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LANIER OF THE CAVALRY
A Week's Arrest
GENERAL CHARLES KING
Author of "The Colonel's Daughter," "Marion's Faith," "Captain Blake," "Foes in Ambush," "Under Fire," etc.
With illustrations by Frank McKernan
[Illustration: "TELL HIM THAT I'D LIKE AN EXTENSION OF ARREST."
Philadelphia &London J. B. Lippincott Company 1909 Copyright, 1909 by J. B. Lippincott Company Published April, 1909 Printed by J. B. Lippincott Company The Washington Square Press, Philadelphia, U. S. A.
The sun was sinking low beyond the ford of the foaming Platte. The distant bluffs commanding the broad valley of the Sweetwater stood sharp and clear against the westward skies. The smoke from the camp-fires along the stream rose in misty columns straight aloft, for not so much as a breath of breeze had wafted down from the far snow fields of Cloud Peak, or the sun-sheltered rifts of the Big Horn. The flag at the old fort, on the neighboring height, clung to the staff with scarcely a flutter, awaiting the evening salute of the trumpets and the roar of the sunset gun.
The long June day had seemed unusually unconscionably long to the young girl flitting restlessly about the vine-covered porch of the roadside cottage. She laid the big binocular aside, for perhaps the twentieth time within the hour, with a sigh of impatience, a piteous quiver about the pretty, rosebud mouth, a wistful, longing look in the dark and dreamy eyes. Ever since stable call, and her father's departure to his never-neglected duty, she had hovered about that shaded nook, again and again searching the northward slopes and ridges. The scouts had been in three hours ago, reporting the squadron only a mile or so behind. It should have dismounted, unsaddled, fed, watered, and groomed by this time, and Rawdon should have been here at her side-Rawdon, whom she had not seen for three mortal days-Rawdon, whom, for three mortal weeks before the march, she had not missed seeing sometimes several times a day, even when he was on guard-Rawdon, whom she had never set eyes on before the first of April, and whom now she looked upon as the foremost soldier of the regiment, when in point of fact he was but a private trooper, serving the first part of his first enlistment, in the eyes of his elders a mere recruit, and in those of Sergeant Fitzroy an unspeakable thing.
Another long peep through the signal glasses, another sigh, and then she came, this girl of seventeen, in her dainty white frock, and plumped herself dejectedly down on the top step, with two very shapely, slender, slippered feet displayed on the second below, two dimpled elbows planted on her knees, two flushed, soft, rounded cheeks buried in two long and slender hands. Away over at the stables she could hear the tap, tap, of curry-comb on brush-back, as the First Squadron groomed its fidgety mounts. Away up the valley the voices of the children in the Arapahoe village rose gleefully on the air. Away up among the barracks and quarters at the fort, the band of the Infantry was playing sweet melody. Peace, content, and harmony were roundabout her, but the dark eyes, welling with unshed tears, told of a troubled heart.
And then of a sudden the tears were dashed away and the girl sprang to her feet. A blithe voice hailed her from within.
"Dey's comin', Miss Dora-two on 'em, at least-like enough to be twin brudders."
The girl ran to the northward corner again and gazed out across the rushing, swollen river. Not so much as a sign of a dust-cloud to tell of marching cavalry, and she turned again, with rebuke ready on her tongue, but again the voice from within:
"Ah know well 'nuff what brings de lieutenant round dis way. As for dat-
Coming up the slope at easy canter rode a young officer, with broad-brimmed hat and dusty field dress, alert, slender, sinewy, of only medium height and not more than twenty-five years, with a handsome, sun-tanned, smiling face, a picture of healthful, wholesome young manhood. And behind him, at the regulation distance, came what Aunt Chloe, in her "darky" dialect more than once had declared "the very spit of him"-a young trooper in similar slouch hat and dusty field dress, younger, probably, by three or four years, but to the full as alert and active, as healthful and wholesome to look at, his face now all aglow with a light that was sweet for girlish eyes to see.
The leader swung his hat and blithely shouted as he curbed his eager horse. "Howdy, Miss Dora. Bless your heart, Aunt Chloe, I knew you'd have the buttermilk ready! No, Rawdon, I shan't dismount"-this to the young "orderly," who had sprung from saddle and, with his rein over his arm, stood ready to take that of his officer. "Merciful saints! but isn't that good after thirty miles of alkali!" He had swallowed a brimming goblet of the cool, refreshing drink, and Chloe was delightedly refilling. "Father home, Miss Dora?" he went on cheerily.
"Over at the stables, Mr. Lanier," was the smiling answer. The face of the girl was sunshine and roses now, yet merely a glance or two had passed, for Trooper Rawdon had instantly swung once more into saddle and was reining back to his place.
"Colonel Button's always findin' some way of sendin' you in ahaid, Marse Lanier," grinned Chloe. "Ah don't wonder dey says
"You're a gossip, Auntie," laughed Lanier. "The colonel would cinch me quick as the next man if I happened to rub his fur the wrong way. One more swig now and I'm off. Tastes almost like the South again, doesn't it?"
"It's good all the same. Thank you, heartily, Miss Dora. You, too, Auntie. Er-Rawdon, you dismount and wait for Doctor Mayhew in case I miss him. Give him the colonel's message and say the squadron should be in by 7.30." And with that and a wave of his hand and a smiling good-night, he took the rein of the troop horse and away they sped to the stables.
Then Chloe vanished opportunely. The young trooper stood one instant looking gratefully after his officer and those curvetting steeds, eager to reach their home and supper. Dora, with glistening eyes and glowing cheeks, retreated within the shelter of the bowered porch. Then, bounding up the steps and turning with outstretched arms, thither Rawdon followed.
Ten minutes later, at swift trot, came a third horse and rider, the horse all that a cavalry horse should be in gait and build, the rider well nigh as marked in build and proportions. He, too, was well-made and muscular, though somewhat heavy and stocky; he was as soldierly, if not as young, as the two so recently there in saddle. It was the face that repelled, for it was black with wrath and suspicion. In front of the little cottage of the veterinary surgeon he hurriedly dismounted, threw the reins over the post at the horse-block, and strode, angering, through the gate. The murmur of blissful voices had ceased at first sight of him. Dora, her face paling, met him at the head of the steps.
Hardly noticing her by look or word, he brushed by, turned sharp to his left, and in an instant the two men were face to face.
"Rawdon," spoke the new-comer, his tone curt, domineering, insolent, "what do you mean by letting an officer lead your horse to stables? Go you to yours at once! Take my horse, too, and groom
Rawdon flushed to his forehead, said not a word, came forth into the light, and then turned squarely.
"My orders were from Lieutenant Lanier, sergeant, and they were distinctly to stop here."
"Go you at once and do as I say," was the instant rejoinder, and the veins in the sergeant's face were swelled almost to bursting. His eyes were fiery, his lips were quivering in his wrath.
"Indeed, Sergeant Fitzroy," began the girl rebukefully, "those were Lieutenant Lanier's orders."