely visible in the gleam of those few stars unobscured by cloud, and felt the sluggish flow against his legs as he moved. The bottom was soft, yet his feet did not sink deeply, although it was rather difficult wading. However, the clay gave him more confidence than sand underfoot, and there was less depth of water even than he had anticipated. He was wet only to the thighs when he toiled up on to the low spit of sand, and put the girl down a moment to catch a fresh breath and examine the broader stretch of water ahead. They could see both shores now, that which they had just left, a black, lumping, dim outline. Except for the lapping of the water at their feet, all was deathly still. Even the Indian fire had died out, and it was hard to conceive that savages were hidden behind that black veil, and that they two were actually fleeing for their lives. To the girl it was like some dreadful delirium of sleep, but the man felt the full struggle. There was a star well down in the south he chose to guide by, but beyond that he must trust to good fortune. Without a word he lifted her again to his shoulder, and pushed on.

The water ran deeper, shelving off rapidly, until it rose well above his waist, and with sufficient current do that he was compelled to lean against it to maintain balance, scarcely venturing forward a foot at a time. Once he stumbled over some obstruction, barely averting a fall; he felt the swift clutch of her fingers at his throat, the quick adjustment of her body, but her lips gave no utterance of alarm. His groping feet touched the edge of a hole, and he turned, facing the current, tracing his way carefully until he found a passage on solid bottom. A bit of driftwood swirled down out of the night; a water-soaked limb, striking against him before it was even seen, bruised one arm, and then dodged past like a wild thing, leaving a glitter of foam behind. The sand-dunes grew darker, more distinct, the water began to grow shallow, the bottom changing from mud to sand. He slipped and staggered in the uncertain footing, his breath coming in quicker gasps, yet with no cessation of effort. Once he felt the dreaded suck about his ankles, and broke into a reckless run, splashing straight forward, falling at the water's edge, yet not before the girl was resting safely on the soft sand.

Strong as Hamlin was, his muscles trained by strenuous out-door life, he lay there for a moment utterly helpless, more exhausted from the nervous strain indeed, than the physical exertion. He had realized fully the desperate nature of that passage, expecting every step to be engulfed, and the reaction, the knowledge that they had actually attained the shore safely, left him weak as a child, hardly able to comprehend the fact. The girl was upon her feet first, alarmed and solicitous, bending down to touch him with her hand.

"Sergeant, you are not hurt?" she questioned. "Tell me you are not hurt?"

"Oh, no," dragging himself up the bank, yet panting as he endeavored to speak cheerfully. "Only that was a rather hard pull, the last of it, and I am short of breath. I shall be all right in a moment."

There was a sand-dune just beyond, and he seated himself and leaned against it.

"I am beginning to breathe easier already," he explained. "Sit down here, Miss McDonald. We are safe enough now in this darkness."

"You are all wet, soaking wet."

"That is nothing; the sand is warm yet from yesterday's sun, and my clothes will dry fast enough. It is beginning to grow light in the east."

The faces of both turned in that direction where appeared the first twilight approach of dawn. Already were visible the dark lines of the opposite shore, across the gleam of water, and beyond appeared the dim outlines of the higher bluffs. The slope between river and hill, however, remained in impenetrable darkness. The minds of both fugitives reverted to the same scene—the wrecked stage with its dead passengers within, its savage watchers without. She lifted her head, and the soft light reflected on her face.

"I—I thank God we are not over there now," she said falteringly.

"Yes," he admitted. "They will be creeping in closer; they will not wait much longer. Hard as I have worked, I can't realize yet that we are out of those toils."

"You did not expect to succeed?"

"No; frankly I did not; all I could do was hope—take the one chance left. The slightest accident meant betrayal. I am ashamed of being so weak just now, but it was the strain. You see," he explained carefully, "I 've been scouting through hostile Indian country mostly day and night for nearly a week, and then this thing happened. No matter how iron a man is his nerve goes back on him after a while."

"I know."

"It was n't myself," he went on doggedly, "but it was the knowledge of having to take care of you. That was what made me worry; that, and knowing a single misstep, the slightest noise, would bring those devils on us, where I could n't fight, where there was just one thing I could do."

There was silence, her hands pressed to her face, her eyes fixed on him. Then she questioned him soberly.

"You mean, kill me?"

"Sure," he answered simply, without looking around; "I would have had to do it—just as though you were a sister of mine."

Her hands reached out and clasped his, and he glanced aside at her face, seeing it clearly.

"I—I thought you would," she said, her voice trembling. "I—I was going to ask you once before I was hurt, but—but I could n't, and somehow I trusted you from the first, when you got in." She hesitated, and then asked, "How did you know I was Molly McDonald? You never asked."

The Sergeant's eyes smiled, turning away from her face to stare out again across the river.

"Because I had seen your picture."

"My picture? But you told us you were from Fort Union?"

"Yes; that is my station, only I had been sent to the cantonment on the Cimarron with despatches. Your father was in command there, and worried half to death about you. He could not leave the post, and the only officer remaining there with him was a disabled cavalry captain. Every man he could trust was out on scouting service. He took a chance on me. Maybe he liked my looks, I don't know; more probably, he judged I would n't be a sergeant and entrusted with those despatches I 'd just brought in, if I was n't considered trustworthy. Anyhow I had barely fallen asleep when the orderly called me, and that was what was wanted—that I ride north and head you off."

"But you were not obliged to go?"

"No; I was not under your father's orders. I doubt if I would have consented if I had n't been shown your picture. I could n't very well refuse then."

She sat with hands clasped together, her eyes shadowed by long lashes.

"I should have thought there would have been some soldiers there—his own men."

"There were," dryly, "but the army just now is recruited out of pretty tough material. To be in the ranks is almost a confession of good-for-nothingness. You are an officer's daughter and understand this to be true."

"Yes," she answered doubtfully. "I have been brought up thinking so; only, of course, there are exceptions."

"No doubt, and I hope I am already counted one."

"You know you are. My father trusted you, and so do I."

"I have wondered some times," he said musingly, watching her face barely visible in the dawn, "whether those of your class actually considered us as being really human, as anything more valuable than mere food for powder. I came into the regular army at the close of the war from the volunteer service. I was accustomed to discipline and all that, and knew my place. But I never suspected then that a private soldier was considered a dog. Yet that was the first lesson I was compelled to learn. It has been pretty hard sometimes to hold in, for there was a time when I had some social standing and could resent an insult."

She was looking straight at him, surprised at the bitterness in his voice.

"They carry it altogether too far," she said. "I have often thought that—mostly the young officers, the West Pointers—and yet you know that the majority of enlisted men are—well, dragged from the slums. My father says it has been impossible to recruit a good class since the war closed, that the right kind had all the army they wanted."

"Which is true enough, but there are good men nevertheless, and every commander knows it. A little considerate treatment would make them better still."

She shook her head questioningly.

"I do not know," she admitted. "I suppose there are two viewpoints. You were in the volunteers, you said. Why did you enlist in the regulars?"

"Largely because I liked soldiering, or thought I did. I knew there would be plenty of fighting out here, and, I believed, advancement."

"You mean to a commission?"

"Yes. You see, I did not understand then the impossibility, the great gulf fixed. I dreamed that good fortune might give me something to do worth while."

"And fate has been unkind?"

"In a way, yes," and he laughed rather grimly. "I had my chance—twice; honorable mention, and all that, but that ended it. There is no bridge across the chasm. An enlisted man is not held fit for any higher position; if that was not sufficient to bar me, the fact that I had fought for the South would."

"You were in the Confederate army? You must have been very young."

"Oh, no; little more than a boy, of course, but so were the majority of my comrades. I was in my senior college year when the war broke out. But, Miss McDonald, this will never do! See how light it is growing. There, they have begun firing already. We must get back out of sight behind the sand-dunes."



They needed to retire but a few steps to be entirely concealed, yet so situated as to command a view across the muddy stream. The sun had not risen above the horizon, but the gray dawn gave misty revealment of the sluggish-flowing river, the brown slope opposite, and the darker shadow of bluffs beyond. The popping of those distant guns had ceased by the time they attained their new position, and they could distinguish the Indians—mere black dots against the brown slope—advancing in a semicircle toward the silent stage. Evidently they were puzzled, fearful of some trickery, for occasionally a gun would crack viciously, the brown smoke plainly visible, the advancing savages halting to observe the effect. Then a bright colored blanket was waved aloft as though in signal, and the entire body, converging toward the deserted coach, leaped forward with a wild yell, which echoed faintly across the water.

The girl hid her face in the sand, with a half-stifled sob, but the Sergeant watched grimly, his eyes barely above the ridge. What would they do when they discovered the dead bodies?—when they realized that others had eluded their vigilance during the night? Would they be able to trace them, or would his ruse succeed? Of course their savage cunning would track them as far as the river—there was no way in which he could have successfully concealed the trail made down the gully, or the marks left on the sandy bank. But would they imagine he had dared to cross the broad stream, burdened with the girl, confronting almost certain death in the quicksand? Would they not believe rather that he had waded along the water's edge headed west, hoping thus to escape to the bluffs, where some hiding-place might be found? Even if they suspected a crossing, would any warriors among them be reckless enough to follow? Would they not be more apt to believe that both fugitives had been sucked down into the treacherous stream? Almost breathless Hamlin watched, these thoughts coursing through his mind, realizing the deadly trap in which they were caught, if the Indians suspected the truth and essayed the passage. Behind them was sand, ridge after ridge, as far as the eye could discern, and every step they took in flight would leave its plain trail. And now the test was at hand.

He saw them crowd about the coach, leaping and yelling with fury; watched them jerk open the door, and drag forth the two dead bodies, dancing about them, like so many demons, brandishing their guns. A moment they were bunched thus, their wild yelling shrill with triumph; then some among them broke away, bending low as they circled in against the bluff. They knew already that there had been others in the stage, others who had escaped. They were seeking the trail. Suddenly one straightened up gesticulating, and the others rushed toward him—they had found the "sign"! They were silent now, those main trailers, two of them on hands and knees. Only back where the bodies lay some remained yelling and dancing furiously. Then they also, in response to a shout and the wave of a blanketed arm, scattered, running west toward the gully. There was no hesitancy now; some savage instinct seemed to tell them where the fugitives had gone. They dragged the dead warrior from the ditch, screaming savagely at the discovery. A dozen scrambled for the river bank, others ran for the pony herd, while one or two remained beside the dead warrior. Even at that distance Hamlin could distinguish Roman Nose, and tell what were his orders by every gesture of his arm. The Sergeant grasped the girl's hand, his own eyes barely above the sand ridge, his lips whispering back.

"No, don't move; I'll tell you everything. The stage has been gutted and set on fire. Now they are coming with the ponies. Most of them are directly opposite studying the marks we left on the sand of the bank. Yes, they look across here, but the chief is sure we have gone the other way; he is waving his hand up the river now, and talking. Now he is getting on his horse; there are ten or twelve of them. One fellow is pointing across here, but no one agrees with him. Now Roman Nose is giving orders. Hear that yell! They 're off now, riding up stream, lashing their ponies into a run. All of them? No; quite a bunch are going back to the coach. I don't believe they are going to hang around here long though, for they are driving in all their ponies."

"But won't those others come back when they discover we have not gone up the river?"

"I wish I could answer that," he replied earnestly. "But it all depends on what those devils know of the whereabouts of troops. They are Northern Indians, and must have broken through the scouting details sent out from Wallace and Dodge. Some of the boys are bound to be after them, and there is more chance for them to get back safely along the mountains than in the other direction. I don't suppose an Indian in the bunch was ever south of the Arkansas. Wait! Those fellows are going to move now; going for good, too—they are taking the dead Indians with them."

They were little more than black dots at that distance, yet the sun was up by this time and his keen vision could distinguish every movement.

"Creep up here, and you can see also," he said quietly. "They are far enough away now so that it is safe."

There was a moment of breathless quiet, the two fugitives peering cautiously over the sand ridge. To the girl it was a confusion of figures rushing back and forth about the smoking ruins of the stage; occasionally a faint yell echoed across the river, and she could distinguish a savage on his pony gesticulating as he rode back and forth. But the Sergeant comprehended the scene. His eyes met hers and read her bewilderment.

"They are going all right, and in a hurry. It's plain enough they are afraid to stay there any longer. See, they are lashing bodies on to the ponies. Ah, that is what I wanted to be sure about—that fellow is heading west on the trail; now the others are moving."

"Then you are sure Roman Nose will not return? That—that we are safe?"

"Yes; I would n't hesitate to go back as soon as the last of them disappear over the ridge," pointing up the river. "They knew they had to go that way; Roman Nose and his band hoped we 'd taken that direction, and hurried on ahead to catch us if he could. They are afraid to stay about here any longer. Look how they are lashing those ponies; there, the last of them are leaving."

They lay there in the sand, already becoming warm, under the rays of the sun, trying to assure themselves that all danger of discovery had vanished. There was no movement on the opposite shore, only the blue spiral of smoke curling up against the bluff, marking where the stage had stood. About this, outlined upon the brown grass, appeared darker patches representing dead ponies and the bodies of Moylan and Gonzales where they had been tumbled, scalped and otherwise mutilated. Down by the river a wounded pony tried to follow the disappearing cavalcade, but fell, giving vent to one scream of agony. Then all was silent, motionless, the last straggler clubbing his horse pitilessly as he vanished over the ridge.

Hamlin sat up, his eyes smiling.

"We are the lucky ones, Miss McDonald," he said, his manner unconsciously more formal now that the danger had passed and a swift realization of who his companion was recurring to his mind. "Something must have frightened them." He shaded his eyes, staring at the bluffs opposite, "But there is nothing in sight from here. Well, the best thing we can do is to eat breakfast. May I have the haversack, and see what it is stocked with?"

"Certainly not. There is so little I can do, I do not propose yielding any prerogative." And she drew her head through the strap, letting the leather bag fall to the sand. "I am afraid there is no cloth here. Would you dare light a fire?"

"Hardly, even if we had fuel," he answered, watching her with interest. She glanced up into his face, her cheeks reddening.

"Why don't you want me to do this?"

"How do you know I object? Indeed, it is quite pleasant to be waited upon. Only, you see, it is very unusual for an officer's daughter to take such good care of an enlisted man."

"But I am not thinking of that at all. You—this is different."

"For the moment, perhaps," just a slight bitterness in his tone, "and I should enjoy it while I can."

She stopped in her work, sitting straight before him. Her eyes were indignant, yet she stifled the first words that leaped to her lips. His soft hat lay on the sand and the sun revealed his tanned face, bringing out its strength.

"You—should n't say that," she faltered. "Surely you do not believe I will ever become ungrateful."

"No; and yet gratitude is not altogether satisfactory." He hesitated. "It is hard to explain just what I mean to you, for you do not realize the life we lead out here—the loneliness of it. Even a man in the ranks may possess the desires of a human being. I—well, I 'm hungry for the companionship of a good woman. Don't misunderstand, Miss McDonald. I am not presuming, nor taking advantage of the accident which has placed us in this peculiar position, but I have been a trooper out here now a long while, stationed at little isolated frontier posts, riding the great plains, doing the little routine duties of soldiering. I have n't spoken to a decent woman on terms of social equality for two years; I 've looked at a few from a distance and taken orders from them. But they have glanced through me as though I were something inanimate instead of a man. I saved an officer's life once down there," and he pointed into the southeast, "and his wife thanked me as though it were a disagreeable duty. I reckon you don't understand, but I don't like the word gratitude."

"But I do understand," and she stretched out her hand to him across the opened haversack. "I 'm not so dull, and it must be awful to feel alone like that, I told you I—I liked you, and—I do. Now remember that, please, and be good. From now on I am not Major McDonald's daughter, not even Miss McDonald—I 'm just Molly McDonald."

The gray eyes laughed.

"You are assuming a great risk."

"I don't believe it," her forehead wrinkling a little, but her eyes bright. "You and I can be friends—can't we?"

"We 'll try, out here, at least. Even if the dream does n't last long, it will be pleasant to remember."

"You do not think it will last, then?"

He shook his head.

"I would be a fool to hope; I have been in the army too long."

They were still for a minute, the girl's fingers toying with the flap of the haversack, her eyes gazing across the river. He thought they were misty.

"I am sorry you are so prejudiced," she said at last slowly, "for I am not like that at all. I am not going to be ashamed of a friend because he—he is in the ranks. I shall be only the more proud. What is your full name?"

He passed his hand over his hair, and laughed.

"They call me 'Brick' Hamlin—a subtle reference to this crown of glory."

"But it is n't red," she insisted swiftly. "Only it shows a little bright with the sun on it, and I am not going to call you that. I don't like nicknames. What did they call you before you went into the army? When—when you did know good women?"

The Sergeant bent his head, and then lifted his gray eyes to the girl's face.

"I had almost forgotten," he confessed, "but I'll tell you—David Carter Hamlin; there, you have all of it—my mother called me Dave—could you, once?"

"Could I?" laughingly. "Why, of course; now, Dave, we will have breakfast."

"And I am quite ready for it—Molly."

The girl's cheeks reddened, but their eyes met, and both laughed.



Moylan must have had Miss McDonald in mind when he had stocked up with food at Fort Dodge, and had therefore chosen all the delicacies to be found at that frontier post. These were not extensive, consisting largely of canned goods, which, nevertheless, made a brave show, and were clearly enough not the ordinary fare of the border. Hamlin had to smile at the array, but Molly handled each article almost with reverence, tears dimming her eyes in memory.

"He—he bought these for me," she said softly, and looking across reproachfully at the Sergeant. "It was the best he could do."

"I was not laughing at poor Moylan; only, I fear, he had a wrong conception of a girl's needs on the trail. But I reckon our combined appetites are equal to it."

"I do not feel as though I could swallow a mouthful."

"Under orders you will try. We have a hard day before us, young lady, and some tramping to do afoot. I wish I knew where that horse I turned loose last night has drifted to; into the bluffs, probably, where the grass is green. He would be of some help just now. Try this, Miss McDonald, for lack of something better. I yearn for ham and coffee, but hardly dare build a fire yet. The smoke would be seen for miles away."

"If we were across the river we could use the stage fire."

"Yes, but there is a wide river flowing between. Don't be afraid of that trip," noting the expression of her face. "It will be easy enough to cross back by daylight, now that I know where the danger spots are."

"I was not so terribly afraid last night; I hardly had time to realize what was being done, did you?"

"Well, yes; it was risky business. Awfully treacherous bottom and I was trusting to good luck."

The Sergeant ate heartily, speaking occasionally so as to divert her mind, but for the most part, busily thinking and endeavoring to decide his next move. He sat facing the river, continually lifting his head to scan the opposite shore. There was probably a scouting detail somewhere near at hand, either approaching from the east, alarmed by the report of the fleeing stage crew, or else a detachment tracking Roman Nose's warriors across those plains extending into the north. The latter contingency was the more probable, judging from the Indians' flight, and his own knowledge of the small reserve force left at Dodge. Besides, ride as they might those two fleeing cowards of yesterday could hardly have yet reached that shelter of safety and might not confess the truth of their desertion even when they did arrive. A pursuing force was the only real hope for escaping the necessity of a hard tramp back over the trail. Well, the girl looked fit, and he glanced toward her appreciatively.

In spite of the sad experiences of the past night she was a pleasant spectacle, her eyes bright with excitement, her cheeks flushed under the morning sun which flecked her dark, disordered hair with odd color. Hers was a winsome face, with smiling lips, and frank good nature in its contour. He was surprised to note how fresh and well she looked.

"Are you tired?"

"Not very. It seems more as though I had dreamed all this than actually passed through the experience. Perhaps when I do realize, the reaction will set in. But now I am strong, and—and not at all frightened."

"Nor hungry?"

"It is hard to eat, but I am often that way." Her hand strayed to the emptied haversack, and she turned it carelessly over, where it lay beside her on the sand. "Why, this is an old Confederate sack, isn't it? I hadn't noticed before; see, the 'C. S. A.' is on the flap."

"So it is; perhaps Moylan served in the South."

"I think not. I am sure this was never his, for he bought it at Dodge. I remember he told me he would have to find something to carry our lunch in." She pushed the flap farther back, then held it up to the sunlight. "There are some other letters, but they are hardly decipherable. I cannot read the first line at all, but the second is somewhat plainer—'Fourth Texas Infantry.'"

Hamlin reached out his hand swiftly, and grasped the haversack, forgetting everything else in suddenly aroused interest. The girl, surprised, stared up into his face, as he closely studied the faded inscription, his face expressing unconcealed amazement.

"Good God!" he ejaculated breathlessly. "It was Gene's. What can this mean?"

"You—you knew the soldier?"

"Knew him? Yes," speaking almost unconsciously, his incredulous eyes still on the inscription, as though fearful it might vanish. "That man was either my best friend, or my worst enemy; under heaven, I know not which. Why, it is like a miracle, the finding of this bag out here in the desert. It is the clue I have been searching after for nearly five years." He seemed to pull himself together with an effort, realizing her presence. "Excuse me, Miss McDonald, but this thing knocked me silly. I hardly knew what I was saying."

"It means much to you? To your life?"

"Everything, if I can only trace it back, and thus discover the present whereabouts of the original owner."

"Was that your regiment, then—the Fourth Texas Infantry?"

He bowed his head, now looking frankly at her.

"Would you mind telling me your rank?"

"I became Captain of 'B' Company after the fight at Chancellorsville; we served in Virginia under Massa Robert, and lost every commissioned officer in that affair." He hesitated to go on, but she prompted him by a question:

"And then what? What was it that happened? Don't be afraid to tell me."

His gray eyes met hers, and then turned away, his lips pressed together.

"Nothing until the day we fought at Fisher's Hill," he said slowly. "Then I was dismissed from the service—for cowardice."

"Cowardice!" repeating the word in quick protest. "Why, how could that be? Surely your courage had been sufficiently tested before?"

"Cowardice, and disobedience of orders," he repeated dully, "after I had been under fire almost night and day for three years; after I had risen from the ranks and commanded the regiment."

"And you had no defence?"

"No; at least, none I could use; this man might have saved me, but he did not, and I never knew why."

"Who was he?"

"My senior captain, detailed on Early's staff; he brought me the orders verbally I was afterwards accused of disobeying. I was temporarily in command of the regiment that day with rank as major. There was a mistake somewhere, and we were horribly cut up, and a number taken prisoners. It was my word against his, and—and he lied."

She took the haversack from him, studying the scarcely legible inscription.

"'E. L. F.' Are those the letters?"

"Yes; they stand for Eugene Le Fevre; he was of French descent, his home in New Orleans."

"You knew him well?"

"I thought so; we were at school together and afterwards in the army."

She looked across at him again, touched by the tender echo of his voice; then leaned forward and placed one hand upon his.

"You have not spoken about this for a long while, have you?"

"No," his eyes lighting up pleasantly, "hardly thought of it, except sometimes alone at night. The memory made me savage, and all my efforts to ascertain the truth have proven useless."

"That is why you enlisted?"

"Largely; there is no better place to hide one's past than in the ranks out here on the plains. I—I could not remain at home with that disgrace hanging over me."

"You must tell me all about it."

Her head lifted suddenly as she gazed out across the river, shading her eyes. "Why, what are those?" she exclaimed eagerly, "there, moving on the bluffs opposite?"

His glance swept to the northward, and he was as instantly the soldier again. Far away on the upper plateau, clearly outlined against the blue of the distant sky, appeared a number of dark figures. For a moment he believed them buffaloes, but in another instant decided instead they were horsemen riding two by two.

"Get down lower, Miss McDonald," he commanded. "Now we can see, and not be seen. They must be cavalrymen, the way they ride, but we can take no chances."

They watched the black specks pass east to where the bluff circled in toward the river. It was from there those distant riders first observed the dim spiral of smoke still curling up from the burning stage, for they halted, bunching together, and then disappeared slowly down a gash in the side of the hill. Emerging on the lower flat they turned in the direction of the fire, spurring their horses into a swift trot. There was no longer any doubt of their being troopers, and Hamlin stood upright on the sand hummock waving his hat. They were gathered about the fire, a few dismounted beside the dead bodies, before his signal was observed. Then a field glass flashed in the sunlight, and three or four of the party rode down to the bank of the river. One of these, the glasses still held in his hand, his horse's hoofs in the water, shouted across the stream.

"Who are you over there?"

"White people," answered Hamlin, using his hands for a trumpet. "We escaped from the stage last night. I am a sergeant, Seventh Cavalry, and the lady with me is the daughter of Major McDonald at Fort Devere."

"How did you get across?"

"Waded in the dark; there is good bottom. Send a man over with a couple of horses."

The officer turned and spoke to the others grouped beside him; then raised his voice again.

"Are you sure there is no quicksand?"

"None to hurt; come straight over the end of that sand spit, and then swerve about a dozen feet to the right to keep out of a hole. The water won't go to a horse's belly. Try it, Wasson, you ought to know me."

"You 're 'Brick' Hamlin, ain't you?"

"A good guess, Sam; come on."

Two troopers left their saddles, and the third man, the one answering the last hail, gathered the reins in one hand, and spurred his horse confidently into the brown water. Following the Sergeant's shouted directions, the three animals plunged forward and came dripping up the low sand bank. The rider, a sallow-faced man clad in rough corduroy, patched and colorless, leaned over and held out his hand.

"Dern yer o' skin," he said solemnly, but with a twinkle in his eyes, "ye 're sure got the luck of it. Ain't seen ye afore fer two years."

"That 's right, Sam; down on the Cowskin, wasn't it? Who 's over there?"

"Leftenant Gaskins, an' some o' the Fourth Cavalry, scoutin' out o' Dodge; been plum to ther mountings, an' goin' home ag'in. Whut the hell (beggin' yer pardin, mam) has happened yere?"

"I 'll explain when we get across," and Hamlin swung the haversack to his shoulder, and turned to the girl. "This is Sam Wasson, Miss McDonald, a scout I have been out with before; let me help you into the saddle."



They recrossed the stream carefully, the horses restless and hard to control in the current, the men riding on either side, grasping the bit of the girl's mount. Others had joined the little squad of troopers on the bank, and welcomed them with a cheer. The Lieutenant dismounted. At sight of the girl's face he whipped off his hat, and came forward.

"Miss McDonald," he said, pleasantly greeting her, "I am Lieutenant Gaskins, and I have met your father—of the Sixth Infantry, is he not? So glad to be of service, you know. You were in the stage, I understand; a most remarkable escape."

"I owe it all to Sergeant Hamlin," she replied, turning to glance toward the latter. "He bore me away unconscious in his arms. Indeed, I scarcely realized what happened. Do you know anything regarding my father?"

"Oh, yes, I can put your mind at ease so far as he is concerned. I presume you were endeavoring to reach his post when this unfortunate affair occurred."


"Sheridan has ordered Devere abandoned for the present, and the Major's troops are to return to Dodge. No doubt we shall be in the field within a week or two. But we can cultivate acquaintance later; now I must straighten out this affair." He bowed again, and turned stiffly toward Hamlin, who had dismounted, his manner instantly changing. He was a short, heavily built man, cleanly shaven, with dark, arrogant eyes, and prominent chin.

"You are a sergeant of the Seventh, you said," he began brusquely. "What were you doing here?"

"My troop is stationed at Fort Union," was the quiet response. "I carried despatches to Devere, and while there was requested by Major McDonald to intercept his daughter and turn her back."

"Were you subject to Major McDonald's orders?"

"It was not an order, but a request."

"Oh, indeed; a mere pleasure excursion."

"It has hardly turned out that way, sir, and conditions seemed to justify my action."

"That is for others to determine. When was the attack made?"

"Just before sundown last evening. The driver and guard escaped on the lead horses, and the wheelers ran away, wrecking the coach."

"There were four passengers?"

"Yes; we fought them off until after dark, although the Mexican was killed by the first fire. I don't know when the other man got his."

"Who were they?"

"Gonzales ran a high-ball game at Santa Fe; the other, Moylan, was post-sutler at Fort Marcy."

"How many Indians? Who were they?"

"About thirty; we must have killed five or six. It was hardly more than daylight when they left, and I could not tell just how many bodies they strapped on the ponies. They were a mixed bunch of young bucks, principally Arapahoes, led by Roman Nose."

"Went west, hey?"

"Yes, sir."

The Lieutenant turned his gaze up the river, and then looked at Wasson, who remained seated in the saddle.

"Must be the same lot Maxwell told us about up on Pawnee Fork, Sam," he said at last. "He will be likely to cut their trail some time to-day. We knew a bunch had headed south, but did n't suppose they had got as far as this already. Better leave Maxwell to run them in, I suppose? Our orders are to return to Dodge."

"They have n't three hours the start," ventured Hamlin in surprise, "and cannot travel fast with so many of their ponies doubly loaded."

"That is for me to decide," staring insolently, "and I understand my duty without any advice. Is there any damage done west of here?"

"The station at the crossing is burned; two dead men there; I don't know what became of the third."

"Then it is just as I thought; those fellows will turn north before they get that far, and will run straight into Maxwell. What do you say, Sam?"

The scout lolled carelessly in the saddle, his eyes on the river, his lean, brown face expressionless.

"I reckon as how it don't make no great difference what I say," he answered soberly. "Yer ain't taken no advice frum me yit, fur as I remember. But if yer really want ter know, this time, my notion is them bucks will most likely hide in the bluffs till night, an' then sneak past Maxwell after it gits good an' dark. If this yere wus my outfit now, I 'd just naturally light on to the trail fast, orders er no orders. I reckon it's Injuns we cum out after, an' I don't suppose the War Department would find any fault if we found a few."

The blood surged into the Lieutenant's face, but opposition only served to increase his obstinacy.

"I prefer to rely on my own judgment," he said tartly. "From what this man reports they are in stronger force than we are. Besides my instructions were not to provoke hostilities."

Wasson grinned, revealing his yellow teeth.

"Sure not; they are so damned peaceable themselves."

"I prefer leaving Captain Maxwell to deal with the situation," Gaskins went on pompously, ignoring the sneer, "as he outranks me, and I am under strict instructions to return at once to the fort. Two of our horses are disabled already, and Smiley is too sick to be left alone. There are only sixteen men fit for duty, and three of those would have to be detailed to look after him. I 'll not risk it. Well," he broke off suddenly, and addressing a corporal who had just ridden up and saluted, "have you buried the bodies?"

"Yes, sir; found these papers on them."

The Lieutenant thrust these into his jacket pocket.

"Very well, Hough. Form the men into column. Miss McDonald, you will retain the horse you have, and I should be very glad to have you ride with me. Oh, Corporal, was everything in the coach destroyed? Nothing saved belonging to this lady?"

"Only the ironwork is left, sir."

"So I thought; exceedingly sorry, Miss McDonald. The ladies at Dodge will have to fit you out when we get in. I am a bachelor, you know," he added, glancing aside into her face, "but can promise every attention."

Her eyes sought Hamlin where he stood straight and motionless, respectfully waiting an opportunity to speak.

"Is—is this what I ought to do?" she questioned, leaning toward him. "I am so confused I hardly know what is best."

"Why, of course," broke in the Lieutenant hastily. "You may trust me to advise."

"But my question was addressed to Sergeant Hamlin," she interposed, never glancing aside. "He understands the situation better than you."

The Sergeant held his hat in his hand, his eyes meeting her own frankly, but with a new light in them. She had not forgotten now the danger was over; she meant him to realize her friendship.

"It seems to me the only safe course for you to take, Miss McDonald," he said slowly, endeavoring to keep the note of triumph out of his voice. "Your father is perfectly safe, and will join you within a few days. I would not dare attempt your protection farther west."

"You are not going with us then?" she questioned in surprise.

"Not if Lieutenant Gaskins will furnish me with horse and rifle. I must report at Union, and, on the way, tell your father where you are."

"But the danger! oh, you mustn't attempt such a ride alone!"

"That is nothing; the valley is swept clean, and I shall do most of my riding at night. Any plainsman could do the trick—hey, Sam?"

Wasson nodded, chewing solemnly on the tobacco in his cheek.

"He 'll make the trip all right, miss," he drawled lazily. "Wish I was goin' long. I 'm sure tired o' this sorter scoutin', I am. Down below the Cimarron is the only place ye 'll have ter watch out close, 'Brick.' Them Comanches an' Apaches are the worst lot."

"I know—night riders themselves, but I know the trail. Can you outfit me, Lieutenant?"

Gaskins smiled grimly, but with no trace of humor. His eyes were upon the girl, still leaning over her pommel.

"I 'll outfit you all right," he said brusquely, "and with no great regret, either. And I shall report finding you here in disobedience to orders."

"Very well, sir."

Molly's brown eyes swept to the Lieutenant's face, her form straightening in the saddle, her lips pressed tightly together. Gaskins fronted the Sergeant, stung into anger by the man's quiet response.

"I shall prefer charges, you understand," almost savagely. "Helm, give this fellow that extra rifle, and ammunition belt. McMasters, you will let him have your horse."

Wasson rolled out of his saddle, muttering something indistinctly, which might have been an oath.

"I ain't goin' ter stand fer that, Leftenant," he said defiantly. "Bein' as I ain't no enlisted man, an' this yere is my hoss, 'Brick' Hamlin don't start on no such ride on that lame brute o' McMasters'. Here, you 'Brick,' take this critter. Oh, shut up! I'll git to Dodge all right. Won't hurt me none to walk."

The eyes of the two men met understandingly, and Hamlin took the rein in his hand. Gaskins started to speak, but thought better of it. A moment he stood, irresolute, and then swung up into saddle, his glance ignoring the Sergeant.

"Attention! company," he commanded sharply. "By column four—march!"

The girl spurred her horse forward, and held out her hand.

"Good-bye," she said, falteringly, "you—will be careful."

"Of course," and he smiled up into her eyes. "Don't worry about me—I am an old hand."

"And I am to see you again?"

"I shall never run away, surely, and I hope for the best—"

"Miss McDonald," broke in Gaskins impatiently, "the men are already moving."

"Yes," her eyes still upon the Sergeant's uncovered face, "I am coming. Don't imagine I shall ever forget," she murmured hastily, "or that I will not be glad to meet you anywhere."

"Some time I may put you to the test," he answered soberly. "If any trouble comes, trust Wasson—he is a real man."

He stood there, one arm thrown over the neck of the horse, watching them ride away up the trail. The Lieutenant and the girl were together at the rear of the short column, and he seemed to be talking earnestly. Hamlin never moved, or took his eyes from her until they disappeared over the ridge. Just as they dipped down out of sight she turned and waved one hand. Then the man's gaze swept over the debris of the burned stage, and the two mounds of earth. Even these mute evidences of tragedy scarcely sufficed to make him realize all that had occurred in this lonely spot. He could not seem to separate his thought from the cavalcade which had just departed, leaving behind the memory of that farewell wave of the hand. To him it marked the end of a dream, the return to a life distasteful and lonely.

Mechanically the Sergeant loaded his rifle, and strapped the old Confederate haversack to his saddle pommel, staring again, half unbelieving, at the faded inscription underneath the flap. Yet the sight of those letters awoke him, bringing to his bronzed face a new look of determination. He swung into the saddle, and, rifle across his knees, his eyes studying the desolate distance, rode westward along the deserted trail.



The swiftly speeding weeks of that war-summer on the plains had brought many changes to the hard-worked troops engaged in the campaign or garrisoning the widely scattered posts south of the Platte. Scouting details, although constantly in the saddle, failed to prevent continued Indian depredations on exposed settlements. Stage routes were deserted, and the toiling wagons of the freighters vanished from the trails. Reports of outrages were continuous, and it became more and more evident that the various tribes were at length united in a desperate effort to halt the white advance. War parties broke through the wide-strung lines of guard, and got safely away again, leaving behind death and destruction. Only occasionally did these Indian raiders and the pursuing troops come into actual contact. The former came and went in swift forays, now appearing on the Pawnee, again on the Saline, followed by a wild ride down the valley of the Arkansas. Scattered in small bands, well mounted and armed, no one could guess where the next attack might occur. Every day brought its fresh report of horror. From north and south, east and west, news of outrages came into Sheridan's headquarters at Fort Wallace.

Denver, at the base of the mountains, was practically in state of siege, provisioned only by wagon trains sent through under strong guard; the fringe of settlement along the water ways was deserted, men and women fleeing to the nearest government posts for protection and food. The troops, few in number and widely scattered in small detachments, many being utilized as scouts and guards, were unequal to the gigantic task of protecting so wide a frontier. Skirmishes were frequent, but the Indians were wary and resourceful, and only once during the entire summer were they brought into real decisive battle. The last of August, Major Forsythe, temporarily commanding a company of volunteer scouts, was suddenly attacked by over a thousand warriors under command of Roman Nose. A four days' fight resulted, with heavy loss on both sides, the Indians being finally driven from the field by the opportune arrival of fresh troops.

The general condition of affairs is well shown by the reports reaching Fort Wallace in September. Governor Hunt wrote from Denver: "Just returned. Fearful condition of things here. Nine persons murdered by Indians yesterday, within radius of nine miles." A few days later, acting Governor Hall reported: "The Indians have again attacked our settlements in strong force, obtaining possession of the country to within twelve miles of Denver. They are more bold, fierce, and desperate in their assaults than ever before. It is impossible to drive them out and protect the families at the same time, for they are better armed, mounted, disciplined, and better officered than our men. Each hour brings intelligence of fresh barbarities, and more extensive robberies." This same month Governor Crawford, of Kansas, telegraphed, "Have just received a despatch from Hays, stating that Indians attacked, captured, and burned a train at Pawnee Fork; killed, scalped, and burned sixteen men; also attacked another train at Cimarron Crossing, which was defended until ammunition was exhausted, when the men abandoned the train, saving what stock they could. Similar attacks are of almost daily occurrence."

South of the Cimarron all was desolation, and war raged unchecked from the Platte to the Pecos. Sheridan determined upon a winter campaign, although he understood well the sufferings entailed upon the troops by exposure on the open plains at that season. Yet he knew the habits of Indians; that they would expect immunity from attack and would gather in villages, subject to surprise. He, therefore, decided that the result would justify the necessary hardships involved. To this end smaller posts were abandoned, and the widely scattered soldiers ordered to central points in preparation for the contemplated movement. Devere had been deserted earlier, and Major McDonald had marched his men to Dodge, where Molly awaited his coming. Retained there on garrison duty, the two occupied a one-story, yellow stone structure fronting the parade ground. In October, orders to march reached "M" troop, Seventh Cavalry, at Fort Union, and the ragged, bronzed troopers, who all summer long had been scouting the New Mexican plains, turned their horses' heads to the northeast in hopefulness of action. With them up the deserted Santa Fe trail, past burned stations and wrecks of wagon trains, rode Sergeant Hamlin, silent and efficient, the old Confederate haversack fastened to his saddle, and his mind, in spite of all effort, recurring constantly to the girl who had gone to Dodge early in the summer. Was she still there? If so, how would she greet him now after these months of absence? The little cavalry column, dust-covered and weary, seemed fairly to creep along, as day by day he reviewed every word, every glance, which had passed between them; and at night, under the stars, he lay with head on his saddle, endeavoring to determine his course of action, both as to their possible meeting, and with regard to the following of the clue offered by the haversack. The time he had hoped for was at hand, but he could not decide the best course of action. He could only wait, and permit Fate to interfere.

Certain facts were, however, sufficiently clear, and the Sergeant faced them manfully. Not merely the fact that he was in the ranks, great as that handicap was, could have prevented an attempt at retaining the friendship of Molly McDonald. But he was in the ranks because of disgrace—hiding away from his own people, keeping aloof from his proper station in life, out of bitter shame. If he had felt thus before, he now felt it a thousand times more acutely in memory of the comradeship of her whose words had brought him a new gleam of hope. Never before had loneliness seemed so complete, and never before had he realized how wide was the chasm between the old and the new life. This constantly recurrent memory embittered him, and made him restless. Yet out of it all, there grew a firmer determination to win back his old position in the world, to stamp out the lie through which that Confederate court-martial had condemned him. If Le Fevre were alive, he meant now to find him, face him, and compel him to speak the truth. The discovery of that haversack gave a point from which to start, and his mind centred there with a fixed purpose which obscured all else.

It was after dark when "M" troop, wearied by their long day's march across the brown grass, rode slowly up the face of the bluff, and into the parade ground at Fort Dodge. The lights of the guard-house revealed the troopers' faces, while all about them gleamed the yellow lamps, as the garrison came forth to welcome their arrival. Guided by a corporal of the guard the men led their horses to the stables, and, as they passed the row of officers' houses Hamlin caught a furtive glimpse in a radius of light that gave his pulses a sudden throb. She was here then—here! He had hardly dared hope for this. They would meet again; that could scarcely be avoided in such narrow quarters. But how? On what terms? He ventured the one swift glimpse at her—a slender, white-robed figure, one among a group of both men and women before an open door, through which the light streamed—heard her ask, "Who are they? What cavalry troop is that?" caught the response in a man's voice, "'M' of the Seventh, from Fort Union," and then passed by, his eyes looking straight ahead, his hand gripping his horse's bit.

Thirty minutes later in the great barn-like barracks, he hung his accoutrements over the bed assigned him in the far corner, and, revolver belt still buckled about his waist, stood at the open window, striving to determine which of those winking lights shone from the house where he had seen her. There had been something in the eagerness of her voice which he could not forget, nor escape from. She had seemed to care, to feel an interest deeper than mere curiosity. The Sergeant's heart beat rapidly, even while he sternly told himself he was a fool. A hand touched his shoulder, and he wheeled about to grip Wasson's hand.

"Well, 'Brick,' old boy," said the scout genially, although his thin face was as solemn as ever; "so you fellows have come back to be in the shindy?"

"We 've been in it all summer, Sam," was the reply. "It's been lively enough south of the Cimarron, the Lord knows. I 've been riding patrol for months now. But what's up? No one seems to know why we were ordered in."

"It's all guess-work here," and Wasson sat down on the narrow bed and lit his pipe. "But the 'old man' is getting something under way, consolidating troops. Your regiment is going to be used, that's certain. I 've been carryin' orders between here an' Wallace for three weeks now, an' I 've heard Sheridan explode once or twice. He 's tired of this guerilla business, an' wants to have one good fight."

"It is getting late."

"That's the way he figures it out, accordin' to my notion. We 've always let those fellows alone during the bad weather, an' they 've got so they expect it. The 'old man' figures he 'll give 'em a surprise."

"A winter campaign?"

"Why not? We can stand it if they can. O' course, I 'm just guessin'; there 's no leak at headquarters. But Custer 's up there," with a wave of the hand to the north, "and they 've got the maps out."

"What maps?"

"I only got a glimpse of them out of the tail of my eye, but I reckon they was of the kintry south of the Arkansas, along the Canadian."

Hamlin sat down beside him, staring across the big room.

"Then it's Black Kettle; his band is down on the Washita," he announced. "I hope it's true."

"They 're arrangin' supply depots, anyhow; six companies of infantry are on Monument Creek, and five troops of cavalry on the North Canadian a'ready. Wagon trains have been haulin' supplies. There 's some stiff work ahead when the snow flies, or I miss my guess."

Hamlin sat silent, thinking, and the scout smoked quietly, occasionally glancing toward his companion. Finally he spoke again, his voice barely audible.

"That little girl you sent in with us is here yet."

The Sergeant was conscious that his cheeks flamed, but he never looked up.

"Yes, I saw her as we came in."

"She 's asked me about you once or twice; don't seem to forget what you did for her."

"Sorry to hear that."

"No, yer not; could n't no man be sorry to have a girl like that take an interest in him. 'T ain't in human nature. What did yer tell her about me?"

"Tell her!" surprised. "Why, I only advised her to hang close to you if anything happened. I didn't exactly like the style of the Lieutenant."

"Thet's wat I thought. Well, she's done it, though thet has n't pried her loose from Gaskins. He 's hauntin' her like a shadow. It 's garrison talk they 're engaged, but I ain't so sure 'bout thet. She an' I hev got to be pretty good friends, though, o' course, it's strictly on the quiet. I ain't got no invite to officers' row yit. She 's asked me a lot 'bout you."

"Interesting topic."

"Well, I reckon as how she thinks it is, enyhow. Yesterday she asked me 'bout thet scrimmage yer hed down on the Canadian. She 'd heerd 'bout it somehow, an' wanted the story straight. So I told her all I knowed, an' yer oughter seed her eyes shine while I wus sorter paintin' it up."

"Oh, hell; let's drop it," disgustedly. "The Lieutenant here yet?"

"Sure; his company is down on Monument, but he got special detail. He 's got a pull, Gaskins has."

"How is that?"

"His old man is Senator, or something, an' they say, has scads o' money. Enyway, the kid finds the army a soft snap. First scoutin' detail he ever had when you met him. Did n't hunt no danger then, so fur as I could see. Nice little dude, with a swelled head, but popular with the ladies. I reckon McDonald ain't objectin' none to his chasin' after Miss Molly; thet's why he 's let her stay in this God-forsaken place so long. Well, 'Brick,' I reckon I 've told all the news, and hed better move 'long."

"Hold on a minute, Sam," and Hamlin, suddenly recalled to earth, reached for the haversack hanging on the iron bedpost. "Moylan, the fellow who was killed in the coach with us, had this bag. According to Miss McDonald, he bought it here just before starting on the trip. See this inscription; those are the initials of an old acquaintance of mine I 'd like to trace. Any idea where Moylan found it?"

Wasson held the bag to the light studying the letters.

"Fourth Texas—hey? That your regiment?"

The Sergeant nodded, his lips tightly pressed together.

"Must hev come from Dutch Charlie's outfit," the scout went on slowly. "He picks up all that sorter truck."

"Where is that?"

"In town thar, under the bluff. We 'll look it up to-morrow."



One by one the barrack lights went out as the tired troopers sought their beds. Hamlin extinguished his also, and only one remained burning, left for emergency near the door, which flung a faint glow over the big room. But the Sergeant's reflections kept him awake, as he sat on the foot of his bed, and stared out of the open window into the darkness. There was little upon which to focus his eyes, a few yellow gleams along officers' row, where callers still lingered, and the glow of a fire in front of the distant guard-house, revealing occasionally the black silhouette of a passing sentinel. Few noises broke the silence, except the strains of some distant musical instrument, and a voice far away saying good-night. Once he awoke from revery to listen to the call of the guards, as it echoed from post to post, ceasing with "All well, Number Nine," far out beyond the stables.

The familiar sound served to recall him to the reality of his position. What was the use? What business had he to dream? For months now he had kept that girl's face before him, in memory of a few hours of happiness when he had looked into her dark eyes and heard her pleasant speech. Yet from the first he had known the foolishness of it all. He was nothing to her, and could never become anything. Even if he cleared his past record and stepped out of the ranks into his old social position, the chances were she would never overlook what he had been. Her gratitude meant little, nor her passing interest in his army career. All that was the natural result of his having saved her life. He possessed no egotism which permitted him to think otherwise. Years of discipline had drilled into him a consciousness of the impassable gulf between the private and the officer's daughter. The latter might be courteous, kindly disposed, even grateful for services rendered, but it must end there. The Major would see that it did, would resent bitterly any presumption. No, there was nothing else possible. If they met—as meet they must in that contracted post—it would be most formal, a mere exchange of reminiscence, gratitude expressed by a smile and pleasant word. He could expect no more; might esteem himself fortunate, indeed, to receive even that recognition. Meanwhile he would endeavor to strike Le Fevre's trail. There were other interests in the world to consider besides Molly McDonald, and his memory drifted away to a home he had not visited in years. But thought would not concentrate there, and there arose before him, as he lay there, the face of Lieutenant Gaskins, wearing the same expression of insolent superiority as when they had parted out yonder on the Santa Fe trail.

"The cowardly little fool," he muttered bitterly under his breath, gripping the window frame. "It will require more than his money to bring her happiness, and I 'll never stand for that. Lord! She 's too sensible ever to love him. Good God—what's that!"

It leaped out of the black night—-three flashes, followed instantly by the sharp reports. Then a fourth—this time unmistakably a musket—barked from behind officers' row. In the flare, Hamlin thought he saw two black shadows running. A voice yelled excitedly, "Post Six! Post Six!" With a single leap the Sergeant was across the sill, and dropped silently to the ground. Still blinded by the light he ran forward, jerking his revolver from the belt. As he passed the corner of the barracks the sentry fired again, the red flash cleaving the night in an instant's ghastly vividness. It revealed a woman shrinking against the yellow stone wall, lighted up her face, then plunged her again into obscurity.

The Sergeant caught the glimpse, half believing the vision a phantasy of the brain; he had seen her face, white, frightened, agonized, yet it could not have been real. He tripped over the stone wall and half fell, but ran on, his mind in a turmoil, but certain some one was racing before him down the dark ravine. There had been a woman there! He could not quite blot that out—but not she; not Molly McDonald. If—if it were she; if he had really seen her face in the flare, if it was no dream, then what? Why, he must screen her from discovery, give her opportunity to slip away. This was the one vague, dim thought which took possession of the man. It obscured all else; it sent him blindly crashing over the edge of the ravine. He heard the sentry at his right cry hoarsely, he heard excited shouts from the open windows of the barracks; then his feet struck a man's body, and he went down headlong.

Almost at the instant the sentry was upon him, a gun-muzzle pressing him back as he attempted to rise.

"Be still, ye hell hound," was the gruff order, "or I 'll blow yer to kingdom come! Sergeant of the guard, quick here! Post Number Six!"

Hamlin lay still, half stunned by the shock of his fall, yet conscious that the delay, this mistake of the sentry, would afford her ample chance for escape. He could hear men running toward them, and his eyes caught the yellow, bobbing light of a lantern. His hand reached out and touched the body over which he had fallen, feeling a military button, and the clasp of a belt—it was a soldier then who had been shot. Could she have done it? Or did she know who did? Whatever the truth might be, he would hold his tongue; let them suppose him guilty for the time being; he could establish innocence easily enough when it came to trial. These thoughts flashed through his mind swiftly; then the light of the lantern gleamed in his eyes, and he saw the faces clustered about.

"All right, Mapes," commanded the man with the light. "Let the fellow up until I get a look at him. Who the hell are you?"

"Sergeant Hamlin, Seventh Cavalry."

"Darned if it ain't. Say, what does all this mean, anyhow? Who's shot? Turn the body over, somebody! By God! It's Lieutenant Gaskins!"

Hamlin's heart seemed to leap into his throat and choke him; for an instant he felt faint, dazed, staring down into the still face ghastly under the rays of the lantern. Gaskins! Then she was concerned in the affair; he really had seen her hiding there against the wall. And the man's eyes were open, were staring in bewilderment at the faces. The Sergeant of the guard thrust the lantern closer.

"Lift his head, some o' yer, the man's alive. Copley, get some water, an' two of yer run fer the stretcher—leg it now. We 'll have yer out o' here in a minute, Lieutenant. What happened, sir? Who shot yer?"

Gaskins' dulled eyes strayed from the speaker's face, until he saw Hamlin, still firmly gripped by the sentry. His lips drew back revealing his teeth, his eyes narrowing.

"That's the one," he said faintly. "You 've got him!"

One hand went to his side in a spasm of pain, and he fainted. The Sergeant laid him back limp on the grass, and stood up.

"Where is your gun, Hamlin?"

"I dropped it when I fell over the Lieutenant's body. It must be back of you."

Some one picked the weapon up, and held it to the light, turning the chambers.

"Two shots gone, Sergeant."

"We heard three; likely the Lieutenant got in one of them. Sentry, what do you know about this?"

Mapes scratched his head, the fingers of his other hand gripping the prisoner's shoulder.

"Not so awful much," he replied haltingly, "now I come ter think 'bout it. 'T was a mighty dark night, an' I never saw, ner heard, nuthin' till the shootin' begun. I wus back o' officers' row, an' them pistols popped up yere, by the corner o' the barracks. I jumped an' yelled; thought I heerd somebody runnin' an' let drive. Then just as I got up yere, this feller come tearin' 'long, an' I naturally grabbed him. That's the whole of it."

"What have you got to say, Hamlin?"


"Well, yer better. Yer in a mighty bad box, let me tell yer," angered by the other's indifference. "What was the row about?"

The cavalryman stood straight, his face showing white in the glow of the lantern.

"I told you before I had nothing to say. I will talk to-morrow," he returned quietly. "I submit to arrest."

"I reckon yer will talk to-morrow, and be damn glad o' the chance. Corporal, take this fellow to the guard-house, an' stay there with him. Here comes the stretcher, an' the doctor."

Hamlin marched off silently through the black night, surrounded by a detail of the guard. It had all occurred so suddenly that he was bewildered yet, merely retaining sufficient consciousness of the circumstances to keep still. If they were assured he was guilty, then no effort would be made to trace any others connected with the affair. Why Gaskins should have identified him as the assassin was a mystery—probably it was merely the delirium of a sorely wounded man, although the fellow may have disliked him sufficiently for that kind of revenge, or have mistaken him for another in the poor light. At any rate the unexpected identification helped him to play his part, and, if the Lieutenant lived, he would later acknowledge his mistake. There was no occasion to worry; he could clear himself of the charge whenever the time came; half his company would know he was in barracks when the firing began. There were women out on the walk, their skirts fluttering as they waited anxiously to learn the news, but he could not determine if she was among them. Voices asked questions, but the corporal hurried him along, without making any reply. Then he was thrust roughly into a stone-lined cell, and left alone. Outside in the corridor two guards were stationed. Hamlin sat down on the iron bed, dazed by the silence, endeavoring to collect his thoughts. The nearest guard, leaning on his gun, watched carefully.

Voices reached him from outside, echoing in through the high, iron-barred window, but they were distant, the words indistinguishable. As his brain cleared he gave no further thought to his own predicament, only considering how he could best divert suspicion from her. It was all a confused maze, into the mystery of which he was unable to penetrate. That it was Molly McDonald shrinking there in the dark corner of the barracks wall he had no doubt. She might not have recognized him, or imagined that he saw her, but that spear of light had certainly revealed a face not to be mistaken. White as it was, haggard with terror, half concealed by straggling hair, the identification was nevertheless complete. The very piteousness of expression appealed to him. She was not a girl easily frightened; no mere promiscuous shooting, however startling, would have brought that look to her face. He had seen her in danger before, had tested her coolness under fire. This meant something altogether different. What? Could it be that Gaskins had wronged the girl, had insulted her, and that she, in response, had shot him down? In the darkness of conjecture there seemed no other adequate explanation. The two were intimate; the rumor of an engagement was already circulating about the garrison. And the stricken man had endeavored to shift the blame on him. Hamlin could not believe this was done through any desire to injure; the Lieutenant had no cause for personal dislike which would account for such an accusation. They had only met once, and then briefly. There was no rivalry between them, no animosity. To be sure, Gaskins had been domineering, threatening to report a small breach of discipline, but in this his words and actions had been no more offensive than was common among young officers of his quality. The Sergeant had passed all memory of that long ago. It never occurred to him now as of the slightest importance. Far more probable did it appear that Gaskins' only motive was to shield the girl from possible suspicion. When he had realized that Hamlin was a prisoner, that for some reason he had been seized for the crime, he had grasped the opportunity to point him out as the assassin, and thus delay pursuit. The chances were the wounded man did not even recognize who the victim was—he had blindly grasped at the first straw.

But suppose he had been mistaken? Suppose that woman hiding there was some one else? Suppose he had imagined a resemblance in that sudden flash of revealment? What then? Would she care enough to come to him when she learned of the arrest? He laughed at the thought, yet it was a bitter laugh, for it brought back a new realization of the chasm between them. Major McDonald's daughter interesting herself in a guard-house prisoner! More than likely she would promptly forget that she had ever before heard his name. He must be growing crazy to presume that she permitted him to remain on her list of friendship.

He got up and paced the cell, noting as he did so how closely he was watched by the guard.

"Have you heard how badly the Lieutenant was hurt?" he asked, approaching the door.

The sentry glanced down the corridor.

"He 'll pull out, all right," he replied confidentially, his lips close to the door. "Nothin' vital punctured. You better go to bed, an' forget it till mornin'."

"All right, pardner," and Hamlin returned to the cot. "Turn the light down a little, will you? There, that's better. My conscience won't trouble me, but that glare did."

With his face to the stone wall he fell asleep.



It was late in the forenoon when the heavily armed guard marched Hamlin across to the commandant's office. He had been surprised at the delay, but had enjoyed ample opportunity to plan a course of action, and decide how best to meet the questions which would be asked. He could clear himself without involving her, without even a mention of her presence, and this knowledge left him confident and at ease.

There were half a dozen officers gathered in the small room, the gray-bearded Colonel in command, sitting behind a table, with Major McDonald at his right, and the others wherever they could find standing room. Hamlin saluted, and stood at attention, his gray eyes on the face of the man who surveyed him across the table.

"Sergeant," the Colonel said rather brusquely, "you came in last night with 'M' troop, did you not?"

"Yes, sir."

"Had you ever met Lieutenant Gaskins before?"

"Once; he pulled me out of a bad scrape with a bunch of Indians out on the trail a few months ago."

"The same affair I spoke to you about," commented McDonald quietly. "The attack on the stage."

The Colonel nodded, without removing his eyes from the Sergeant's face.

"Yes, I know about that," he said. "And that was the only occasion of your meeting?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, Sergeant Hamlin, I purpose being perfectly frank with you. There are two or three matters not easily explained about this affair. I am satisfied of your innocence; that you were not directly concerned in the shooting of Lieutenant Gaskins. Men of your troop state that you were in barracks when the shots were fired, and the wound was not made by a service revolver, but by a much smaller weapon. Yet there are circumstances which puzzle us, but which, no doubt, you can explain. Two shots had been fired from your revolver," and he pushed the weapon across the table.

"I rode ahead of the troop in march yesterday," Hamlin explained, "and fired twice at a jack-rabbit. I must have neglected to replace the cartridges. Private Stone was with me."

"Why did you submit to arrest so easily, without any attempt to clear yourself?"

The Sergeant's gray eyes smiled, but his response was quietly respectful.

"I was condemned before I really knew what had occurred, sir. The sentry, the Sergeant of the guard, and the Lieutenant all insisted that I was guilty. They permitted me no opportunity to explain. I thought it just as well to remain quiet, and let the affair straighten itself out."

"Yet your action threw us completely off the trail," broke in McDonald impatiently. "It permitted the really guilty parties to escape. Did you see any one?"

"Black smudges merely, Major, apparently running toward the ravine. My eyes were blinded, leaping from a lighted room."

McDonald leaned forward eagerly, one hand tapping the table.

"Was one of them a woman?" he questioned sharply.

Hamlin's heart leaped into his throat, but he held himself motionless.

"They were indistinguishable, sir; mere shadows. Have you reason to suspect there may have been a woman involved?"

The Major leaned back in his chair, but the commandant, after a glance at his officer, answered:

"The pistol used was a small one, such as a woman might carry, and there are marks of a woman's shoe plainly visible at the edge of the ravine. Lieutenant Gaskins was alone when he left the officers' club five minutes before the firing began. You are sure you have never had any controversy with this officer?"

"Perfectly sure, sir. We have never met except on the one occasion already referred to, and then scarcely a dozen words were exchanged."

"How then, Sergeant," and the Colonel spoke very soberly, "do you account for his denouncing you as his assassin?"

"I presumed he was influenced by my arrest, sir; that the shock had affected his brain."

"That supposition will hardly answer. The Lieutenant is not severely wounded, and this morning appears to be perfectly rational. Yet he insists you committed the assault; even refers to you by name."

The accused man pressed one hand to his forehead in bewilderment.

"He still insists I shot him?"

"Yes; to be frank, he 's rather bitter about it, and no facts we have brought to bear have any apparent weight. He swears he recognized your face in the flare of the first discharge."

The Sergeant stood silent, motionless, his gaze on the Colonel's face.

"I do not know what to say, sir," he answered finally. "I was not there, and you all know it from the men of my troop. There has been no trouble between Lieutenant Gaskins and myself, and I can conceive of no reason why he should desire to involve me in this affair—unless," he paused doubtfully; "unless, sir, he really knows who shot him, and is anxious to shift the blame elsewhere to divert suspicion."

"You mean he may be seeking to shield the real culprit?"

"That is the only explanation that occurs to me, sir."

The Colonel stroked his beard nervously, his glance wandering to the faces of the other officers.

"That might be possible," he acknowledged regretfully, "although I should dislike to believe any officer of my command would be deliberately guilty of so despicable an act. However, all we can do now is endeavor to uncover the truth. You are discharged from arrest, Sergeant Hamlin, and will return to your troop."

Hamlin passed out the door into the sunshine, dimly conscious that his guarded answers had not been entirely satisfactory to those left behind. Yet he had said all he could say, all he dared say. More and more firmly there had been implanted in his mind a belief that Molly McDonald was somehow involved in this unfortunate affair, and that her name must be protected at all hazard. This theory alone would seem to account for Gaskins' efforts to turn suspicion, and when this was connected with the already known presence of a woman on the scene, and the smallness of the weapon used, the evidence seemed conclusive.

As far as his own duty was concerned, the Sergeant felt no doubt. Whatever might be the cause, there was no question in his mind but that she was fully justified in her action. Disliking the Lieutenant from the first, and as strongly attracted by the girl, his sympathies were now entirely with her. If she had shot him, then it was for some insult, some outrage, and he was ready to protect her with his life. He stopped, glancing back at the closed door, tempted to return and ask permission to interview Gaskins personally. Then the uselessness of such procedure recurred to him; the fact that nothing could result from their meeting but disappointment and recrimination. The man evidently disliked him, and would resent any interference; he had something to conceal, something at stake for which he would battle strenuously. It would be better to let him alone at present, and try to uncover a clue elsewhere. Later, with more facts in his possession, he could face the Lieutenant and compel his acknowledgment. These considerations caused him to turn sharply and walk straight toward the ravine. Yet his investigations there brought few results. On the upper bank were the marks of a woman's shoe, a slender footprint clearly defined, but the lower portion of the ravine was rocky, and the trail soon lost. He passed down beyond the stables, realizing how easily the fugitives, under cover of darkness, could have escaped. The stable guard could have seen nothing from his station, and just below was the hard-packed road leading to the river and the straggling town. There was nothing to trace, and Hamlin climbed back up the bluff completely baffled but desperately resolved to unlock the mystery. The harder the solution appeared, the more determined he became to solve it. As he came out, opposite the barrack entrance, a carriage drove in past the guard-house, the guard presenting arms, and circled the parade in the direction of officers' row. It contained a soldier driver and two ladies, and the Sergeant's face blushed under its tan as he recognized Miss McDonald. Would she notice him—speak to him? The man could not forbear lifting his eyes to her face as the carriage swept by. He saw her glance toward him, smile, with a little gesture of recognition, and stood there bareheaded, his heart throbbing wildly. With that look, that smile, he instantly realized two facts of importance—she was willing to meet him on terms of friendship, and she had not recognized him the evening previous as he ran past her in the dark.

Hamlin, his thoughts entirely centred upon Miss McDonald, had scarcely noted her companion, yet as he lingered while the carriage drew up before the Major's quarters, he seemed to remember vaguely that she was a strikingly beautiful blonde, with face shadowed by a broad hat. Although larger, and with light fluffy hair and blue eyes, the lady's features were strangely like those of her slightly younger companion. The memory of these grew clearer before the Sergeant—the whiteness of the face, the sudden lowering of the head; then he knew her; across the chasm of years her identity smote him as a blow; his breath came quickly and his fingers clenched.

"My God!" he muttered, unconsciously. "That was Vera! She has changed, wonderfully changed, but—but she knew me. What, in Heaven's name, can she be doing here, and—with Molly?"

With straining eyes he stared after them until they both disappeared together within the house. Miss McDonald glanced back toward him once almost shyly, but the other never turned her head. The carriage drove away toward the stables. Feeling as though he had looked upon a ghost, Hamlin turned to enter the barracks. An infantry soldier leaned negligently in the doorway smoking.

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