Part 5 out of 5
and yet impelled by some strange instinct to take a more serious
view of his discovery. There was no doubt it was the same card he
had given to the Indian. True, that Indian might have given it to
another--yet by what agency had it been brought there faster than
the coach traveled on the same road, and yet invisibly to them?
For an instant the humorous idea of literally accepting Foster's
challenge, and communicating his discovery to Miss Cantire,
occurred to him; he could have made a funny story out of it, and
could have amused any other girl with it, but he would not force
himself upon her, and again doubted if the discovery were a matter
of amusement. If it were really serious, why should he alarm her?
He resolved, however, to remain on the road, and within convenient
distance of her, until she returned to the coach; she could not be
far away. With this purpose he walked slowly on, halting
occasionally to look behind.
Meantime the coach continued its difficult ascent, a difficulty
made greater by the singular nervousness of the horses, that only
with great trouble and some objurgation from the driver could be
prevented from shying from the regular track.
"Now, wot's gone o' them critters?" said the irate Foster,
straining at the reins until he seemed to lift the leader back into
the track again.
"Looks as ef they smelt suthin--b'ar or Injin ponies," suggested
the mail agent.
"Injin ponies?" repeated Foster scornfully.
"Fac'! Injin ponies set a hoss crazy--jest as wild hosses would!"
"Whar's yer Injin ponies?" demanded Foster incredulously.
"Dunno," said the mail agent simply.
But here the horses again swerved so madly from some point of the
thicket beside them that the coach completely left the track on the
right. Luckily it was a disused trail and the ground fairly good,
and Foster gave them their heads, satisfied of his ability to
regain the regular road when necessary. It took some moments for
him to recover complete control of the frightened animals, and then
their nervousness having abated with their distance from the
thicket, and the trail being less steep though more winding than
the regular road, he concluded to keep it until he got to the
summit, when he would regain the highway once more and await his
passengers. Having done this, the two men stood up on the box, and
with an anxiety they tried to conceal from each other looked down
the canyon for the lagging pedestrians.
"I hope Miss Cantire hasn't been stampeded from the track by any
skeer like that," said the mail agent dubiously.
"Not she! She's got too much grit and sabe for that, unless that
drummer hez caught up with her and unloaded his yarn about that
They were the last words the men spoke. For two rifle shots
cracked from the thicket beside the road; two shots aimed with such
deliberateness and precision that the two men, mortally stricken,
collapsed where they stood, hanging for a brief moment over the
dashboard before they rolled over on the horses' backs. Nor did
they remain there long, for the next moment they were seized by
half a dozen shadowy figures and with the horses and their cut
traces dragged into the thicket. A half dozen and then a dozen
other shadows flitted and swarmed over, in, and through the coach,
reinforced by still more, until the whole vehicle seemed to be
possessed, covered, and hidden by them, swaying and moving with
their weight, like helpless carrion beneath a pack of ravenous
wolves. Yet even while this seething congregation was at its
greatest, at some unknown signal it as suddenly dispersed,
vanished, and disappeared, leaving the coach empty--vacant and void
of all that had given it life, weight, animation, and purpose--a
mere skeleton on the roadside. The afternoon wind blew through its
open doors and ravaged rack and box as if it had been the wreck of
weeks instead of minutes, and the level rays of the setting sun
flashed and blazed into its windows as though fire had been added
to the ruin. But even this presently faded, leaving the abandoned
coach a rigid, lifeless spectre on the twilight plain.
An hour later there was the sound of hurrying hoofs and jingling
accoutrements, and out of the plain swept a squad of cavalrymen
bearing down upon the deserted vehicle. For a few moments they,
too, seemed to surround and possess it, even as the other shadows
had done, penetrating the woods and thicket beside it. And then as
suddenly at some signal they swept forward furiously in the track
of the destroying shadows.
Miss Cantire took full advantage of the suggestion "not to hurry"
in her walk, with certain feminine ideas of its latitude. She
gathered a few wild flowers and some berries in the underwood,
inspected some birds' nests with a healthy youthful curiosity, and
even took the opportunity of arranging some moist tendrils of her
silky hair with something she took from the small reticule that
hung coquettishly from her girdle. It was, indeed, some twenty
minutes before she emerged into the road again; the vehicle had
evidently disappeared in a turn of the long, winding ascent, but
just ahead of her was that dreadful man, the "Chicago drummer."
She was not vain, but she made no doubt that he was waiting there
for her. There was no avoiding him, but his companionship could be
made a brief one. She began to walk with ostentatious swiftness.
Boyle, whose concern for her safety was secretly relieved at this,
began to walk forward briskly too without looking around. Miss
Cantire was not prepared for this; it looked so ridiculously as if
she were chasing him! She hesitated slightly, but now as she was
nearly abreast of him she was obliged to keep on.
"I think you do well to hurry, Miss Cantire," he said as she
passed. "I've lost sight of the coach for some time, and I dare
say they're already waiting for us at the summit."
Miss Cantire did not like this any better. To go on beside this
dreadful man, scrambling breathlessly after the stage--for all the
world like an absorbed and sentimentally belated pair of
picnickers--was really TOO much. "Perhaps if YOU ran on and told
them I was coming as fast as I could," she suggested tentatively.
"It would be as much as my life is worth to appear before Foster
without you," he said laughingly. "You've only got to hurry on a
But the young lady resented this being driven by a "drummer." She
began to lag, depressing her pretty brows ominously.
"Let me carry your flowers," said Boyle. He had noticed that she
was finding some difficulty in holding up her skirt and the nosegay
at the same time.
"No! No!" she said in hurried horror at this new suggestion of
their companionship. "Thank you very much--but they're really not
worth keeping--I am going to throw them away. There!" she added,
tossing them impatiently in the dust.
But she had not reckoned on Boyle's perfect good-humor. That
gentle idiot stooped down, actually gathered them up again, and was
following! She hurried on; if she could only get to the coach
first, ignoring him! But a vulgar man like that would be sure to
hand them to her with some joke! Then she lagged again--she was
getting tired, and she could see no sign of the coach. The
drummer, too, was also lagging behind--at a respectful distance,
like a groom or one of her father's troopers. Nevertheless this
did not put her in a much better humor, and halting until he came
abreast of her, she said impatiently: "I don't see why Mr. Foster
should think it necessary to send any one to look after me."
"He didn't," returned Boyle simply. "I got down to pick up
"To pick up something?" she returned incredulously.
"Yes. THAT." He held out the card. "It's the card of our firm."
Miss Cantire smiled ironically. "You are certainly devoted to your
"Well, yes," returned Boyle good-humoredly. "You see I reckon it
don't pay to do anything halfway. And whatever I do, I mean to
keep my eyes about me." In spite of her prejudice, Miss Cantire
could see that these necessary organs, if rather flippant, were
honest. "Yes, I suppose there isn't much on that I don't take in.
Why now, Miss Cantire, there's that fancy dust cloak you're
wearing--it isn't in our line of goods--nor in anybody's line west
of Chicago; it came from Boston or New York, and was made for home
consumption! But your hat--and mighty pretty it is too, as YOU'VE
fixed it up--is only regular Dunstable stock, which we could put
down at Pine Barrens for four and a half cents a piece, net. Yet I
suppose you paid nearly twenty-five cents for it at the Agency!"
Oddly enough this cool appraisement of her costume did not incense
the young lady as it ought to have done. On the contrary, for some
occult feminine reason, it amused and interested her. It would be
such a good story to tell her friends of a "drummer's" idea of
gallantry; and to tease the flirtatious young West Pointer who had
just joined. And the appraisement was truthful--Major Cantire had
only his pay--and Miss Cantire had been obliged to select that hat
from the government stores.
"Are you in the habit of giving this information to ladies you meet
in traveling?" she asked.
"Well, no!" answered Boyle--"for that's just where you have to keep
your eyes open. Most of 'em wouldn't like it, and it's no use
aggravating a possible customer. But you are not that kind."
Miss Cantire was silent. She knew she was not of that kind, but
she did not require his vulgar indorsement. She pushed on for some
moments alone, when suddenly he hailed her. She turned
impatiently. He was carefully examining the road on both sides.
"We have either lost our way," he said, rejoining her, "or the
coach has turned off somewhere. These tracks are not fresh, and as
they are all going the same way, they were made by the up coach
last night. They're not OUR tracks; I thought it strange we hadn't
sighted the coach by this time."
"And then"--said Miss Cantire impatiently.
"We must turn back until we find them again."
The young lady frowned. "Why not keep on until we get to the top?"
she said pettishly. "I'm sure I shall." She stopped suddenly as
she caught sight of his grave face and keen, observant eyes. "Why
can't we go on as we are?"
"Because we are expected to come back to the COACH--and not to the
summit merely. These are the 'orders,' and you know you are a
soldier's daughter!" He laughed as he spoke, but there was a
certain quiet deliberation in his manner that impressed her. When
he added, after a pause, "We must go back and find where the tracks
turned off," she obeyed without a word.
They walked for some time, eagerly searching for signs of the
missing vehicle. A curious interest and a new reliance in Boyle's
judgment obliterated her previous annoyance, and made her more
natural. She ran ahead of him with youthful eagerness, examining
the ground, following a false clue with great animation, and
confessing her defeat with a charming laugh. And it was she who,
after retracing their steps for ten minutes, found the diverging
track with a girlish cry of triumph. Boyle, who had followed her
movements quite as interestedly as her discovery, looked a little
grave as he noticed the deep indentations made by the struggling
horses. Miss Cantire detected the change in his face; ten minutes
before she would never have observed it. "I suppose we had better
follow the new track," she said inquiringly, as he seemed to
"Certainly," he said quickly, as if coming to a prompt decision.
"That is safest."
"What do you think has happened? The ground looks very much cut
up," she said in a confidential tone, as new to her as her previous
observation of him.
"A horse has probably stumbled and they've taken the old trail as
less difficult," said Boyle promptly. In his heart he did not
believe it, yet he knew that if anything serious had threatened
them the coach would have waited in the road. "It's an easier
trail for us, though I suppose it's a little longer," he added
"You take everything so good-humoredly, Mr. Boyle," she said after
"It's the way to do business, Miss Cantire," he said. "A man in my
line has to cultivate it."
She wished he hadn't said that, but, nevertheless, she returned a
little archly: "But you haven't any business with the stage company
nor with ME, although I admit I intend to get my Dunstable
hereafter from your firm at the wholesale prices."
Before he could reply, the detonation of two gunshots, softened by
distance, floated down from the ridge above them. "There!" said
Miss Cantire eagerly. "Do you hear that?"
His face was turned towards the distant ridge, but really that she
might not question his eyes. She continued with animation: "That's
from the coach--to guide us--don't you see?"
"Yes," he returned, with a quick laugh, "and it says hurry up--
mighty quick--we're tired waiting--so we'd better push on."
"Why don't you answer back with your revolver?" she asked.
"Haven't got one," he said.
"Haven't got one?" she repeated in genuine surprise. "I thought
you gentlemen who are traveling always carried one. Perhaps it's
inconsistent with your gospel of good-humor."
"That's just it, Miss Cantire," he said with a laugh. "You've hit
"Why," she said hesitatingly, "even I have a derringer--a very
little one, you know, which I carry in my reticule. Captain
Richards gave it to me." She opened her reticule and showed a
pretty ivory-handled pistol. The look of joyful surprise which
came into his face changed quickly as she cocked it and lifted it
into the air. He seized her arm quickly.
"No, please don't, you might want it--I mean the report won't carry
far enough. It's a very useful little thing, for all that, but
it's only effective at close quarters." He kept the pistol in his
hand as they walked on. But Miss Cantire noticed this, also his
evident satisfaction when she had at first produced it, and his
concern when she was about to discharge it uselessly. She was a
clever girl, and a frank one to those she was inclined to trust.
And she began to trust this stranger. A smile stole along her oval
"I really believe you're afraid of something, Mr. Boyle," she said,
without looking up. "What is it? You haven't got that Indian
Boyle had no false shame. "I think I have," he returned, with
equal frankness. "You see, I don't understand Indians as well as
"Well, you take my word and Foster's that there is not the least
danger from them. About here they are merely grown-up children,
cruel and destructive as most children are; but they know their
masters by this time, and the old days of promiscuous scalping are
over. The only other childish propensity they keep is thieving.
Even then they only steal what they actually want,--horses, guns,
and powder. A coach can go where an ammunition or an emigrant
wagon can't. So your trunk of samples is quite safe with Foster."
Boyle did not think it necessary to protest. Perhaps he was
thinking of something else.
"I've a mind," she went on slyly, "to tell you something more.
Confidence for confidence: as you've told me YOUR trade secrets,
I'll tell you one of OURS. Before we left Pine Barrens, my father
ordered a small escort of cavalrymen to be in readiness to join
that coach if the scouts, who were watching, thought it necessary.
So, you see, I'm something of a fraud as regards my reputation for
"That doesn't follow," said Boyle admiringly, "for your father must
have thought there was some danger, or he wouldn't have taken that
"Oh, it wasn't for me," said the young girl quickly.
"Not for you?" repeated Boyle.
Miss Cantire stopped short, with a pretty flush of color and an
adorable laugh. "There! I've done it, so I might as well tell the
whole story. But I can trust you, Mr. Boyle." (She faced him with
clear, penetrating eyes.) "Well," she laughed again, "you might
have noticed that we had a quantity of baggage of passengers who
didn't go? Well, those passengers never intended to go, and hadn't
any baggage! Do you understand? Those innocent-looking heavy
trunks contained carbines and cartridges from our post for Fort
Taylor"--she made him a mischievous curtsy--"under MY charge!
And," she added, enjoying his astonishment, "as you saw, I brought
them through safe to the station, and had them transferred to this
coach with less fuss and trouble than a commissary transport and
escort would have made."
"And they were in THIS coach?" repeated Boyle abstractedly.
"Were? They ARE!" said Miss Cantire.
"Then the sooner I get you back to your treasure again the better,"
said Boyle with a laugh. "Does Foster know it?"
"Of course not! Do you suppose I'd tell it to anybody but a
stranger to the place? Perhaps, like you, I know when and to whom
to impart information," she said mischievously.
Whatever was in Boyle's mind he had space for profound and admiring
astonishment of the young lady before him. The girlish simplicity
and trustfulness of her revelation seemed as inconsistent with his
previous impression of her reserve and independence as her girlish
reasoning and manner was now delightfully at variance with her
tallness, her aquiline nose, and her erect figure. Mr. Boyle, like
most short men, was apt to overestimate the qualities of size.
They walked on for some moments in silence. The ascent was
comparatively easy but devious, and Boyle could see that this new
detour would take them still some time to reach the summit. Miss
Cantire at last voiced the thought in his own mind. "I wonder what
induced them to turn off here? and if you hadn't been so clever as
to discover their tracks, how could we have found them? But," she
added, with feminine logic, "that, of course, is why they fired
Boyle remembered, however, that the shots came from another
direction, but did not correct her conclusion. Nevertheless he
said lightly: "Perhaps even Foster might have had an Indian scare."
"He ought to know 'friendlies' or 'government reservation men'
better by this time," said Miss Cantire; "however, there is
something in that. Do you know," she added with a laugh, "though I
haven't your keen eyes I'm gifted with a keen scent, and once or
twice I've thought I SMELT Indians--that peculiar odor of their
camps, which is unlike anything else, and which one detects even in
their ponies. I used to notice it when I rode one; no amount of
grooming could take it away."
"I don't suppose that the intensity or degree of this odor would
give you any idea of the hostile or friendly feelings of the
Indians towards you?" asked Boyle grimly.
Although the remark was consistent with Boyle's objectionable
reputation as a humorist, Miss Cantire deigned to receive it with a
smile, at which Boyle, who was a little relieved by their security
so far, and their nearness to their journey's end, developed
further ingenious trifling until, at the end of an hour, they stood
upon the plain again.
There was no sign of the coach, but its fresh track was visible
leading along the bank of the ravine towards the intersection of
the road they should have come by, and to which the coach had
indubitably returned. Mr. Boyle drew a long breath. They were
comparatively safe from any invisible attack now. At the end of
ten minutes Miss Cantire, from her superior height, detected the
top of the missing vehicle appearing above the stunted bushes at
the junction of the highway.
"Would you mind throwing those old flowers away now?" she said,
glancing at the spoils which Boyle still carried.
"Why?" he asked.
"Oh, they're too ridiculous. Please do."
"May I keep one?" he asked, with the first intonation of masculine
weakness in his voice.
"If you like," she said, a little coldly.
Boyle selected a small spray of myrtle and cast the other flowers
"Dear me, how ridiculous!" she said.
"What is ridiculous?" he asked, lifting his eyes to hers with a
slight color. But he saw that she was straining her eyes in the
"Why, there don't seem to be any horses to the coach!"
He looked. Through a gap in the furze he could see the vehicle now
quite distinctly, standing empty, horseless and alone. He glanced
hurriedly around them; on the one side a few rocks protected them
from the tangled rim of the ridge; on the other stretched the
plain. "Sit down, don't move until I return," he said quickly.
"Take that." He handed back her pistol, and ran quickly to the
coach. It was no illusion; there it stood vacant, abandoned, its
dropped pole and cut traces showing too plainly the fearful haste
of its desertion! A light step behind him made him turn. It was
Miss Cantire, pink and breathless, carrying the cocked derringer in
her hand. "How foolish of you--without a weapon," she gasped in
Then they both stared at the coach, the empty plain, and at each
other! After their tedious ascent, their long detour, their
protracted expectancy and their eager curiosity, there was such a
suggestion of hideous mockery in this vacant, useless vehicle--
apparently left to them in what seemed their utter abandonment--
that it instinctively affected them alike. And as I am writing of
human nature I am compelled to say that they both burst into a fit
of laughter that for the moment stopped all other expression!
"It was so kind of them to leave the coach," said Miss Cantire
faintly, as she took her handkerchief from her wet and mirthful
eyes. "But what made them run away?"
Boyle did not reply; he was eagerly examining the coach. In that
brief hour and a half the dust of the plain had blown thick upon
it, and covered any foul stain or blot that might have suggested
the awful truth. Even the soft imprint of the Indians' moccasined
feet had been trampled out by the later horse hoofs of the
cavalrymen. It was these that first attracted Boyle's attention,
but he thought them the marks made by the plunging of the released
Not so his companion! She was examining them more closely, and
suddenly lifted her bright, animated face. "Look!" she said; "our
men have been here, and have had a hand in this--whatever it is."
"Our men?" repeated Boyle blankly.
"Yes!--troopers from the post--the escort I told you of. These are
the prints of the regulation cavalry horseshoe--not of Foster's
team, nor of Indian ponies, who never have any! Don't you see?"
she went on eagerly; "our men have got wind of something and have
galloped down here--along the ridge--see!" she went on, pointing to
the hoof prints coming from the plain. "They've anticipated some
Indian attack and secured everything."
"But if they were the same escort you spoke of, they must have
known you were here, and have"--he was about to say "abandoned
you," but checked himself, remembering they were her father's
"They knew I could take care of myself, and wouldn't stand in the
way of their duty," said the young girl, anticipating him with
quick professional pride that seemed to fit her aquiline nose and
tall figure. "And if they knew that," she added, softening with a
mischievous smile, "they also knew, of course, that I was protected
by a gallant stranger vouched for by Mr. Foster! No!" she added,
with a certain blind, devoted confidence, which Boyle noticed with
a slight wince that she had never shown before, "it's all right!
and 'by orders,' Mr. Boyle, and when they've done their work
they'll be back."
But Boyle's masculine common sense was, perhaps, safer than Miss
Cantire's feminine faith and inherited discipline, for in an
instant he suddenly comprehended the actual truth! The Indians had
been there FIRST; THEY had despoiled the coach and got off safely
with their booty and prisoners on the approach of the escort, who
were now naturally pursuing them with a fury aroused by the belief
that their commander's daughter was one of their prisoners. This
conviction was a dreadful one, yet a relief as far as the young
girl was concerned. But should he tell her? No! Better that she
should keep her calm faith in the triumphant promptness of the
soldiers--and their speedy return.
"I dare say you are right," he said cheerfully, "and let us be
thankful that in the empty coach you'll have at least a half-
civilized shelter until they return. Meantime I'll go and
reconnoitre a little."
"I will go with you," she said.
But Boyle pointed out to her so strongly the necessity of her
remaining to wait for the return of the soldiers that, being also
fagged out by her long climb, she obediently consented, while he,
even with his inspiration of the truth, did not believe in the
return of the despoilers, and knew she would be safe.
He made his way to the nearest thicket, where he rightly believed
the ambush had been prepared, and to which undoubtedly they first
retreated with their booty. He expected to find some signs or
traces of their spoil which in their haste they had to abandon. He
was more successful than he anticipated. A few steps into the
thicket brought him full upon a realization of more than his worst
convictions--the dead body of Foster! Near it lay the body of the
mail agent. Both had been evidently dragged into the thicket from
where they fell, scalped and half stripped. There was no evidence
of any later struggle; they must have been dead when they were
Boyle was neither a hard-hearted nor an unduly sensitive man. His
vocation had brought him peril enough by land and water; he had
often rendered valuable assistance to others, his sympathy never
confusing his directness and common sense. He was sorry for these
two men, and would have fought to save them. But he had no
imaginative ideas of death. And his keen perception of the truth
was consequently sensitively alive only to that grotesqueness of
aspect which too often the hapless victims of violence are apt to
assume. He saw no agony in the vacant eyes of the two men lying on
their backs in apparently the complacent abandonment of
drunkenness, which was further simulated by their tumbled and
disordered hair matted by coagulated blood, which, however, had
lost its sanguine color. He thought only of the unsuspecting girl
sitting in the lonely coach, and hurriedly dragged them further
into the bushes. In doing this he discovered a loaded revolver and
a flask of spirits which had been lying under them, and promptly
secured them. A few paces away lay the coveted trunks of arms and
ammunition, their lids wrenched off and their contents gone. He
noticed with a grim smile that his own trunks of samples had shared
a like fate, but was delighted to find that while the brighter
trifles had attracted the Indians' childish cupidity they had
overlooked a heavy black merino shawl of a cheap but serviceable
quality. It would help to protect Miss Cantire from the evening
wind, which was already rising over the chill and stark plain. It
also occurred to him that she would need water after her parched
journey, and he resolved to look for a spring, being rewarded at
last by a trickling rill near the ambush camp. But he had no
utensil except the spirit flask, which he finally emptied of its
contents and replaced with the pure water--a heroic sacrifice to a
traveler who knew the comfort of a stimulant. He retraced his
steps, and was just emerging from the thicket when his quick eye
caught sight of a moving shadow before him close to the ground,
which set the hot blood coursing through his veins.
It was the figure of an Indian crawling on his hands and knees
towards the coach, scarcely forty yards away. For the first time
that afternoon Boyle's calm good-humor was overswept by a blind and
furious rage. Yet even then he was sane enough to remember that a
pistol shot would alarm the girl, and to keep that weapon as a last
resource. For an instant he crept forward as silently and
stealthily as the savage, and then, with a sudden bound, leaped
upon him, driving his head and shoulders down against the rocks
before he could utter a cry, and sending the scalping knife he was
carrying between his teeth flying with the shock from his battered
jaw. Boyle seized it--his knee still in the man's back--but the
prostrate body never moved beyond a slight contraction of the lower
limbs. The shock had broken the Indian's neck. He turned the
inert man on his back--the head hung loosely on the side. But in
that brief instant Boyle had recognized the "friendly" Indian of
the station to whom he had given the card.
He rose dizzily to his feet. The whole action had passed in a few
seconds of time, and had not even been noticed by the sole occupant
of the coach. He mechanically cocked his revolver, but the man
beneath him never moved again. Neither was there any sign of
flight or reinforcement from the thicket around him. Again the
whole truth flashed upon him. This spy and traitor had been left
behind by the marauders to return to the station and avert
suspicion; he had been lurking around, but being without firearms,
had not dared to attack the pair together.
It was a moment or two before Boyle regained his usual elastic
good-humor. Then he coolly returned to the spring, "washed himself
of the Indian," as he grimly expressed it to himself, brushed his
clothes, picked up the shawl and flask, and returned to the coach.
It was getting dark now, but the glow of the western sky shone
unimpeded through the windows, and the silence gave him a great
fear. He was relieved, however, on opening the door, to find Miss
Cantire sitting stiffly in a corner. "I am sorry I was so long,"
he said, apologetically to her attitude, "but"--
"I suppose you took your own time," she interrupted in a voice of
injured tolerance. "I don't blame you; anything's better than
being cooped up in this tiresome stage for goodness knows how
"I was hunting for water," he said humbly, "and have brought you
some." He handed her the flask.
"And I see you have had a wash," she said a little enviously. "How
spick and span you look! But what's the matter with your necktie?"
He put his hand to his neck hurriedly. His necktie was loose, and
had twisted to one side in the struggle. He colored quite as much
from the sensitiveness of a studiously neat man as from the fear of
discovery. "And what's that?" she added, pointing to the shawl.
"One of my samples that I suppose was turned out of the coach and
forgotten in the transfer," he said glibly. "I thought it might
keep you warm."
She looked at it dubiously and laid it gingerly aside. "You don't
mean to say you go about with such things OPENLY?" she said
"Yes; one mustn't lose a chance of trade, you know," he resumed
with a smile.
"And you haven't found this journey very profitable," she said
dryly. "You certainly are devoted to your business!" After a
pause, discontentedly: "It's quite night already--we can't sit here
in the dark."
"We can take one of the coach lamps inside; they're still there.
I've been thinking the matter over, and I reckon if we leave one
lighted outside the coach it may guide your friends back." He HAD
considered it, and believed that the audacity of the act, coupled
with the knowledge the Indians must have of the presence of the
soldiers in the vicinity, would deter rather than invite their
She brightened considerably with the coach lamp which he lit and
brought inside. By its light she watched him curiously. His face
was slightly flushed and his eyes very bright and keen looking.
Man killing, except with old professional hands, has the
disadvantage of affecting the circulation.
But Miss Cantire had noticed that the flask smelt of whiskey. The
poor man had probably fortified himself from the fatigues of the
"I suppose you are getting bored by this delay," she said
"Not at all," he replied. "Would you like to play cards? I've got
a pack in my pocket. We can use the middle seat as a table, and
hang the lantern by the window strap."
She assented languidly from the back seat; he was on the front
seat, with the middle seat for a table between them. First Mr.
Boyle showed her some tricks with the cards and kindled her
momentary and flashing interest in a mysteriously evoked but
evanescent knave. Then they played euchre, at which Miss Cantire
cheated adorably, and Mr. Boyle lost game after game shamelessly.
Then once or twice Miss Cantire was fain to put her cards to her
mouth to conceal an apologetic yawn, and her blue-veined eyelids
grew heavy. Whereupon Mr. Boyle suggested that she should make
herself comfortable in the corner of the coach with as many
cushions as she liked and the despised shawl, while he took the
night air in a prowl around the coach and a lookout for the
returning party. Doing so, he was delighted, after a turn or two,
to find her asleep, and so returned contentedly to his sentry
He was some distance from the coach when a low moaning sound in the
thicket presently increased until it rose and fell in a prolonged
howl that was repeated from the darkened plains beyond. He
recognized the voice of wolves; he instinctively felt the sickening
cause of it. They had scented the dead bodies, and he now
regretted that he had left his own victim so near the coach. He
was hastening thither when a cry, this time human and more
terrifying, came from the coach. He turned towards it as its door
flew open and Miss Cantire came rushing toward him. Her face was
colorless, her eyes wild with fear, and her tall, slim figure
trembled convulsively as she frantically caught at the lapels of
his coat, as if to hide herself within its folds, and gasped
"What is it? Oh! Mr. Boyle, save me!"
"They are wolves," he said hurriedly. "But there is no danger;
they would never attack you; you were safe where you were; let me
lead you back."
But she remained rooted to the spot, still clinging desperately to
his coat. "No, no!" she said, "I dare not! I heard that awful cry
in my sleep. I looked out and saw it--a dreadful creature with
yellow eyes and tongue, and a sickening breath as it passed between
the wheels just below me. Ah! What's that?" and she again lapsed
in nervous terror against him.
Boyle passed his arm around her promptly, firmly, masterfully. She
seemed to feel the implied protection, and yielded to it
gratefully, with the further breakdown of a sob. "There is no
danger," he repeated cheerfully. "Wolves are not good to look at,
I know, but they wouldn't have attacked you. The beast only scents
some carrion on the plain, and you probably frightened him more
than he did you. Lean on me," he continued as her step tottered;
"you will be better in the coach."
"And you won't leave me alone again?" she said in hesitating terror.
He supported her to the coach gravely, gently--her master and still
more his own for all that her beautiful loosened hair was against
his cheek and shoulder, its perfume in his nostrils, and the
contour of her lithe and perfect figure against his own. He helped
her back into the coach, with the aid of the cushions and shawl
arranged a reclining couch for her on the back seat, and then
resumed his old place patiently. By degrees the color came back to
her face--as much of it as was not hidden by her handkerchief.
Then a tremulous voice behind it began a half-smothered apology.
"I am SO ashamed, Mr. Boyle--I really could not help it! But it
was so sudden--and so horrible--I shouldn't have been afraid of it
had it been really an Indian with a scalping knife--instead of that
beast! I don't know why I did it--but I was alone--and seemed to
be dead--and you were dead too and they were coming to eat me!
They do, you know--you said so just now! Perhaps I was dreaming.
I don't know what you must think of me--I had no idea I was such a
But Boyle protested indignantly. He was sure if HE had been asleep
and had not known what wolves were before, he would have been
equally frightened. She must try to go to sleep again--he was sure
she could--and he would not stir from the coach until she waked, or
her friends came.
She grew quieter presently, and took away the handkerchief from a
mouth that smiled though it still quivered; then reaction began,
and her tired nerves brought her languor and finally repose. Boyle
watched the shadows thicken around her long lashes until they lay
softly on the faint flush that sleep was bringing to her cheek; her
delicate lips parted, and her quick breath at last came with the
regularity of slumber.
So she slept, and he, sitting silently opposite her, dreamed--the
old dream that comes to most good men and true once in their lives.
He scarcely moved until the dawn lightened with opal the dreary
plain, bringing back the horizon and day, when he woke from his
dream with a sigh, and then a laugh. Then he listened for the
sound of distant hoofs, and hearing them, crept noiselessly from
the coach. A compact body of horsemen were bearing down upon it.
He rose quickly to meet them, and throwing up his hand, brought
them to a halt at some distance from the coach. They spread out,
resolving themselves into a dozen troopers and a smart young cadet-
"If you are seeking Miss Cantire," he said in a quiet, businesslike
tone, "she is quite safe in the coach and asleep. She knows
nothing yet of what has happened, and believes it is you who have
taken everything away for security against an Indian attack. She
has had a pretty rough night--what with her fatigue and her alarm
at the wolves--and I thought it best to keep the truth from her as
long as possible, and I would advise you to break it to her
gently." He then briefly told the story of their experiences,
omitting only his own personal encounter with the Indian. A new
pride, which was perhaps the result of his vigil, prevented him.
The young officer glanced at him with as much courtesy as might be
afforded to a civilian intruding upon active military operations.
"I am sure Major Cantire will be greatly obliged to you when he
knows it," he said politely, "and as we intend to harness up and
take the coach back to Sage Wood Station immediately, you will have
an opportunity of telling him."
"I am not going back by the coach to Sage Wood," said Boyle
quietly. "I have already lost twelve hours of my time--as well as
my trunk--on this picnic, and I reckon the least Major Cantire can
do is to let me take one of your horses to the next station in time
to catch the down coach. I can do it, if I set out at once."
Boyle heard his name, with the familiar prefix of "Dicky," given to
the officer by a commissary sergeant, whom he recognized as having
met at the Agency, and the words "Chicago drummer " added, while a
perceptible smile went throughout the group. "Very well, sir,"
said the officer, with a familiarity a shade less respectful than
his previous formal manner. "You can take the horse, as I believe
the Indians have already made free with your samples. Give him a
The two men walked towards the coach. Boyle lingered a moment at
the window to show him the figure of Miss Cantire still peacefully
slumbering among her pile of cushions, and then turned quietly
away. A moment later he was galloping on one of the troopers'
horses across the empty plain.
Miss Cantire awoke presently to the sound of a familiar voice and
the sight of figures that she knew. But the young officer's first
words of explanation--a guarded account of the pursuit of the
Indians and the recapture of the arms, suppressing the killing of
Foster and the mail agent--brought a change to her brightened face
and a wrinkle to her pretty brow.
"But Mr. Boyle said nothing of this to me," she said, sitting up.
"Where is he?"
"Already on his way to the next station on one of our horses!
Wanted to catch the down stage and get a new box of samples, I
fancy, as the braves had rigged themselves out with his laces and
ribbons. Said he'd lost time enough on this picnic," returned the
young officer, with a laugh. "Smart business chap; but I hope he
didn't bore you?"
Miss Cantire felt her cheek flush, and bit her lip. "I found him
most kind and considerate, Mr. Ashford," she said coldly. "He may
have thought the escort could have joined the coach a little
earlier, and saved all this; but he was too much of a gentleman to
say anything about it to ME," she added dryly, with a slight
elevation of her aquiline nose.
Nevertheless Boyle's last words stung her deeply. To hurry off,
too, without saying "good-by," or even asking how she slept! No
doubt he HAD lost time, and was tired of her company, and thought
more of his precious samples than of her! After all, it was like
him to rush off for an order!
She was half inclined to call the young officer back and tell him
how Boyle had criticised her costume on the road. But Mr. Ashford
was at that time entirely preoccupied with his men around a ledge
of rock and bushes some yards from the coach, yet not so far away
but that she could hear what they said. "I'll swear there was no
dead Injin here when we came yesterday! We searched the whole
place--by daylight, too--for any sign. The Injin was killed in his
tracks by some one last night. It's like Dick Boyle, lieutenant,
to have done it, and like him to have said nothin' to frighten the
young lady. He knows when to keep his mouth shut--and when to open
Miss Cantire sank back in her corner as the officer turned and
approached the coach. The incident of the past night flashed back
upon her--Mr. Boyle's long absence, his flushed face, twisted
necktie, and enforced cheerfulness. She was shocked, amazed,
discomfited--and admiring! And this hero had been sitting opposite
to her, silent all the rest of the night!
"Did Mr. Boyle say anything of an Indian attack last night?" asked
Ashford. "Did you hear anything?"
"Only the wolves howling," said Miss Cantire. "Mr. Boyle was away
twice." She was strangely reticent--in complimentary imitation of
her missing hero.
"There's a dead Indian here who has been killed," began Ashford.
"Oh, please don't say anything more, Mr. Ashford," interrupted the
young lady, "but let us get away from this horrid place at once.
Do get the horses in. I can't stand it."
But the horses were already harnessed and mounted, postilion-wise,
by the troopers. The vehicle was ready to start when Miss Cantire
When Ashford presented himself at the door, the young lady was upon
her hands and knees, searching the bottom of the coach. "Oh, dear!
I've lost something. I must have dropped it on the road," she said
breathlessly, with pink cheeks. "You must positively wait and let
me go back and find it. I won't be long. You know there's 'no
Mr. Ashford stared as Miss Cantire skipped like a schoolgirl from
the coach and ran down the trail by which she and Boyle had
approached the coach the night before. She had not gone far before
she came upon the withered flowers he had thrown away at her
command. "It must be about here," she murmured. Suddenly she
uttered a cry of delight, and picked up the business card that
Boyle had shown her. Then she looked furtively around her, and,
selecting a sprig of myrtle among the cast-off flowers, concealed
it in her mantle and ran back, glowing, to the coach. "Thank you!
All right, I've found it," she called to Ashford, with a dazzling
smile, and leaped inside.
The coach drove on, and Miss Cantire, alone in its recesses, drew
the myrtle from her mantle and folding it carefully in her
handkerchief, placed it in her reticule. Then she drew out the
card, read its dryly practical information over and over again,
examined the soiled edges, brushed them daintily, and held it for a
moment, with eyes that saw not, motionless in her hand. Then she
raised it slowly to her lips, rolled it into a spiral, and,
loosening a hook and eye, thrust it gently into her bosom.
And Dick Boyle, galloping away to the distant station, did not know
that the first step towards a realization of his foolish dream had