A Trooper Galahad
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"But let me tell you about Captain Barclay," continued the letter. "General Corliss called to see me two evenings ago and said he heard that Barclay was actually a millionaire, – that he had large interests in Nevada mines that were proving fabulously rich. You can understand that I wasn't at all surprised to hear that the general had intimated to Mr. Ray, of his staff, that it would be much better for him to go and serve with his regiment awhile. Ray wouldn't be an acceptable son-in-law; he has no money and too many fascinations, and there are both the Corliss girls, you know, to be provided for, and Miranda is already pass?, and Ray has resigned the place, and the place is vacant, for – would you believe it? – they say the general tendered it to Barclay, and Barclay declined. Why, when we were all at McPherson there wasn't anything satirical the Corlisses didn't say about Barclay, and now that he has money they bow down to and worship him." ("Something Mrs. Pelham wouldn't do for the world," said Mrs. Brooks to herself, with an odd smile.) "And when the general was asked about it yesterday he couldn't deny having made the offer, but said the reason Captain Barclay declined was that he would very probably resign in a few weeks, his business interests being such as to render it necessary for him to leave the army. So, my dear, you won't have the millionaire in Texas, after all, and I fancy how deeply Laura Winn will be disappointed. No matter how much she cares for her husband, she wouldn't be her mother's daughter if she didn't try to fascinate him over again."
Fancy the comfort of having such a letter as that to read to an appreciative audience! Mrs. Brooks fled with it to Mrs. Frazier, who thought it ought not to be read, – it was too like Dorothy Pelham for anything. But Mrs. Brooks took and read it to neighbors who were chatting and sewing together and had no such scruples. And that night it was dribbling about the post that Barclay had decided to resign, had refused a detail on the staff of General Corliss: somebody else would get Ned Lawrence's troop. Brooks heaved a sigh and said to himself he was glad of it, and the women heaved a sigh and wished he might have come, if only for a little while, just to make things interesting: "it would be such a novelty to have a millionaire mine-owner in garrison and actually doing duty as a captain of cavalry." Finally they began to wonder what Mrs. Winn would say now, she having had nothing at all to say.
That very evening it chanced to occur to Mr. Hodge that he had not returned Lieutenant Winn's call (by card, – the cavalryman having dropped in when he knew the new arrival to have dropped out), and when Hodge presented himself at the Winns' (he had spoken of his intention at mess in the presence and hearing of the negro attendant, who had mentioned it without delay to the Winns' colored combination of cook and serving-maid, who had come over to borrow a cup of cooking sherry, it being too far to the sutler's, and that damsel had duly notified her mistress of the intended honor), he was shown into the dimly lighted army sitting-room, where, toasting her feet before the fire, sat dreaming the young mistress of the establishment, who started up in apparent surprise.She had heard neither the step nor the ring. Very possibly she was dozing, she admitted, for baby was sleeping aloft and her husband was gone. She was attired in a silken gown that Hodge described somewhat later at the major's as "puffickly stunning," – a garment that revealed the rich curves of her beautiful throat and neck and arms; women who heard wondered why she should be wearing that most becoming evening robe when there was not even a hop. She looked handsomer than the gown, said Hodge, as she rose and greeted him, her cheeks flushed, her eyes languorous and smouldering at first, then growing slowly brilliant. She apologized for the absence of Mr. Winn. He was spending much time at the office just now. "He is regimental commissary, you know, or at least he has been," she explained. Hodge knew all about that, and he also knew that if what he heard about the post was true it would have been better had Winn spent more time at the office before. Then Mrs. Winn was moved to be gracious. She had heard so many, many pleasant things of Mr. Hodge since his arrival. She was so honored that he should call when he must be having so many claims on his time, so many dinner-calls to pay. She and Mr. Winn were so sorry they had been unable to entertain Mr. Hodge, but, until the cook they were expecting from San Antonio came, they were positively starving, and could invite no one to share their scraps. "That cook has been expected a whole year," said other women, but Mrs. Winn paraded him as the cause of her social short-comings as confidently as ever. Then Mrs. Winn went on to speak of how much she had heard of Hodge at Omaha, – dear Omaha. "What lovely times we had along the Platte in the good old days!" Hodge blushed with joy, and preened and twittered and thought how blessed a thing it was to be welcomed to the fireside of such a belle and beauty and to be remembered by her as one of the gay young bachelors at Sidney. "Such wicked stories as we heard of you scapegraces from time to time," said she, whereat Hodge looked as though he might, indeed, have been shockingly wicked, as perhaps he had. Indeed, she feared they, the young officers, were "a sad lot, a sad lot," and looked up at him from under the drooping lashes in a way that prompted him to an inspiration that was almost electric in its effect on him. Hodge fairly seemed to sparkle, to scintillate. "Sad! We were in despair," said he, "but that was when we heard of your engagement – oh, ah, the second one, I mean," he stumbled on, for it would never do, thought he, to mention the first.
But he need have had no hesitation. Laura Winn had heard from other and obscurer sources something of the rumors floating over the post that very day. She had planned to drop in at the colonel's, where the Fraziers entertained at dinner and music that very evening, in hopes of hearing accidentally something definite, for Winn was one of those useless husbands who never hear anything of current gossip. But women might not talk if they thought she wished to hear, and fate had provided her a better means. She saw here and now the opportunity and the man. It was Hodge who had told so much that was of vivid interest to her. It was Hodge she had been longing to meet for days, but Winn had held him aloof, and now here she had this ingenuous repository of Barclayisms all to herself until Winn should return; the chance was not to be lost.
"I love to live over those dear old days when I was a girl," she said. "Friends seemed so real then, men so true, life so buoyant. Sometimes I find myself wishing there were more of the old friends, the old set, here. We seem – so much more to each other, don't you know, Mr. Hodge?" And Hodge felt sure "we" did, and hitched his chair a foot nearer the fire.
"Of course I was younger then, and knew so little of the world, and yet, knowing it as I do now – I can say this to you, you know, Mr. Hodge, – I couldn't to another soul here, for you were of us, you served with father's column" (Hodge's service was limited to playing poker with "those wretches Gates and Hagadorn" and others of Waite's command on one or two memorable occasions, and the resultant hole in his purse was neither as broad as a church nor deep as a well, but 'twould serve). "I've often felt here as though I would give anything to see some of the dear old crowd; not that people are not very lovely here, but, you know, we army friends cling so to the old associations." And now the beautiful eyes seemed almost suffused, and Hodge waxed eloquent.
"I am thrice fortunate," said he, recalling the lines of his Maltravers, "in that I am numbered among them." And now, like Laura, he looked upon Worth as cold and dormant as compared with the kindling friendships of the distant Platte.
"Indeed you are!" said she. "You bring back the sweetest days of my life, and some of the saddest. I have no one to speak to me, you know, – of course – until you did a moment ago. Tell me, is – is his life so changed as – as they say it is?"
"I never saw a man so broke up," he responded. "He never smiled after you – after – after it was broken off, you know." Barclay's smile was as rare as a straight flush anyhow, he admitted to himself, but the assertion sounded well.
"And – of late – what have you heard of him?" she asked. And Hodge poured forth his latest news, and added more. He, too, he said, had had a letter from an intimate friend. Captain Barclay had declared that the assignment to the Twelfth Cavalry was impossible, Texas was impossible. His business interests would necessitate his declining if, indeed, there were no other reasons. General Corliss had tendered him the position of aide-de-camp and made Billy Ray of the – th resign to make way for him, and the moment Barclay found that out he went to Ray and told him the whole business was without his (Barclay's) knowledge, and sooner than displace him he would refuse. "Yes," said Hodge, "that's the way my friend heard it from Ray himself. Now, if Barclay could only get a detail on McDowell's staff in California it would have suited him to a tee; then he could have looked after his Nevada interests and his Wyoming pensioners too."
Did Mr. Hodge know surely about Mr. Barclay's wealth? Was it all true? he was asked.
Oh, yes, there wasn't a doubt of it, said Hodge. It was just another of those cases where a man had money in abundance, and yet would have given it all, he added, sentimentally, but here she uplifted rebukingly her white, slim hand, – or was it warningly? for there came a quick footfall on the porch without. The hall door opened sharply, letting in a gust of cold night wind, and, throwing off his cavalry cape with its faded yellow lining, Lieutenant Winn strode through the hallway into his little den at the rear.
"You will come and see me again," she murmured low, while yet the footsteps resounded, "it has been so – good to see you, – so like old times. We'll have to talk of other things now. Mr. Winn doesn't like old times too well."
But Mr. Winn never so much as looked in the parlor door until she called to him. Then, as she saw his face, the young wife arose with anxiety in her own.
"What is it? Where are you going – with your revolver, too? Mr. Hodge, dear."
"Oh-h! Beg pardon, Mr. Hodge. Glad to see you," was Winn's distraught acknowledgment of the presence of the visitor, as he extended a reluctant hand. "My sergeant can't be found," he went on, hurriedly. "They say he's gone to Fuller's ranch, and it may be all right, but the colonel has ordered out a patrol to fetch him back. Don't worry, Laurie; I may have to ride out with it."
And hurriedly he kissed her and bounded down the steps.
For a moment she stood in the doorway, the light from the hall lamp shining on her dusky hair and proud, beautiful face, forgetful of the man who stood gazing at her. Then with a shiver she suddenly turned.
"It's the second time that Sergeant Marsden has been missed in just this way, when he was most needed, and – it's so imprudent, so – and my husband is so imprudent, so unsuspicious. Mr. Hodge," she cried, impulsively, "if you've heard anything, or if you do hear anything, about him or Mr. Winn, be a friend to me and tell me, won't you?" And there was nothing Hodge would not have promised, nothing he would not have told, but the door of the adjoining quarters slammed, an officer came striding along the porch common to the double set, and the clank of a sabre was heard as he neared them.
"Winn gone?" he asked. "Don't worry, Mrs. Winn. We'll overhaul that scoundrel before he can reach the settlements, unless – "
"But what is wrong? What has happened, Mr. Brayton?" she asked, her face white with dread, her heart fluttering.
"My Lord, Mrs. Winn, I beg your pardon! I supposed of course he had told you. Marsden's bolted. Colonel Riggs, the inspector-general, got here to-night with Captain Barclay, instead of coming by regular stage Saturday, and Marsden lit out the moment he heard of their arrival. Of course we hope Winn isn't badly bitten."
But her thoughts were of another matter now. "Captain Barclay," she faltered, "here? Why, I – I heard – "
"Yes," shouted the young officer, as he went clattering down the steps. "'Scuse me – I've got to mount at once," as an orderly came running up at the moment with his horse. "Riggs has come, post-haste, only Barclay and one man with him besides the driver. It's lucky that Friday gang never got wind of it."
For forty-eight hours Fort Worth was in turmoil. To begin with, the sudden, unheralded advent of a department inspector in those days meant something ominous, and from Frazier down to the drum-boys the garrison scented mischief the moment that familiar old black-hooded, dust-covered spring wagon, drawn by the famous six-mule team, came spinning in across the mesa just after retreat, no escort whatever being in sight. Cavalrymen had trotted alongside, said Riggs, from two of the camps on the way, but they had made that long day's drive from Crockett Springs all alone, trusting to luck that the Friday gang, so called, would not get wind of it. Just who and how many constituted that array of outlaws no man, including its own membership, could accurately say. Two paymasters, two wagon-trains, and no end of mail-stages had been "jumped" by those enterprising road agents in the course of the five years that followed the war, and not once had a conviction occurred. Arrests had been made by marshals, sheriffs, and officers in command of detachments, but a more innocent lot of victims, according to the testimony of friends and fellow-citizens, never dwelt in Dixie. Three only of their number had been killed and left for recognition in the course of those three years. One only of these was known, and the so-called Friday gang managed to surround its haunts, its movements, and its membership with a mystery that defied civil officials and baffled the military. Escorts the size of a cavalry platoon had been needed every time a disbursing officer went to and fro, and a sizable squad accompanied the stage whenever it carried even a moderate amount of treasure. At three points along the road from the old Mexican capital to the outlying posts, strong detachments of cavalry had been placed in camp, so that relays of escorts might be on hand when needed. At three different times within the past two years, strong posses had gone with the civil officials far into the foot-hills in search of the haunts of the band, but no occupied haunt was ever found, no band of any size or consequence ever encountered; yet depredations were incessant. The mail-stage came and went with guarded deliberation. The quartermaster's trains were accompanied by at least a company of infantry. The sutler's wagons travelled with the quartermaster's train, and the sutler's money went to San Antonio only when the quartermaster and commissary sent theirs, and then a whole squadron had been known to ride in charge. Anything from a wagon-train down to a buckboard was game for the gang, and soldiers, ranchmen, and prospectors told stories of having been halted, overhauled, and searched by its masked members at various times, and, whether found plethoric or poor, having been hospitably entertained as soon as robbed of all they possessed. Only four days before Riggs made his venturesome dash, three discharged soldiers, filled with impatience and whiskey, had sought to run the gauntlet to the camp at Crockett's, and came back, in the robbers' cast-off clothing, to "take on" for another term, having parted with their uniforms and the savings of several years at the solicitation of courteous strangers they met along the route. Nothing but an emergency could have brought Riggs, full tilt, for he was getting along in years and loved the comforts of his army home.
Emergency it was, as he explained to Frazier instantly on his arrival. The general had indubitable information that ranches to the south had long been buying government stores, bacon, feed, flour, coffee, etc. The source of their supply could only be the warehouses at Worth, and Marsden was a "swell" sergeant, whose airs and affluence had made him the object of suspicion. Those were the days when cavalry regiments had a commissary, but Congress did away with the office, and Winn, whom an indulgent colonel had detailed to that supposedly "soft snap" when regimental head-quarters were stationed at Worth, had been left there with his bulky array of boxes and barrels when the colonel and staff were transferred to a more southern post, the understanding being that he was to turn over everything to Frazier's new quartermaster as soon as that official should arrive. Frazier's appointee, however, was a lieutenant from a distant station. The War Department had not improved the appointment when made. Correspondence had been going on, and only within the week was notification received that the choice was finally confirmed and that Lieutenant Trott would soon arrive. Meantime Winn remained, but the stores were going. Somebody had money enough to bribe the sentries nightly posted at the storehouse at the northern corner of the big rectangle, and wagon-load after wagon-load must have been driven away. Outwardly, as developed by the count made early on the morning following Riggs's coming, all was right, but a veteran cavalry sergeant scoffingly knocked in the heads of cask, box, and barrel, and showed how bacon by the cord had been replaced by rags and boulders, sugar, coffee, and flour by bushels of sand, molasses and vinegar by branch water, and tea and tobacco by trash. "Two to three thousand dollars' worth of rations gone," said Riggs, at noon, "and the devil to pay if Winn cannot." Vain the night ride to Fuller's ranch in search of Marsden. That worthy had long since feathered his portable nest, and on one of the quartermaster's best horses had left the post within the half-hour of Riggs's coming, no man knew for what point after once he crossed the ford. Hoof-tracks by the hundred criss-crossed and zigzagged over the southward mesa. Thick darkness had settled down. Fuller's people swore no signs of him had been seen, and, though patrols kept on all night, poor Winn came back despairing an hour before the dawn to face his fate; even at noon he had hardly begun to realize the extent of his overwhelming loss.
"Go home and try to sleep," said the colonel, sadly, to the dumb and stricken man. "You can do no good here. I'll send the doctor to you."
But Winn started up and shook the old fellow's kindly hand. "I cannot go. My God! I must know the whole business," he cried. "I cannot sleep or eat a morsel."
"Whatever you do, don't drink," said Riggs, in not unkindly warning. "Go and see your wife, anyhow, for an hour or so. She has sent three times." But words were useless. Sympathetic comrades came and strove with him and said empty words of hope or cheer, – empty, because they knew poor Winn had not a soul in the world to whom to look for help. Kin to half a dozen old army names, it helped him not a whit, for no one of them was blessed with means beyond the monthly pay, and some had not even that unmortgaged. Twenty-five hundred dollars' shortage already, to say nothing of the cash for recent sales, and more, no doubt, to come. The very thought was ruin. Refusing comfort, the hapless man sat down at his littered desk, stared again at the crowded, dusty pigeon-holes, and saw nothing, nothing but misery, if not despair.
Brayton went over at luncheon-time and begged a word with Mrs. Winn. She peered over the balustrade from the second story, with big, black-rimmed eyes, but could not come down, could not leave baby, who was fretful, she said. Oh, why didn't Mr. Winn come home? What good did it do to stay over there and worry? When would they get through? Brayton couldn't say, but Winn couldn't come, – felt he must stay at the office; but if Mrs. Winn would have some tea and a bite of luncheon prepared, he, Brayton, would gladly take it over. Yet even this friendly office seemed to bring no solace. Winn barely sipped the tea or tasted the savory broth. Frazier and Riggs went out to luncheon, leaving him still seated at his desk; and their faces were black with gloom when they reached the colonel's door. Winn's distressing plight, following so shortly after the dire misfortune that had happened to Lawrence, would have saddened the whole garrison and tinged all table-talk with melancholy but for the blessed antidote afforded in Captain Barclay's sudden and most unlooked-for coming.
And what a surprise it was! All one afternoon and part of one evening had Fort Worth been telling that Captain Barclay had refused the assignment to a regiment and post where he must meet Laura Winn; that he had resigned rather than encounter once more the woman who had played him false; that he was too wealthy to care to bury himself in this out-of-the-way hole in Texas anyhow; and even while they were talking, all unheralded, here he was. The major's hospitable doors opened to receive him within ten minutes of his dust-covered advent, and only by hearsay all that night could the garrison know of his presence. One small sole-leather trunk, with the travelling-bag, rifle, field-glasses, canteen, and lunch-box, constituted all the personal luggage of the new arrival. It could not even be said that any one outside of Brooks's had even seen him, so coated with dust were the contents of that old spring wagon when unloaded at the colonel's steps; and many a woman hastened to her door on the following morning, attracted thither by the announcement that Captain Barclay was on the major's porch.
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