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"No, sir;" and there was a twitch of the muscles about the corners of the mouth suggestive of amusement.
"I failed to--give satisfaction. Only scraps of my letters were published."
"What did they want?"
"Criticism principally, and confirmation of the stories of abuse and ill treatment of soldiers by their officers."
"Were your letters never published?"
"Three of them, eventually, after the campaign--in the New York _Morning Mail_."
Whereupon Riggs spun in his chair and rejoicefully surveyed Button, who sat like a man in a daze, staring, opened-eyed, at the witness. For the life of him Sumter could not suppress a chuckle.
"Then, as I understand it, you were favorably impressed with the life--and conditions?"
"In spite of hardship and privation, yes, sir; and because I found complete refutation of the stories about the officers, both as regarded their dealing with the Indians and with their own men."
"Were there any persons with the command who knew you and your mission?"
"Two, sir, as it turned out. Trooper Cary, who enlisted at the same time I did, and a civilian, Mr. Lowndes, who recognized us at Fort Frayne. We were at college together. He and Cary became very intimate toward the last, and yet I think they kept my secret in spite of our falling out."
"Do you care to tell us why you fell out?"
"I prefer that Mr. Lowndes should do that. He and Cary had been chums in college days, and though we were in the same society I did not know them then as I do now."
"You had trouble with Sergeant Fitzroy at first, did you not?"
"Almost from the start, sir."
"We have heard his version. What is yours?"
Rawdon's frank face clouded and colored one moment, but the eyes never flinched.
"It was partly on account of the lady who is now my wife, and partly on account of--money. Fitzroy is an out-and-out usurer, and has a dozen sergeants in the regiment in his debt and under his thumb, Captain Snaffle's first sergeant among them."
"It's a lie!" said Snaffle.
"It's the truth," said Riggs, "and I have other proofs. You will curb your tongue and your temper, Captain Snaffle, if you please. Go on, Rawdon."
"I had reason to believe he was squeezing Doctor Mayhew. I had learned to love Mayhew's daughter. I had a little money laid by, and was getting a good salary. I made Doctor Mayhew take enough to free himself, and won Fitzroy's hate on both accounts."
"You are accused of assaulting him the night of the 16th. What of that?"
"I did not even see him or speak to him. I had been in town in the afternoon, arranging for our marriage. Doctor Mayhew would not hear of it until I had got my discharge, but we had decided to be married Saturday morning, and to go East that afternoon, as important business called me. Mr. Lowndes will tell you that he owed me much money. I had lost my position as correspondent, needed the cash, and pressed him for it. He had promised faithfully to have it ready, but ready it was not. I knew of his relatives in Massachusetts and urged him to telegraph, but he said he could get some of it, at least, at the fort. So I drove him and Cary out in a sleigh, left them at the store, and, circling the fort, spent two hours with Miss Mayhew. Then getting uneasy, as they did not come, drove round back to the store just in time to see Lieutenant Foster's sleigh going like the wind to town, and found Rafferty in frantic excitement. He said there was hell to pay. The lieutenant was in arrest. Lowndes and Cary had run away with some of his clothes. There'd been a shindy up the row, and just then a soldier friend came running.
'Skip for your life, Rawdon,' said he. 'There's been robbery at Captain Sumter's, and Sergeant Fitzroy swears it was you, and that you've struck him and assaulted him. The colonel orders you arrested wherever found.
The patrols are out now!' There was no time to explain. I lashed my team to town, caught Lowndes in cavalry overcoat and cap, the fool, and with not a cent to his name. I gave Cary a note to Miss Mayhew, which he never delivered, and took Lowndes with me on Number Six at 11.40."
"Then you were not at Captain Sumter's that night?"
"Nowhere near it, sir."
Snaffle's eyes were fairly popping from their sockets. Hadn't he said all along it was Lanier?
"Now, another matter," continued Riggs. "That night at Laramie of which you told me. These gentlemen will be interested."
"There was nothing remarkable in that. I had heard of the same thing being done at West Point. I heard in the nick of time of the order to the officer-of-the-day to inspect for Lieutenant Lanier. I imagined that something very serious would happen to him. I knew he'd gone to the post with Lowndes, and why. So, with my apologies now to the lieutenant, I slipped round to his tent and into his blankets."
"Did the lieutenant know of it--or of the reason?"
"Never, so far as I know. I doubt if he knows it now. Lowndes told me the lieutenant--before he entered West Point--was a member of our fraternity. That was enough."
"And so far as I am concerned," said Riggs, "that is enough. Have you gentlemen any questions to ask?"
"Not--now," answered Button slowly. "But I desire personally to see--the witness--later."
One more witness appeared before this informal court that memorable day, and with him, as prearranged, the tall, elderly civilian who had arrived with Stannard and his party from the East. Mr. Arnold came in, hat in hand, bowing gravely and profusely, with a very puzzled look in his face.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Arnold," said Riggs, with bluff civility.
"You have met these gentlemen--Colonel Button, Mr. Barker, Mr. Lanier, Captain Sumter." He pointedly omitted Snaffle, to whom, none the less, Mr. Arnold bowed as ceremoniously as to each of the others who had risen at his entrance. "Pray take this chair, sir. As I have explained to you, Mr. Lowndes, your nephew could not be compelled to testify before a military court, and need not make public admission here of what he told us at Rawdon's demand during our journey hither. I hope this is fully understood."
Mr. Arnold cleared his throat and beamed benevolently about him. The occasion seemed propitious, and a moral lesson appropriate, and he began:
"My unhappy nephew realizes, with, I trust, genuine contrition, that he has been the cause of grave trouble, not only to us, his kindred in the East, but--er--to you military gentlemen in the West. He has, prompted, as we must admit, by Mr.--Mr. Rawdon, made a clean breast of his lamentable conduct, and has promised Mr. Rawdon to repeat every word of it--er--to Colonel Button, but, as his----"
"Then we'll waste no time," said Riggs impatiently. "We'll have him in, and I can catch the afternoon train. Orderly, call Mr. Lowndes."
"Er--I was about to remark," proceeded Mr. Arnold, "that if any--er--suit for damages, or--er--recovery of money should be in contemplation, we desire----"
"Don't fear, sir. Nobody's going to sue for damages. What we want is the quashing of all charges against this young gentleman, who has been made to suffer abominably. Ah, come in, Mr. Lowndes. Sit down, sir. You have met everybody here. Now, as speedily as possible, we'll finish this matter, and in four hours we'll be off for home."
It was but a dejected specimen of a college-bred man that sank into the chair in front of Riggs and faced him with pallid cheek and somber eyes.
One look he gave at Bob Lanier, a furtive, forlorn glance, which met no recognition whatsoever. Lanier looked him over with indifference that bordered closely on contempt, but gave no other sign.
"Mr. Lowndes," said Riggs abruptly, "there is no need of going over the entire story. I'll ask you to answer certain questions. Who was your earliest friend in this regiment?"
The dreary eyes turned once more toward Bob, and the nervous hands started the slouch hat in swifter revolution.
"Mr. Lanier, sir."
"How came that?"