Under Fire, page 1
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RED DOG'S ARREST.
_Frontispiece._ _Page 264._]
CAPT. CHARLES KING, U.S.A.,
AUTHOR OF "THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER," "MARION'S FAITH," "CAPTAIN BLAKE,"ETC.
BY C. B. COX.
"A bad dhrill, a wake voice, an' a limp leg--thim three things are thesigns av a bad man."--PRIVATE MULVANEY.
PHILADELPHIA:J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.1895.
COPYRIGHT, 1894,BYJ. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.
ELECTROTYPED AND PRINTED BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY, PHILADELPHIA,U.S.A.
GENERAL WESLEY MERRITT,U.S. ARMY,
OUR HONORED COLONEL IN THE OLD DAYS AND A VALUED
FRIEND THROUGH ALL THESE LATER
YEARS, THIS STORY
Trancriber's note: Minor typos have been corrected, and ads moved to theend of the book.
It is ten years since "The Colonel's Daughter" ventured before thepublic and found so many friends that "Marion's Faith" and later"Captain Blake" set forth in reinforcement, and even then there came thecall for more. Pelham's old regiment was not the only one to containeither odd, laughable, or lovable characters, so now the curtain israised on the Eleventh Horse,--a command as apocryphal as the --th, yetequally distinguished in the eyes of those who trod the war-path twentyyears ago.
It was the last day of Captain Wilbur Cranston's leave of absence. Forthree blissful months he had been visiting his old home in a bustlingWestern city, happy in the happiness of his charming wife in this herfirst long restoration to civilization since their marriage ten yearsbefore; happy in the pride and joy of his father and mother in havingonce more under their roof the soldier son who had won an honored namein his profession, and in their delight in the exuberant health andantics of two sturdy, plains-bred little Cranstons. The visit proved onecontinuous round of home pleasures and social gayeties, for MargaretCranston had been a stanch favorite in the days of her girl- andbellehood, and all her old friends, married and single, rose _en masse_to welcome her return. Parties, dances, dinners, concerts, theatre andopera, lectures, pictures, parks, drives and rides,--all the endlessresources of the metropolitan world had been laid at the feet of thegirl who, leaving them to follow her soldier lover to his exile andwanderings, had returned in the fulness of time, in the flush ofwomanhood, a proud wife and proud and happy mother. People could notunderstand her choice at the time of her marriage: "Cranston's allright, but the idea of going to live in a tent or dug-out," was thepopular way of putting it, and people were still unable to understandhow she could have ever found anything to enjoy in that wild life or tomake her wish to see it again. It was, therefore, incomprehensible tosociety that she and her two bouncing boys were utterly overwhelmed withdistress at having to remain in so charming a circle, so happy a home,when it came time for the captain to return. Society even resented it alittle. Juvenile society--feminine--took it amiss that the Cranston boysshould so scorn the arts of peace, and persist furthermore in saying thebuffalo and bear and wolves in the municipal "Zoo" were frauds ascompared with what they had seen "any day" all around them out on theplains. Tremendous stories did these little Nimrods tell of the big gameon which they had tired of dining, but some of their tales were true,and that's what made it so hard for junior society masculine, in whichthere wasn't a boy who did not honestly and justly hate these youngfrontiersmen, even while envying with all his civilized heart. Loud wasthe merriment at school over the Cranstons' blunders in spelling andarithmetic, but what--what was that as offset to their prowess onpony-back, their skill with the bow and sling-shot, their store ofIndian trinkets, trophies, ay, even to the surreptitiously shown Indianscalp? What was that to the tales of tremendous adventure in the land ofthe Sioux and Apache,--the home of the bear and the buffalo? Whatcity-bred boy could "hold a candle" to the glaring halo about the headof two who could claim personal acquaintance with the great war chiefsRed Cloud and Spotted Tail?--who had actually been to ride and hunt withthat then just dawning demigod of American boyhood,--Buffalo Bill? Sneerand scoff and cavil as did their little rivals for a time, calumny wascrushed and scoffers blighted that wonderful March morning when, beforethe whole assembled school, there suddenly appeared that paragon ofplainsmen, that idol of all well-bred young Westerners, he whom only onflaring posters or in the glare of the footlights had they beenpermitted to see, and smiling, superbly handsome, king of scouts andIndian-fighters, Buffalo Bill himself stepped into their midst andclasped the little Cranstons, madly rejoicing, in his arms, while theirfather, the cavalry captain, and even the dreaded teacher lookedapprovingly on. It was after that episode of no avail for even thesturdiest of their schoolmates to seek to belittle the Cranston fame.Louis, the elder, could not invent a whopper so big as to tax thecredulity of the school. Buffalo Bill was "starring it" with histheatrical company through the States that spring, playing someblood-curdling, scalp-taking; hair-raising border drama which all boyseager strove to see, and when his old chum and comrade, the captain,went to call on him at his hotel, the great chief of scouts would notrest until together they had gone to see his friends "the boys." Thatother parents should have been pestered half to death as a result ofthis visitation any one who knows boys has not to be told, and many werethe queries and complaints addressed to the laughing cavalryman uponthat score. Parents, as a rule, had no proper conception of the honestmerit and deserved fame of this transplanted hero, Bill,--were amazedto learn from Cranston that he was no fraud at all, but a man whom heand his regimental comrades swore by. A total change had come over thespirit of the school-boys' dreams. Nothing but Indian raids,buffalo-hunts, or terrific combats diversified the hour of recess. Thelittle girls chose romantic prairie names, were either Indian maidens orever-ready-to-be-rescued damsels in distress. The boys becameredoubtable chiefs or rival imitation scouts, but Louis Cranston alonewas permitted to play the _role_ of Buffalo Bill; in his presence noother boy dare attempt it.
It was a revolutionized society long before that budding May morning onwhich the captain had to take train for the far West, leaving wife andlittle ones to his father's care until the long threatened and nowimminent campaign should be over. Then, should God spare his lifethrough what proved to be the fiercest and most fatal of ten fierce andfatal summers, they should rejoin him at some distant frontier fort, andthe boys' triumphant reign at school be ended. Loudly did they clamor tobe taken with him. Stoutly did Louis maintain that his pony could keepup with the swiftest racer in the regiment, and indirectly did he giveit to be understood at school that just as soon as the war really beganhe'd be out with "C" troop as he had been in the past. The war had begunand some savage fighting had already taken place, when the orders werelaunched for the Eleventh Cavalry to concentrate for field service.Cranston wired that he would give up the last ten days of his leave, andMrs. Cranston, brave, submissive, but weeping sore at times, set topacking her soldier's trunk. It was their last evening together formany a long month, and their friends knew it, and therefore, even ifthey called to leave a sympathetic word with the grandparents, they didnot expect to see the captain and his wife. Once or twice thegray-haired mother had come to twine her arms about her big boy's neck,or to say that Mr. and Mrs. Somebody had just called, but wouldn'tintrude. It was, therefore, a surprise when towards nine o'clock shecame to announce a caller below,--a caller who begged not to bedenied,--Mrs. Barnard.
"_Who is_ Mrs. Barnard?" asked the trooper, looking up from the depthsof his big trunk.
"Oh, her husband owns about half the tenth ward," said Mrs. Cranston theelder, city bred, "and," hesitatingly, "you've often seen her inchurch."
"At church--yes," answered her daughter-in-law, "but no one ever seesher anywhere else. She has never called on me, has she?"
"No," said the elder lady. "They are old residents, though, and yearsago when the city was new your father and hers--indeed, her husband andmine--were well acquainted, but we drifted apart as the city grew. Shewas Almira Prendergast."
"I'm sure I never heard of her when I was a girl, though, of course, Iwas away at school a good deal. Every one knows her by sight now becauseshe's the most conspicuous woman in church. She dresses magnificently,"said Mrs. Cranston the younger. "I couldn't help noticing her diamondslast Sunday."
"They must have been big, Meg," put in the captain, reflectively, as hewas getting himself out of his smoking-jacket. "Let's see,--ours is ahundred-dollar pew down near the foot of the side aisle, and hers athousand-dollar box-stall just in front of the centre. Could they flashall that distance? They'd be useful for signalling----"
"Wilbur! I do wish you wouldn't mingle church and cavalry slang. It'sdownright irreverent, and at the bottom of your heart you're anythingbut an irreverent man."
"I won't," said the captain, solemnly; "at least I'll try to separatethe ideas--they are a trifle incongruous--if you'll tell me how at thatdistance you could mingle your devotions with appraisal of Mrs.Barnard's diamonds."
"I didn't. If you'd gone to church yourself you'd understand thesethings. I couldn't help it. I simply happened to be next to herafterwards--at communion."
"Oh, I see," said Cranston, giving a jab at his thinning hair with thethickest and stiffest of brushes. "That does bring us to close quarters,doesn't it?" Then with provoking deliberation he rearranged his necktieand began pulling on his coat. "Hum, let's see," he went on, his eyestwinkling and his lips twitching ominously, "anything wrong about Mrs.B., mother mine, or with the millionaire husband? No? I see: just someof those people one meets at the Lord's table and nobody else's."
"Wilbur!" exclaimed Mrs. Cranston, in tones of horror. "Indeed, indeed,mamma, he isn't a bit like that out on the frontier. It's only when hegets into civilized church circles that he says these outrageous things.If you could hear him read the burial service over some of our poorfellows as I have heard him, you'd know he lacked no reverence at all.He's queer,--he always has been about these social distinctions. Youknow and I know they are inevitable."
But leaving wife and mother to deplore his conduct and comfort eachother with the assurance that he really knew better and wasn't as bad ashe painted himself, which was occasionally in lurid colors, as must beadmitted, Captain Cranston went down-stairs with a certain stiffness ofgait which his intimates were well aware was attributable entirely to awar reminiscence of Pickett's parapet at Five Forks, but which nine outof ten, uninitiated, ascribed to military _hauteur_. He was stillsmiling his whimsical, teasing smile, for, though a devoted son,husband, and father, Wilbur Cranston was at times a trial to hisfeminine connections, and entertained on matters of church and statesome views that were incompatible with those of high society. Withopportunities second to none other when he joined the pioneer circle inthe early days, Mr. Cranston, senior, had but moderately prospered froma worldly point of view. Eminent in his profession, he was destitute ofany instinct of accumulation. He was a man the whole countyhonored,--whose word was his bond, whose purse-strings had never known aknot,--who had made large moneys in the law and spent them in charity,until now, occupying a social position at the top of the ladder, helived but modestly in the house that was once the envy of all hisneighbors, many of whom once, and more than once, the beneficiaries ofhis charity, now looked down upon him from the colossal heights of theirwheat elevators or sixteen-story office blocks. "The Cranstons wereamong our oldest and best people," said Society; "it is too bad they areso poor." For there had been a time when the old lawyer's health failedand practice was forbidden, and when Wilbur, once the recipient of aliberal allowance, felt called upon not only to resign that, but oftento help from a captain's pay. Better times had come, and the soldier sonhad been able to make investments for himself and for his father in farWestern mining property that yielded good return; but even when known asone of the few well-to-do men in his regiment, Cranston had persisted ina certain simplicity of living that some people could not understand.There were officers who had married wealthy women,--women whose gownswere superb, whose parlors and tables were richly furnished, whosehousehold establishments put to shame those of three-fourths of theircompanions; whereas Cranston, even when he was able to dress his familyfashionably and furnish his quarters elaborately, would not do it."Every year," said he, "some of our most promising young officers aregoing to the devil because they or their wives try to dress or toentertain as do their wealthy neighbors. It's all wrong, and I won't setthe example. It's getting to be the curse of our army, Meg, and if I hadmy way I'd introduce a law the reverse of that in force in foreignarmies. Over there no officer can marry unless he and his bride-electcan show that they will have over a certain income to live upon. In arepublican army like ours no man ought to be commissioned unless he willagree to live on less than a fixed amount for each successive grade."They called him "Crank Cranston" in the Eleventh for quite a while, butwithout affecting in the faintest degree his sturdy stand. Margaret'sgowns continued simple and inexpensive, and their mode of living modestas any subaltern's, and many women spoke of them as "close" and "mean,"but many men wished openly they had Cranston's moral courage. At home,too, better times had come. There was the old homestead, and Mr.Cranston as counsel of certain big corporations had his easy salary andlittle work. There was no anxiety, but there should be, said he, noextravagance.
On the other hand, neighbor Barnard, who in by-gone days, tindinner-pail in hand, tramped cheerily by the lawyer's rose-trellisedhome long hours before the household was awake, and who in his earlystruggles to maintain his little lot and roof had often availed himselfof his neighbor's known liberality, had been surely and steadilyclimbing to wealth and honors, was now among the ranking capitalists ofthe great and growing city, and a few years back had been united inmarriage to the admiration of his early school days,--AlmiraPrendergast, who, disdaining him in the early 50's and wedding the youthof her choice, was overwhelmed with joy to find in the days of want andwidowhood, fifteen years later, that Barnard had been faithful to hisideal, had remained single for her sake, and so at last had sheconsented to accept him and the control of his household. A pew in the"First Presbyterian" had been for years his habitual resort on theSabbath, but as time wore on and wealth accumulated and the lady of hislove assumed more and more the leadership in all matters, spiritual anddomestic, he saw his establishment blossoming into unaccustomedsplendor, he met new people, later comers from the distant East, anddropped the old, the friends of his boy days. He never meant to. He wasengrossed in his affairs. He let Mrs. Barnard "run the machine," as heused to phrase it, knowing nothing of that sort of thing himself, andAlmira's buxom beauty, attired now in splendor hitherto undreamed of,was rapidly rising into prominence in the new and growing circle whereinthe old families revolved but seldom, but the errant orbits of Easternstars were quick entangled; and some few years after their marriage anew and gorgeous edifice having been erected by the congregation of St.Jude's, and a daughter having been born to Barnard, the man of moneyheard without surprise and with little resistance his wife's change offaith in revealed religion. St. Jude's, a parochial offspring of old andestablished St. Paul's down-town, had become an ecclesiastical necessityin the growing north side. The Cranstons transferred their pew, as didothers, to follow a favorite rector and his gospel closer to ho
A boy with a telegram had just entered and was at the open door as thecaptain reached the hall. Under the gas lamp without Cranston saw thecarriage standing by the curb--a livery team, not the beautiful roansthat had caught his trooper eye the first Sunday of his leave when hewent to church with mother and Meg. The message was sharp and clearenough in all conscience:
"We march at once. You can catch us at Fetterman.
"So old Winthrop goes in command and Bob Gray as adjutant," he mused."Then I've no minute to waste."
His step was quicker, his bearing unconsciously more erect andsoldierly, as he entered the parlor and found himself facing the lady.
"I ask your pardon for keeping you waiting, Mrs. Barnard. I was in themidst of packing when you came, as I must go West at once."
She had not risen from the easy-chair,--a comfortable old family relicwhich stood opposite the old-fashioned piano. She leaned forward,however, so that the sealskin mantle, which the warmth of the room andthe length of her wait had prompted her to throw back, settled down fromher shoulders in rich and luxurious folds. She gave him, half extended,a hand, which he lifted and lowered once after the fashion of the dayand then released. He remembered her now perfectly,--the AlmiraPrendergast the big boys used to say was by long odds the prettiest girlin the days when half a dozen big brick ward schools were all the townafforded, but he did not say so, nor did she care to have him.
"Perhaps I ought to begin by apologizing for taking up your time," shesaid, as though not knowing how to begin; and then he saw that heavylines of grief and anxiety had eaten their way underneath her dark andluminous eyes,--ravages that no tinsel could cover or wealth dislodge."Was it the driver you spoke to at the door? I heard you say wait. I hadalready told him; but it isn't my carriage," she went on deprecatingly."Our horses cannot stand night work, the coachman says, and there'salways something the matter with them when they are most needed."
She was looking at him appealingly, as though she hoped he might suggestsome way of helping her to say what had brought her thither--besides alivery carriage; but Cranston had taken a seat and was waiting, thetelegram crushed in his hand. At last she spoke again.
"You--went to West Point, didn't you?"
"Well, then, you could tell me, couldn't you, how to get my boy there?"
"You mean by-and-by when he is old enough?"
"No. I mean now,--at once,--this week in fact."
"W--ell. That is hardly possible, Mrs. Barnard. Cadets are admitted onlyin June or September, and only then when there's a vacancy in theircongressional district. But, pardon me. How old is your boy?"
"He is twenty-one,--my eldest,--my first husband's."
"And you wanted to make a soldier of him?" asked Cranston, smilingly.
"Indeed, no! It's the last thing on earth I'd have chosen, nor would he,I am sure, if he were in his right mind."
"Oh, well, then I shouldn't worry about it, Mrs. Barnard. In thiscountry, you know, no one has to be a soldier unless he very much wantsto, and very often then he can't. And no boy who isn't in his right mindcould get into the Point even if given a cadetship. What made you thinkof it?"
"Why, it seemed--at least I was told--it was the only way out of thetrouble he is in. He--is already in the army, but I'm told it isn't sobad if one is an officer."
Cranston kept his face with admirable gravity.
"Then I assume that he has enlisted. If he is only just twenty-one andenlisted without your consent before his birthday, you can still havehim out."
"Oh, we've tried that," said Mrs. Barnard, gravely, "but he had triedtwice before he was twenty-one, and they refused him until he broughtpapers to prove his age. Then when he did enlist and we attempted tohave it annulled, they confronted us with these. They refused to believeour lawyer."
"Well, pardon me, which was right, the papers or the lawyer?"
"The paper. It was my own letter; but I didn't suppose they had itwhen--when we sought to have him released as not of legal age."
Cranston smiled. "Was it Mr. Barnard's proposition or the lawyer's?"
"Well, the lawyer said at first there was no other way that he knew of,we'd have to do that. Of course you understand I wouldn't ordinarilyauthorize an untruth, but--consider the degradation."
"The degradation of--having to--authorize the untruth?"
"No; of his enlisting,--becoming a soldier. I thought I'd had to suffera good deal, but I never looked for that."
And then Cranston saw her eyes were full of tears.
She had tried lawyers. She had used money. She had invoked the influenceof powerful friends. Each and everyone consulted assured her that thecase could be settled in a twinkling. They would get the boy dischargedat once. Then one after another all had failed, and then some onesuggested to see him, Cranston; he was a regular, perhaps he could help.It was hard to think of her son as a soldier, but, said she, if he hadto be, for a time at least, why not get him out of where he was and puthim at West Point? She had come, she said, to tell Cranston the wholestory, and then he could have kicked himself for the momentary amusementshe had caused him.
Ah, what an old, time-worn story of mother love, mother spoiling, mothersorrow! Her bonny boy, her first-born, wild, impulsive, self-indulgent,overindulged as was his father before him, he had gone the pace fromearly youth; had been sent to and sent from one school after another;had filled and forfeited half a dozen clerkships; tampered with cardsand drink and bad company. Mr. Barnard had been willing to doanything--everything for him, but he had dishonored every effort, brokenevery compact, failed in every trial, forfeited every trust. At lastthere had been hot and furious words, expulsion from the house and home,a life of recklessness, gambling and drinking on moneys wrung from heruntil her patience and supplies both had given out. Then some darkershadow,--arrest and incarceration, one more appeal to mother, one more,on her knees, from mother to husband, a compromised case, a quashedindictment, temporary residence at a resort for cure of inebriates--theone condition exacted by Barnard--and prompt relapse, when discharged,into his former habits,--disgraceful arrest because of
What Captain Cranston would have said to a man who had come to him withsuch a tale, and with such unflattering conception of the profession hewas proud of, need not here be recorded. It was a mother, helpless,sorrowing, and honest at least in her impression of the step taken byher recreant boy. She had come craving help and counsel, not instructionin the injustice of her estimates. Quivering, trembling, weeping, theheart-sick woman in her magnificent robes had opened the flood-gates ofher soul and poured out to this comparative stranger the story of herson's depravity. Aloft, two women listened awe-stricken to her sobs.Cranston brought her water, made her drink a little wine, and bade hertake comfort, and amazed her by saying that at last her boy had shown agleam of manhood, a promise of redemption. She looked up through hertears in sudden amaze. How was that possible? He must have been drunkwhen he did it, and couldn't have been anything but drunk ever since.Cranston patiently explained that so far from being drunk, the boy musthave been perfectly sober or they couldn't have taken him. He had beenfrequently to the recruiting office, according to her account, and musthave been sober at such times, or they would have discouraged his comingagain. He couldn't have been drinking to any extent since enlistment orhe could not be where she said he was, and knew he was, on daily duty asclerk in the office of the adjutant at the barracks. So far from itsindicating downfall, degradation, it was the one ray of hope of betterdays. She looked at him, joy and incredulity mingling in her swimmingeyes. "Then why does everybody I've consulted, even our rector, urge meto leave no stone unturned to get him out of it, even if we have to buyhim a place at West Point?" was her query. And again Cranston found ithard to control his muscles--and his temper. Had it come to this?--thathere in his old home the accepted idea of the regular soldier was thatof something lower than the refuse of the prisons and reformatories? Hecould only tell her that it was because they knew no better. Up to thetime of her boy's determination to enter the army had there been onesingle moment in the last five years when he had been free from hishabits of drinking? asked Cranston. No, not one. And yet that step washer conception of final degradation. What had occurred, he asked, tomake her feel renewed anxiety, to cause her to seek a cadetship for him?Because the boy had written that recruits were soon to be sent tocavalry regiments out on the plains, and he had asked to go. The thoughtwas terror. And Mrs. Barnard had learned that a congressman from theinterior of the State had a cadetship to dispose of, but he lived atUrbana, the very place where poor Harry had spent his two months in theretreat, and then had disbehaved so afterwards. And Mr. Goss, thecongressman, wanted references,--wanted him to pass examination, whichhe could not do, because he's only been a little while at school. Harrywrote a beautiful hand, and had read everything--everything, but hehated anything like arithmetic as a study, and Cranston had to smile andtell her that that in itself put West Point out of the question. But,said he, if he has ambition and ability, why not encourage him topersevere where he is and win commission from the ranks as many anotherboy had done? Bless the mother heart! That, too, had occurred to her,but they had told her it would take two years at least, whereas Harrywas a born leader, a born commander. That boy could step right out nowand command an army if need be, she said, and no doubt believed it; butwhen she wrote to Mr. Cooper about it (and Mr. Cooper it seems wasColonel Cooper, the boy's commanding officer), that gentleman repliedthat while the young soldier had certainly conducted himself in a mostexemplary way and had given promise of being an ornament to theservice,--"He used those very words," said she, producing the colonel'sletter. "See, 'an ornament to the service,'"--still, the colonel couldhardly promise that the boy could rise above the grade of sergeantinside of two years.
Cranston recognized the handwriting, and took the letter. "I knowColonel Cooper," he said, "and he means just exactly what he writes.Mrs. Barnard, I am glad you came. I am glad to take a weight off yourmind. I wish your friends and advisers were here that I might say thisin their presence, especially our good rector, but I say to you with allmy heart, I congratulate you on the step your boy has taken. I honestlybelieve he has done better for himself than you could do for him, and Iadvise you to let him go and learn campaigning on the frontier. It willmake a man of him if anything will," and he added under his breath, "orkill him."
"And if you meet my boy, you'll help him? You'll be a friend to him?"she smiled through her tears. "God bless you for so helping me."
"I'll help him every way I know how," said Cranston.
And so they parted. She infinitely comforted, he oddly impressed. ButMrs. Barnard felt that fate was still against her and her boy when, fourweeks later, flashed the news of savage battle with the Sioux, ofCaptain Cranston shot through the body and fearfully wounded in thefierce encounter.
Other author's books:
- A Daughter of the Sioux: A Tale of the Indian frontierThe Black SeaAn Apache Princess: A Tale of the Indian FrontierSunset Pass; or, Running the Gauntlet Through Apache LandWarrior Gap: A Story of the Sioux Outbreak of '68.Trumpeter Fred: A Story of the PlainsA Trooper GalahadFrom School to Battle-field: A Story of the War Days
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