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The Deserter   By: (1844-1933)

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THE DESERTER,

BY

CAPT. CHARLES KING, U.S.A.,

AUTHOR OF "THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER," "MARION'S FAITH," "KITTY'S CONQUEST," ETC., ETC.

PHILADELPHIA: J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.

1890

Copyright, 1887, by J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.

THE DESERTER.

PRELUDE.

Far up in the Northwest, along the banks of the broad, winding stream the Sioux call the Elk, a train of white topped army wagons is slowly crawling eastward. The October sun is hot at noon day, and the dust from the loose soil rises like heavy smoke and powders every face and form in the guarding battalion so that features are wellnigh indistinguishable. Four companies of stalwart, sinewy infantry, with their brown rifles slung over the shoulder, are striding along in dispersed order, covering the exposed southern flank from sudden attack, while farther out along the ridge line, and far to the front and rear, cavalry skirmishers and scouts are riding to and fro, searching every hollow and ravine, peering cautiously over every "divide," and signalling "halt" or "forward" as the indications warrant.

And yet not a hostile Indian has been seen; not one, even as distant vedette, has appeared in range of the binoculars, since the scouts rode in at daybreak to say that big bands were in the immediate neighborhood. It has been a long, hard summer's work for the troops, and the Indians have been, to all commands that boasted strength or swiftness, elusive as the Irishman's flea of tradition. Only to those whose numbers were weak or whose movements were hampered have they appeared in fighting trim. But combinations have been too much for them, and at last they have been "herded" down to the Elk, have crossed, and are now seeking to make their way, with women, children, tepees, dogs, "travois," and the great pony herds, to the fastnesses of the Big Horn; and now comes the opportunity for which an old Indian fighter has been anxiously waiting. In a big cantonment he has held the main body under his command, while keeping out constant scouting parties to the east and north. He knows well that, true to their policy, the Indians will have scattered into small bands capable of reassembling anywhere that signal smokes may call them, and his orders are to watch all the crossings of the Elk and nab them as they come into his district. He watches, despite the fact that it is his profound conviction that the Indians will be no such idiots as to come just where they are wanted, and he is in no wise astonished when a courier comes in on jaded horse to tell him that they have "doubled" on the other column and are now two or three days' march away down stream, "making for the big bend." His own scouting parties are still out to the eastward: he can pick them up as he goes. He sends the main body of his infantry, a regiment jocularly known as "The Riflers," to push for a landing some fifty miles down stream, scouting the lower valley of the Sweet Root on the way. He sends his wagon train, guarded by four companies of foot and two of horsemen, by the only practicable road to the bend, while he, with ten seasoned "troops" of his pet regiment, the th Cavalry, starts forthwith on a long d├ętour in which he hopes to "round up" such bands as may have slipped away from the general rush. Even as "boots and saddles" is sounding, other couriers come riding in from Lieutenant Crane's party. He has struck the trail of a big band.

When the morning sun dawns on the picturesque valley in which the cantonment nestled but the day before, it illumines an almost deserted village, and brings no joy to the souls of some twoscore of embittered civilians who had arrived only the day previous, and whose unanimous verdict is that the army is a fraud and ought to be abolished. For four months or more some three regiments had been camping, scouting, roughing it thereabouts, with not a cent of pay. Then came the wildly exciting tidings that a boat was on the way up the Missouri with a satrap of the pay department, vast store of shekels, and a strong guard, and as a consequence there would be some two thousand men around the cantonment with pockets full of money and no one to help them spend it, and nothing suitable to spend it on... Continue reading book >>




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