The Captain of the Gray-Horse TroopHamlin Garland / Western
Produced by Mary Meehan and The Online DistributedProofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This file wasproduced from images generously made available by TheInternet Archive/American Libraries.)
THE CAPTAIN OF THE GRAY-HORSE TROOP
By HAMLIN GARLAND
HARPER & BROTHERSNEW YORK AND LONDON
COPYRIGHT, 1901. BY THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY
COPYRIGHT 1902. BY HAMLIN GARLAND
I. A CAMP IN THE SNOW
II. THE STREETER GUN-RACK
III. CURTIS ASSUMES CHARGE OF THE AGENT
IV. THE BEAUTIFUL ELSIE BEE BEE
V. CAGED EAGLES
VI. CURTIS SEEKS A TRUCE
VII. ELSIE RELENTS A LITTLE
VIII. CURTIS WRITES A LONG LETTER
IX. CALLED TO WASHINGTON
X. CURTIS AT HEADQUARTERS
XI. CURTIS GRAPPLES WITH BRISBANE
XII. SPRING ON THE ELK
XIII. ELSIE PROMISES TO RETURN
XIV. ELSIE REVISITS CURTIS
XV. ELSIE ENTERS HER STUDIO
XVI. THE CAMP AMONG THE ROSES
XVII. A FLUTE, A DRUM, AND A MESSAGE
XVIII. ELSIE'S ANCIENT LOVE AFFAIR
XIX. THE SHERIFF'S MOB
XX. FEMININE STRATEGY
XXI. IN STORMY COUNCILS
XXII. A COUNCIL AT NIGHT
XXIII. THE RETURN OF THE MOB
XXIV. THE GRAY-HORSE TROOP
XXV. AFTER THE STRUGGLE
XXVI. THE WARRIOR PROCLAIMS HIMSELF
XXVII. BRISBANE COMES FOR ELSIE
XXVIII. A WALK IN THE STARLIGHT
XXIX. ELSIE WARNS CURTIS
XXX. THE CAPTURE OF THE MAN
XXXI. OUTWITTING THE SHERIFF
XXXII. AN EVENTFUL NIGHT
XXXIII. ELSIE CONFESSES HER LOVE
XXXV. THE BATTLE WITH THE WEEDS
XXXVI. THE HARVEST-HOME
XXXVII. THE MINGLING OF THE OLD AND THE NEW
THE CAPTAIN OF THE GRAY-HORSE TROOP
A CAMP IN THE SNOW
Winter in the upper heights of the Bear Tooth Range is a glitteringdesolation of snow with a flaming blue sky above. Nothing moves, nothingutters a sound, save the cony at the mouth of the spiral shaft, whichsinks to his deeply buried den in the rocks. The peaks are like marbledomes, set high in the pathway of the sun by day and thrust amid thestars by night. The firs seem hopeless under their ever-increasingburdens. The streams are silenced--only the wind is abroad in the waste,the tireless, pitiless wind, fanged like ingratitude, insatiate as fire.
But it is beautiful, nevertheless, especially of a clear dawn, when theshadows are vividly purple and each rime-wreathed summit is smit withethereal fire, and each eastern slope is resplendent as a high-way ofpowdered diamonds--or at sunset, when the high crests of the range standlike flaming mile-stones leading to the Celestial City, and the lakesare like pools of pure gold caught in a robe of green velvet. Yet alwaysthis land demands youth and strength in its explorer.
King Frost's dominion was already complete over all the crests, overtimber-line, when young Captain Curtis set out to cross the divide whichlay between Lake Congar and Fort Sherman--a trip to test the virtue of aSibley tent and the staying qualities of a mountain horse.
Bennett, the hairy trapper at the head of the lake, advised against it.The snow is soft--I reckon you better wait a week.
But Curtis was a seasoned mountaineer and took pride in assaulting thestern barrier. Besides, my leave of absence is nearly up, he said tothe trapper.
Well, you're the doctor, the old trapper replied. Good luck to ye,Cap.
It was sunrise of a crisp, clear autumn morning when they started, andaround them the ground was still bare, but by noon they were wallowingmid-leg deep in new-fallen snow. Curtis led the way on foot--his ownhorse having been packed to relieve the burdens of the others--whileSergeant Pierce, resolute and uncomplaining, brought up the rear.
We must camp beside the sulphur spring to-night, Curtis said, as theyleft timber-line and entered upon the bleak, wind-swept slopes ofGrizzly Bear.
Very well, sir, Pierce cheerily replied, and till three o'clock theyclimbed steadily towards the far-off glacial heights, the drifts everdeepening, the cold ever intensifying. They had eaten no food sincedawn, and the horses were weak with hunger and weariness as they toppedthe divide and looked down upon the vast eastern slope. The world beforethem seemed even more inhospitable and wind-swept than the land they hadleft below them to the west. The air was filled with flying frost, thesun was weak and pale, and the plain was only a pale-blue sea far, farbelow to the northeast. The wind blew through the pass with terribleforce, and the cold nipped every limb like a famishing white wolf.
There is the sulphur spring, sir, said Pierce, pointing towards adelicate strand of steam which rose from a clump of pines in the secondbasin beneath them.
Quite right, sergeant, and we must make that in an hour. I'd like totake an observation here, but I reckon we'd better slide down to campbefore the horses freeze.
The dry snow, sculptured by the blast in the pass, made the threadlikepath an exceedingly elusive line to keep, and trailing narrowed to aprocess of feeling with the feet; but Curtis set his face resolutelyinto the northeast wind and led the way down the gulch. For the firsthalf-mile the little pack-train crawled slowly and hesitatingly, like abewildered worm, turning and twisting, retracing its way, circling hugebowlders, edging awful cliffs, slipping, stumbling, but ever moving,ever descending; and, at last, while yet the sun's light glorified theicy kings behind them, the Captain drew into the shelter of the clump ofpines from which the steam of the warm spring rose like a chimney'scheery greeting.
Whoa, boys! called Curtis, and with a smile at Pierce, added, Here weare, home again!
It was not a cheerful place to spend the night, for even at this levelthe undisturbed snow lay full twelve inches deep and the pines werebowed with the weight of it, and as the sun sank the cold deepened tozero point; but the sergeant drew off his gloves and began to free thehorses from their packs quite as if these were the usual conditions ofcamping.
Better leave the blankets on, remarked the young officer. They'llneed 'em for warmth.
The sergeant saluted and continued his work, deft and silent, whileCurtis threw up a little tent on a cleared spot and banked it snuglywith snow. In a very short time a fire was blazing and some coffeeboiling. The two men seemed not to regard the cold or the falling night,except in so far as the wind threatened the horses.
It's hard luck on them, remarked Curtis, as they were finishing theircoffee in the tent; but it is unavoidable. I don't think it safe to tryto go down that slide in the dusk. Do you?
It's dangerous at any time, sir, and with our horses weak as they are,it sure would be taking chances.
We'll make Tom Skinner's by noon to-morrow, and be out of the snow,probably. The young soldier put down his tin cup and drew a map fromhis pocket. Hold a light, sergeant; I want to make some notes before Iforget them.
While the sergeant held a candle for him, Curtis rapidly traced with asoft pencil a few rough lines upon the map. That settles thatwater-shed question; he pointed with his pencil. Here is the dividingwall, not over there where Lieutenant Crombie drew it. Nothing is moredeceptive than the relative heights of ranges. Well, now take a lastlook at the horses, he said, putting away his pencil, and I'll unrollour blankets.
As they crawled into their snug sleeping-bags Curtis said again, with asigh, I'm sorry for the ponies.
They'll be all right now, Captain; they've got something in theirstomachs. If a cayuse has any fuel in him he's like an engine--he'llkeep warm, and so silence fell on them, and in the valley the colddeepened till the rocks and the trees cried out in the rigor of theirresistance.
The sun was filling the sky with an all-pervading crimson-and-orangemist when the sergeant crawled out of his snug nest and started a fire.The air was perfectly still, but the frost gripped each limb withbenumbing fury. The horses, with blankets awry, stood huddled closetogether in the shelter of the pines not far away. As the sergeantappeared they whinnied to express their dependence upon him, and whenthe sun rose they turned their broadsides to it gratefully.
The two men, with swift, unhesitating action, set to work to break camp.In half an hour the tent was folded and packed, the horses saddled, andthen, lustily singing, Curtis led the way down upon the floor of thesecond basin, which narrowed towards the north into a deep and woodedvalley leading to the plains. The grasp of winter weakened as theydescended; December became October. The snow thinned, the streams sangclear, and considerably before noon the little train of worn and hungryhorses came out upon the grassy shore of a small lake to bask in genialsunshine. From this point the road to Skinner's was smooth and easy,and quite untouched of snow.
As they neared the miner's shack, a tall young Payonnay, in the dress ofa cowboy, came out to meet them, smiling broadly.
I'm looking for you, Captain.
Are you, Jack? Well, you see me. What's your message?
The Colonel says you are to come in right off. He told me to tell youhe had an order for you.
A slouching figure, supporting a heap of greasy rags, drew near, and alow voice drawled, weakly: Jack's been here since Friday. I told himwhere you was, but he thought he'd druther lay by my fire than hunt ye.
Curtis studied the squat figure keenly. You weren't looking for the jobof crossing the range yourself, were you?
The tramplike miner grinned and sucked at his pipe. Well, no--I can'tsay that I was, but I like to rub it into these lazy Injuns.
Jack winked at Curtis with humorous appreciation. He's a dandy to rubit into an Injun, don't you think?
Even Skinner laughed at this, and Curtis said: Unsaddle the horses andgive them a chance at the grass, sergeant. We can't go into the fortto-night with the packs. And, Skinner, I want to hire a horse of you,while you help Pierce bring my outfit into the fort to-morrow. I musthurry on to see what's in the wind.
All right, Captain, anything I've got is yours, responded the miner,heartily.
The bugles were sounding retreat as the young officer rode up to thedoor of Colonel Quinlan's quarters and reported for duty.
Good-evening, Major, called the Colonel, with a quizzical smile and asharp emphasis on the word major.
Major! exclaimed Curtis; what do you mean--
Not a wholesale slaughter of your superiors. Oh no! You are Major bythe grace of the Secretary of Indian Affairs. Colonel Hackett, of theWar Department, writes me that you have been detailed as Indian agent atFort Smith. You'll find your notification in your mail, no doubt.
Curtis touched his hat in mock courtesy. Thanks, Mr. Secretary; yourkindness overwhelms me.
Didn't think the reform administration could get along without you, didyou? asked the Colonel, with some humor. He was standing at his gate.Come in, and we'll talk it over. You seem a little breathless.
It does double me up, I confess. But I can't consistently back outafter the stand I've made.
Back out! Well, not if I can prevent it. Haven't you hammered it intous for two years that the army was the proper instrument for dealingwith these redskins? No, sir, you can't turn tail now. Take yourmedicine like a man.
But how did they drop onto me? Did you suggest it?
The Colonel became grave. No, my boy, I did not. But I think I know whodid. You remember the two literary chaps who camped with us on our trialmarch two years ago?
The young officer's eyes opened wide. Ah! I see. They told me at thetime that they were friends of the Secretary. That explains it.
Your success with that troop of enlisted Cheyennes had something to dowith it, too, added the Colonel. I told those literary sharps aboutthat experience, and also about your crazy interest in the sign-languageand Indian songs.
You did? Well, then you _are_ responsible, after all.
The Colonel put his hand on his subordinate's shoulder. Go and do thework, boy! It's better than sitting around here waiting promotion. If Iweren't so near retirement I'd resign. I have lived out on these curseddeserts ever since 1868--but I'll fool 'em, he added, with a grimsmile. I'm going to hang on to the last, and retire on half-pay. ThenI'll spend all my time looking after my health and live to beninety-five, in order to get even.
Curtis laughed. Quite right, Colonel, and, then becoming serious, headded, It's my duty, and I will do it. And in this quiet temper heaccepted his detail.
Captain George Curtis, as the Colonel had intimated, was already amarked man at Fort Sherman--and, indeed, throughout the western divisionof the army. He feared no hardship, and acknowledged no superior on thetrail except Pierce, who was as invincible to cold and snow as a grizzlybear, and his chief diversions were these trips into the wild. Eachouting helped him endure the monotony of barrack life, for when it wasover he returned to the open fire of his study, where he pored over hismaps, smoking his pipe and writing a little between bugle-calls. Inthis way he had been able to put together several articles on theforests, the water-sheds, and the wild animals of the region he hadtraversed, and in this way had made himself known to the SmithsonianInstitution. He was considered a crank on trees and Indians by hisfellow-officers, who all drank more whiskey and played a better hand atpoker than he; but, after all, Curtis is a good soldier, they oftensaid, in conclusion. His voice in command is clear and decisive, andhis control of his men excellent. He was handsome, too, in a firm,brown, cleanly outlined way, and though not a popular officer, he had noenemies in the service.
His sister Jennie, who had devotedly kept house for him during hisgarrison life, was waiting for him at the gate of his little yard, andcried out in greeting:
How _did_ you cross the range in this weather? I was frightened foryou, George. I could see the storm raging up there all day yesterday.
Oh, a little wind and snow don't count, he replied, carelessly. Ithought you'd given up worrying about me.
I have--only I thought of poor Sergeant Pierce and the horses. There'sa stack of mail here. Do you know what's happened to you?
The Colonel told me.
How do you like it?
I don't know yet. At this moment I'm too tired to express an opinion.
From the pile of mail on his desk he drew out the order which directedhim to proceed at once to Fort Smith, and as secretly as may be. Youwill surprise the agent, if possible--intercepting him at his desk, sothat he will have no opportunity for secreting his private papers. Youwill take entire charge of the agency, and at your earliest convenienceforward to us a report covering every detail of the conditions there.
Now that promises well, he said, as he finished reading the order. Westart with a fair expectancy of drama. Sis--we are Indian agents! Allthis must be given up. He looked round the room, which glowed in thelight of an open grate fire. The floor was bright with Navajo blanketsand warm with fur rugs, and on the walls his books waited his hand.
I don't like to leave our snug nest, Jennie, he said, with a sigh.
You needn't. Take it with you, she replied, promptly.
He glanced ruefully at her. I knew I'd get mighty little sympathy fromyou.
Why should you? I'm ready to go. I don't want you trailing about overthese mountains till the end of time; and you know this life is fatal toyou, or any other man who wants to do anything in the world. It's allvery well to talk about being a soldier, but I'm not so enthusiastic asI used to be. I don't think sitting around waiting for some one to dieis very noble.
He rose and stood before the fire. I wish this whole house could belifted up and set down at Fort Smith; then I might consider the matter.
She came over, and, as he put his arm about her, continued earnestly:George, I'm serious about this. The President is trying to put theIndian service into capable hands, and I believe you ought to accept;in fact, you can't refuse. There is work for us both there. I amheartily tired of garrison life, George. As the boys say, there'snothing in it.
But there's danger threatening at Smith, sis. I can't take you into anIndian outbreak.
That's all newspaper talk. Mr. Dudley writes--
Dudley--is he down there? Oh, you are a masterful sly one! Yourtouching solicitude for the Tetongs is now explained. What is Dudleydoing at Smith besides interfering with my affairs?
He's studying the Tetong burial customs--but he isn't there atpresent.
These Smithsonian sharps are unexpectedly keen. He'd sacrifice me andmy whole military career to have you study skulls with him for a fewdays. Do you know, I suspect him and Osborne Lawson of this wholeconspiracy--and you--you were in it! I've a mind to rebel and throweverything out o' gear.
Jennie gave him a shove. Go dress for dinner. The Colonel and his wifeand Mr. Ross are coming in to congratulate you, and you must pretend tobe overjoyed.
As he sat at the head of his handsome table that night Curtis began toappreciate his comforts. He forgot the dissensions and jealousies, thecynical speculations and the bitter rivalries of the officers--heremembered only the pleasant things.
His guests were personable and gracious, and Jennie presided over thecoffee with distinction. She was a natural hostess, and her part in theconversation which followed was notable for its good sense, but Mr.Ross, the young lieutenant, considered her delicate color and shininghair even more remarkable than her humor. He liked her voice, also, andhad a desire to kick the shins of the loquacious Colonel for absorbingso much of her attention. Mrs. Quinlan, the Colonel's wife, was, by thesame token, a retiring, silent little woman, who smiled and nodded herhead to all that was said, paying special attention to the Colonel'sstories, with which all were familiar; even Mr. Ross had learned them.
At last the Colonel turned to Curtis. You'll miss this, Curtis, whenyou're exiled down there at old Fort Smith among the Tetongs. Here weare a little oasis of civilization in the midst of a desert ofbarbarians; down there you'll be swallowed up.
We'll take civilization with us, said Jennie. But, of course, weshall miss our friends.
Well, you'll have a clear field for experiment at Smith. You can tryall your pet theories on the Tetongs. God be with them!--their case isdesperate. He chuckled gracelessly.
When do you go? asked Mrs. Quinlan.
At once. As soon as I can make arrangements, replied Curtis, and thenadded: And, by-the-way, I hope you will all refrain from mentioning myappointment till after I reach Fort Smith.
The visitors did not stay late, for their host was plainly preoccupied,and as they shook hands with him in parting they openly commiseratedhim. I'm sorry for you, again remarked the Colonel, but it's a justpunishment.
After they were gone Curtis turned to his sister. I must leave hereto-morrow morning, sis.
Why, George! Can't you take time to breathe and pack up?
No, I must drop down on that agent like a hawk on a June-bug, before hehas a chance to bury his misdeeds. The Colonel has given out the news ofmy detail, and the quicker I move the better. I must reach there beforethe mail does.
But I want to go with you, she quickly and resentfully replied.
Well, you can, if you are willing to leave our packing in Pierce'shands.
I don't intend to be left behind, she replied. I'm going along to seethat you don't do anything reckless. I never trust a man in a placerequiring tact.
Curtis laughed. That's your long suit, sis, but I reckon we'll need allthe virtues that lie in each of us. We are going into battle withstrange forces.