his horses and men by the wishes of the senior staff official. And so they jogged along perhaps twenty minutes more, and then there was a sudden splutter and plunge and stumble ahead, a sharp pull on the traces, a marvelously quick jerk back on the reins that threw the wheel team on their haunches, and thereby saved the "outfit," for when men and matches were hurried to the front the lead mules were discovered kicking and splashing in a mud hole. They were not only off the road by a dozen yards, but over a bank two feet high.
And this last pound broke the back of Burleigh's obstinacy. It was nearly midnight anyway. The best thing to be done was unhitch, unsaddle and bivouac until the gray light of dawn came peering over the eastward prairie, which in that high latitude and "long-day" month would be soon after three. Then they could push on to Reno.
Not until nearly eight o'clock in the morning, therefore, did they heave in sight of the low belt of dingy green that told of the presence of a stream still long miles away; and here, knowing himself to be out of danger, the major bade the weary escort march in at a walk while he hurried on. In fifteen minutes the black-hooded wagon was twisting and turning over the powdery road a good mile ahead, its dust rising high over the sage-covered desert, while the other two, with the dust-begrimed troopers, jogged sturdily on. Loring, the young engineer, had waved a cordial good-by to his old cadet acquaintance. "See you later, old man," he cried. Stone, the aide-de-camp, nodded and said, "Take care of yourself," and Burleigh said nothing at all. He was wondering what he could do to muzzle Loring in case that gifted young graduate were moved to tell what the quartermaster actually did when he heard the rush and firing out at the front on the road from Warrior Gap.
But when at last the black wagon bowled in at the stockaded quadrangle and discharged its occupants at the hut of the major commanding, there were tidings of such import to greet them that Burleigh turned yellow-white again at thought of the perils they had escaped.
"My God, man!" cried the post commander, as he came hurrying out to meet the party, "we've been in a blue funk about you fellows for two whole days. Did you see any Indians?"
"See any Indians!" said Burleigh, rallying to the occasion as became a man who knew how to grasp an opportunity. "We stood off the whole Sioux nation over toward Crazy Woman's Fork. There were enough to cover the country, red and black, for a dozen miles. We sighted them yesterday about four o'clock and there were enough around us to eat us alive, but we just threw out skirmish lines and marched steadily ahead, so they thought best not to bother us. They're shy of our breech loaders, damn 'em! That's all that kept them at respectful distance."
The major's face as he listened took on a puzzled, perturbed look. He did not wish to say anything that might reflect on the opinions of so influential a man as the depot quartermaster at Gate City, but it was plain that there was a train of thought rumbling through his mind that would collide with Burleigh's column of events unless he were spared the need of answering questions. "Let me tell you briefly what's happened," he said. "Red Cloud and his whole band are out on the warpath. They killed two couriers, half-breeds, I sent out to find Thornton's troop that was scouting the Dry Fork. The man we sent to find you and give you warning hasn't got back at all. We've had double sentries for three days and nights. The only souls to get in from the northwest since our fellows were run back last night are old Folsom and Baptiste. Folsom had a talk with Red Cloud, and tried to induce him to turn back. He's beset with the idea that the old villain is plotting a general massacre along the Big Horn. He looks like a ghost. He says if we had five thousand soldiers up there there'd hardly be enough. You know the Sioux have sworn by him for years, and he thought he could coax Red Cloud to keep away, but all the old villain would promise was to hold his young men back ten days or so until Folsom could get the general to order the Warrior Gap plan abandoned. If the troops are there Folsom says it's all up with them. Red Cloud can rally all the Northern tribes, and it's only because of Folsom's influence, at least I fancy so—that—that they didn't attack you."
"Where is Folsom?" growled Burleigh, as he shook the powdery cloud from his linen duster and followed the major within his darkened door, while other officers hospitably led the aid and engineer into the adjoining hut.
"Gone right on to Frayne. The old fellow will wear himself out, I'm afraid. He says he must get in telegraphic communication with Omaha before he's four days older. My heaven, man, it was a narrow squeak you had! It's God's mercy Folsom saw Red Cloud before he saw you."
"Oh, pshaw!" said the quartermaster, turning over a little packet of letters awaiting him in the commanding officer's sanctum. "We could have given a good account of ourselves, I reckon. Brooks is down with fever, and young Dean got rattled, or something like it. He's new at the business and easily scared, you know; so I practically had to take command. They'll be along in an hour or so, and—a word in your ear. If Brooks has to remain on sick report you'd better put somebody in command of that troop that's had—er—er—experience."
The post commander looked genuinely troubled. "Why, Burleigh, we've all taken quite a shine to Dean. I know the officers in his regiment think a heap of him; the seniors do, at least."
But Burleigh, with big eyes, was glaring at a letter he had selected, opened, and was hurriedly reading. His face was yellowing again, under the blister of sun and alkali.
"What's amiss?" queried his friend. "Nothing wrong, I hope. Why, Burleigh, man! Here, let me help you!" he cried in alarm, for the quartermaster was sinking into a chair.
"You can help me!" he gasped. "Get me fresh mules and escort. My God! I must start for Frayne at once. Some whisky, please." And the letter dropped from his trembling hands and lay there unnoticed on the floor.
Mid June had come, and there was the very devil to pay—so said the scouts and soldiers up along the Big Horn. But scouts and soldiers were far removed from the States and cities where news was manufactured, and those were days in which our Indian outbreaks were described in the press long after, instead of before, their occurrence. Such couriers as had got through to Frayne brought dispatches from the far-isolated posts along that beautiful range, insisting that the Sioux were swarming in every valley. Such dispatches, when wired to Washington and "referred" to the Department of the Interior and re-referred to the head of the Indian Bureau, were scoffed at as sensational.
"Our agents report the Indians peaceably assembled at their reservations. None are missing at the weekly distribution of supplies except those who are properly accounted for as out on their annual hunt." "The officers," said the papers, "seem to see red Indians in every bush," and unpleasant things were hinted at the officers as a consequence.
Indians there certainly were in other sections, and they were unquestionably "raising the devil" along the Smoky Hill and the Southern Plains, and there the Interior Department insisted that troops in strong force should be sent. So, too, along the line of the Union Pacific. Officials were still nervous. Troops of cavalry camped at intervals of forty miles along the line between Kearney and Julesburg, and even beyond. At Washington and the great cities of the East, therefore, there was no anxiety as to the possible fate of those little garrisons, with their helpless charge of women and children away up in the heart of the Sioux country. But at Laramie and Frayne and Emory, the nearest frontier posts; at Cheyenne, Omaha and Gate City the anxiety was great. When John Folsom said the Indians