A Trooper Galahad
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Presently, however, there came a man who could tell lots about Barclay, whether he knew anything or not, and that was one of the new transfers, Lieutenant Hodge by title and name. Hodge said he had served with the 30th along the Union Pacific, and had met Barclay often. In his original regiment Mr. Hodge had been regarded as a very monotonous sort of man, a fellow who bored his hearers to death, and the contrast between his reception in social circles in the regiment he had left, and that accorded him here at Worth so soon as it was learned that he knew Barclay, inspired Mr. Hodge to say that these people were worth knowing; they had some life and intelligence about them. The gang he had left in Wyoming were a stupid lot of owls by comparison. For a week Hodge was invited to dinner by family after family, and people dropped in to spend the evening where he happened to be, for Hodge held the floor and talked for hours about Barclay, and what he had to tell was interesting indeed; so much so, said Brooks, that some of it was probably a preposterous lie. To begin with, said Hodge, Captain Barclay was rich, very rich, fabulously rich, perhaps; nobody knew how rich, and nobody would have known he was rich at all, judging from the simplicity and strict economy of his life. In fact, it was this simplicity and strict economy that had given rise to the belief that existed for a year or two after he joined the 30th that he was hampered either with debts or with dependent relatives. Relatives they knew he had, because sisters sent their boys to visit him at Sanders, and he took them hunting, fishing, etc.; from these ingenuous nephews the ladies learned of others, nephews, nieces, sisters, cousins, aunts, who wrote long letters to Uncle Gal, and the mail orderly said he left more letters at Captain Barclay's quarters than at anybody's else. So Fort Sanders dropped the theory of debts and adopted that of dependants, and that held good for the first year of his service with them. He had joined from the volunteers, where he had risen to the grade of major. He was "pious," said Hodge, – wouldn't drink, smoke, chew, play cards, or swear, – thought they ought to have services on Sunday. He left the roistering bachelors' mess soon after his reaching the post, and had ever since kept house, his cook and housemaid being one old darky whom he had "accumulated" in the South during the war, – a darky who had been well-taught in the household of his old master, and who became extravagantly attached to the new. Hannibal could cook, wait at table, and tend door to perfection, but he had to learn the duties of second girl when his master joined the 30th in far Wyoming, and that was the only time a breach was threatened. Hannibal's dignity was hurt. He had been body-servant in the antebellum days, butler, cook, coachman, and hostler, but had never done such chores as Marse Barclay told him would fall to his lot when that reticent officer set up his modest establishment.Hannibal sulked three days, and even talked of leaving. The lieutenant counted out a goodly sum, all Hannibal's own, and told him that he would find the balance banked in his name in the distant East whenever he chose to quit; then Hannibal broke down, and was speedily broken in. All this had Hodge heard when the dames of Sanders and those of Steele or Russell were comparing notes and picnicking together along that then new wonder of the world, the Union Pacific. But all this was only preliminary to what came later.
Little detachments, horse and foot, were scattered all over the line of the brand-new railway while it was being built; every now and then the Indians jumped their camps and working-parties, and in the late fall of '67 Barclay had a stiff and plucky fight with a band of Sioux; he was severely wounded, but beat them off, and was sent East to recuperate. Now came particulars Hodge could not give, but that letters could and did. It was while Barclay was convalescing at Omaha Barracks that he met Miss Laura Waite, – a beautiful girl and a garrison belle. She was ten years his junior. This was her first winter in army society. She had spent her girl years at school, and now was having "simply a heavenly time," if her letters could be believed. Her father was a field officer of cavalry with rather a solemn way of looking at life, and her mother was said to be the explanation of much of his solemnity, – she being as volatile as he was staid. She too had been a beauty, and believed that beauty a permanent fixture. But Laura was fresh and fair, sweet and winsome, light-hearted and joyous, and the father for a time took more pride in her than he did in his sons. Major Waite was in command of the cantonment from which the relief party was sent when the news came that Barclay and his little detachment were "corralled." Major Waite became enthusiastic over the details of the cool, courageous, brainy defence made by the young officer against tremendous odds, covered him with all manner of thoughtful care and attention when he was brought into the cantonment, then, when the winter soon set in and the camp broke up, and Waite went back to Omaha Barracks, he took Barclay with him to his house instead of the hospital, and the rest followed as the night the day.
Barclay spent a month under the major's roof, won his esteem and friendship, but left his heart in the daughter's hands. If ever a man devotedly loved a beautiful, winsome young girl, that man was Galbraith Barclay; if ever a girl's father approved of a man, that man was Barclay; and if ever a man had reason to hope that his suit would win favor in a father's eyes, that man was Barclay; yet it did not. Major Waite's reply to the modest yet most manful plea of Lieutenant Barclay to be permitted to pay his addresses to the major's daughter surprised every one to whom Mrs. Waite confided it, and they were not few. The old soldier begged of the younger not to think of it, at least just yet. But when it transpired that the younger had been most seriously thinking of it and could think of nothing else, then the major changed his tune and told him what he did not tell his wife; and that only became known through the father's own intemperate language long months after. He told Barclay he knew no man to whom he would rather intrust his daughter's happiness, but he feared, he believed, she was still too young to know her own mind, too young to see in Barclay what he saw, and he urged that the young officer should wait. But Barclay knew his own mind. He was able, he said, to provide for her in comfort either in or out of the army, which few possible aspirants could say. He would listen to no demur, and then at last the father said, "Try your fate if you will, but let there be no thought of marriage before she is twenty, – before she can have had opportunity of seeing something of the world and of other men, – not these young whippersnappers just joining us here."
It was a surprise to him that Laura should accept Mr. Barclay. She came to him, her father, all happy smiles and tears and blushes, and told him how proud and glad a girl she was, because she thought her lover the best and noblest man she ever dreamed of except her own dear old dad. For a time Waite took heart and hoped for the best, and believed her and her mother, as indeed they believed themselves; and when Barclay went back to Sanders at the end of January he was a very happy man, and Laura for a week a very lonely girl. Then youth, health, elasticity, vivacity, opportunity, all prevailed, and she began to take notice in very joyous fashion. She did not at all recognize the doctrine preached by certain mammas and certain other damsels, that she as an engaged girl should hold aloof now and give the other girls, not so pretty, a chance. The barracks were gay that winter: Laura danced with the gayest, and when Barclay got leave in April and came down for a fortnight he found himself much in the way of two young gentlemen who danced delightfully, a thing he could not do at all. Yet he had sweet hours with his sweetheart, and grew even more deeply in love, so beautiful was she growing, and went back to Sanders a second time thinking himself happiest of the happy, or bound to be when, in the coming autumn, he could claim her as his own. But Waite was troubled. He was to take the field the 1st of May; his troops would be in saddle and on scout away to the west all summer long; his wife and daughter were to spend those months at the sea-shore and in shopping for the great event to come in November. He had a long, earnest talk with Barclay when once more the devoted fellow came to see the lady of his love on the eve of her departure for the East, but Barclay looked into her radiant, uplifted eyes, and could not read the shadow of coming events, of which she was as ignorant as he. In May he led his men on the march to the Big Horn, and in June she led with Cadet Lieutenant Winn the german at the graduation hop at West Point. Then Winn was assigned to duty, as was the custom of the day, one of two or three young graduates chosen as assistant instructors during the summer camp. He had an hour to devote to drill each morning and a dozen to devote to the girls, and Laura Waite, with her lovely face and form, was the talk of the brilliant throng of visitors that summer. She and her mother returned to the Point as guests of some old friends there stationed, a visit which was not on the original programme at all. Winn took the girl riding day after day, and to hops week after week. The shopping for the wedding went on betweentimes, and Winn even escorted them to the city and took part in the shopping. In fine, when November came, in spite of the furious opposition of her father, in spite of his refusal to attend the ceremony or to countenance it in any way, Winn, vice Barclay, honorably discharged, appeared as groom, and bore his bride away to a round of joyous festivities among army friends in New Orleans and San Antonio before their final exile to the far frontier. From that day to this no line had ever come from the angered and aging man, even when Laura's baby girl was born. Funds he sent from time to time, – he knew he'd have to do that, as he told her mother and she told her friends, – and then, just as more funds were much needed because of pressing claims of creditors whose bills had not been paid from previous remittances, Winn being much in the field and Laura becoming disburser general in his absence, the major suddenly died, leaving a small life insurance for his disconsolate widow and nothing to speak of for his children. They had sucked him dry during his busy life.
The Winns did not invite Mr. Hodge to dinner, and were not bidden to meet him. Laura was still in light mourning for her father, and for days she really heard very little of Hodge's revelations regarding her discarded Wyoming lover. It was through the nurse-girl, an old soldier's daughter, that she first began to glean the chaff of the stories flitting from house to house, and to hear the exaggeration of Hodge's romancings about Captain Barclay's wealth, for that, after all, proved the most vividly interesting of the travellers' tales he told. Barclay proved to be, said Hodge, an expert mineralogist and geologist, and this was of value when a craze for dabbling in mining stocks swept over Sanders. Barclay, who lived so simply in garrison, was discovered (through a breach of confidence on the part of the officiating clergyman, that well-nigh led to another breach) to be the principal subscriber to the mission church being built in Laramie City. It suddenly became known that Barclay had a balance in the local bank and reserve funds at the East, whereupon promoters and prospectors by the dozen called upon him at the fort and strove to induce him to take stock in their mines. Nine out of ten were sent to the right-about, even those who called his attention to the fact that Colonel This and Major That were large shareholders. One or two he gave ear to, and later got leave of absence and visited their distant claims. He was out prospecting, said Hodge, half the time in the fall of '68. The ventures of the other officers seemed to prove prolific sources of assessments. The Lord only knows how much fun and money the mine-owners of those days got out of the army. But they failed to impress the puritanical captain, and by the summer of '69 they ceased to do business in his neighborhood, for before sending good money after bad, officers had taken to consulting Barclay, and many an honest fellow's hoarded savings were spared to his wife and children, all through Barclay's calm and patient exposition of the fallacy of the "Company's" claims.
Then, said Hodge, when Channing, of the 27th, was killed by Red Cloud's band back of Laramie Peak, and his heart-broken widow and children were left penniless, somebody found the money to send them all to their friends in New England and to see them safely established there. And when Porter's wife was taken so ill while he was away up north of the Big Horn, and the doctor said that a trained nurse must be had in the first place, there came one from far Chicago; and later, after Porter reached the post, overjoyed to find his beloved one slowly mending and so skilfully guarded, the doctors told him she must be taken to the sea-shore or the South, and, though every one at Sanders knew poor Porter had not a penny, it was all arranged somehow, and Emily Porter came back the next winter a rosy, blooming, happy wife. No one knew for certain that all the needed money came from Barclay, but as the Porters seemed to adore him from that time on, and their baby boy was baptized Galbraith Barclay, everybody had reason to believe it. If Mrs. Winn ever wanted to experience the exhilaration of hearing what other people thought of her, she had only, said Mr. Hodge in confidence, to turn Mrs. Porter loose on that subject.
Then, too, said Hodge, there was Ordnance Sergeant Murphy and his family, burned out one winter's night with all their savings, and the old man dreadfully scorched in trying to rescue his strong box from the flames. It must have been Barclay who looked after the mother and kids all the time the old man was moaning in hospital. They moved him into a newly furnished and comfortable shack inside of a fortnight, and the Murphys had another saint on their domestic calendar, despite the non-appearance of his name in the voluminous records of their Church. All this and more did Hodge tell of Barclay, as in duty bound, he said, after first telling what other fellows long said of him, – that he was close and mean, a prig, a namby-pamby (despite the way he fought Crow-Killer's warlike band), a wet blanket to garrison joys, etc., etc.; and yet they really couldn't tell why. He subscribed just as much to the hop fund, though he didn't hop, – to the supper fund, though he didn't sup, – to the mess fund for the entertainment of visiting officers, though he didn't drink, – to the dramatic fund, though he couldn't act, – to the garrison hunt, though they said he couldn't ride. But he declined to give one cent towards the deficiency bill that resulted when Sanders entertained Steele at an all-night symposium at the sutler's and opened case after case of champagne and smoked box after box of cigars. "It was a senseless, soulless proceeding," said he, with brutal frankness. "Half the money you drank or smoked up in six hours could have clothed and fed all the children in Sudstown for six months."
"Lord, but they were mad all through," said Hodge, when describing it. "There wasn't a name they didn't call him all that winter."
"And yet I hear," said Mrs. Tremaine, a woman Fort Worth loved and looked up to as the – th did to Mrs. Stannard, "that for a long time past they have called him Sir Galahad instead of Galbraith."
"Oh," said Hodge, "that's one of old Gleason's jokes. He said they called him 'Gal I had' when he went to Omaha and 'Gal I hadn't' when he got back," – a statement which sent Major Brooks swearing sotto voce from the room.
"I don't know which I'd rather kick," said he, "Hodge or Gleason. I'd rejoice in Barclay's coming if it weren't – if Lawrence were only here, if Winn were only away."
An unhappy man was Major Brooks that gloomy month of March. The news from Washington via Department Head-Quarters was most discouraging as to Lawrence. He was both looking and doing ill. It seemed to "break him all up," said a letter from a friend in the Adjutant-General's office, that so few could be found to urge the Secretary to do something for him. What could they do? was the answer. Admitting that Lawrence had been grievously wronged, "whose fault was it?" said the Secretary; "not mine." He had only acted on the information and recommendation of officers to whom this work had been intrusted. If they had erred, he should have been informed of it before. "How could you be informed," said the Senator who had championed the poor fellow's cause, "when you resorted to a system that would have shamed a Spaniard in the days of the Inquisition, or the Bourbons with their lettres de cachet and the Bastile?" No one dreamed that Lawrence was in danger until he was done to death, and so, out of money, out of clothes, out of hope, health, and courage, poor Ned was fretting his heart out, while tender women and loyal friends were keeping guard over his shabby army home and caring for his two motherless lambs away out on the far frontier, awaiting the day when he should be restored to them.
It did not come, nor did Lawrence. An old comrade of the Sixth Corps, a gallant volunteer brigade commander, then in prosperous circumstances at Washington, had given him the shelter of his home, only too gladly keeping him in rations and cigars, as he would have done in clothes and pocket-money, but he shook his head at whiskey. "For God's sake, Ned, and for your babies' sake, leave that alone. It can't help you. You never were a drinking man before. Don't drink now, or your nerve will give out utterly." This and more he urged and pleaded, but Lawrence's pride seemed crushed and his heart broken. Legal advisers told his friends at last that restoration was impossible: his place was filled. He had only one course left if he would listen to nothing but restoration to the army, and that was to accept a second lieutenancy and begin over again at the bottom of the list. They broached it to him, and he broke out into wild, derisive laughter. "Good God! do you mean that a man who has served fifteen years in the army, fought all through the war and served as I have served, must step down from the squadron captaincy to ride behind the boys just out of the Point? be ranked out of quarters by my own son-in-law the next thing I know! I'll see the army in hell first," was his furious reply.
"No, Ned, not hell, but Texas. Take it; go back to the line, and once you're back in the army in any grade we'll legislate you up to the majority you deserve: see if we don't."
But Lawrence had lost all faith in promises, or in Congressional action. He turned in contempt from the proposition, and in early April came the tidings to San Antonio that he was desperately ill.
Meanwhile Mr. Hodge had lost the prestige of his first appearance at Worth, and fell into the customary rut of the subaltern. People found him as monotonous as did the martyrs of the Upper Platte, and, from having been the most sought-after of second lieutenants, he dropped back to the plane of semi-obscurity. This was galling. Hodge's stock in trade had been the facts or fables in his possession concerning the absent Captain Barclay, whose present whereabouts and plans were shrouded in mystery. A rumor came that he had decided not to join at all; that he was in Washington striving to arrange a transfer; that his assignment to the regiment and to the post where he must meet the woman who had jilted him for a cavalry subaltern was something unforeseen and not to be tolerated. The muster roll couldn't account for him other than as permitted to delay three months by Special Orders No. So-and-so, War Department, A.G.O., January 25, 1871. This gave Hodge unlooked-for reinforcements. A fortnight passed in March without a bid to dinner anywhere, without a request for further particulars as to Sir Galahad. So long as that interesting personage was expected any day to appear and answer for himself, it behooved Hodge to be measurably guarded in his statements, to keep within the limits of his authorities; but one day there came a letter from a lady at Department Head-Quarters to Mrs. Brooks, and before Brooks himself was made aware of the contents, he being at the club-room playing "pitch" and therefore beyond the pale of feminine consideration, the news was going the rounds of the garrison.
Mrs. Pelham, who was spending the winter in Washington, had written to an old and devoted friend of Major Waite's some very interesting news about Captain Barclay. The captain was in Washington a whole week, but had not called on Mrs. Pelham, though she had done everything she could think of for him when he was wounded. (The Pelhams were then at McPherson and near old Waite's summer camp, but no one ever heard of her ladyship's ever taking the faintest interest in Barclay until after he developed into a mine-owner and had been jilted by Laura Waite.) But let Mrs. Pelham talk for herself, as she usually did, as well as for every one else. "He spent the first week in February here, leaving just before poor Captain Lawrence came. No wonder he didn't wish to meet him! And Mrs. Waite was there, buttonholing everybody to get her pension increased, and wearing the costliest crape you ever saw, my dear, and – think of it! – solitaire diamond ear-rings with it! She had a room in a house where several prominent Congressmen boarded, and was known as 'the fascinating widow.' She sent to Barclay, – would you believe it? – and begged him to come to see her, and he actually did; and Mrs. Cutts, who lives in the same house, told me that you ought to have seen her that day, – no solitaire ear-rings or handsome crape, mind you, but tears and bombazine; and Mrs. Cutts vows that he gave her money. That woman is angling for another husband, and has been ever since poor Waite's death, and if anything were to happen to Mr. Winn it's just what Laura would be doing too. It runs in the blood, my dear. You know, and I know, that all the time she was at Omaha Barracks and the major in the field, she – a woman with a grown son and a graduating daughter – was dancing with the boys at the hops and riding – yes, and buggy-riding – with bachelors like those wretches Gates and Hagadorn." Buggy-riding was the unpardonable sin in Mrs. Pelham's eyes, she being "too massive to sit in anything short of the side seat of an ambulance," as said a regimental wit; and Mrs. Pelham looked with eyes of disfavor on women who managed to "keep their waists" as Mrs. Waite did.
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